A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Lucky Southern” is a bossa nova by Keith Jarrett. He composed it for the percussionist Airto’s 1972 album Free, on which Jarrett played piano. Even though Jarrett’s known much more for his piano playing than for his compositions, it’s nice that The Real book has included a lot of his early pieces. Jarrett was right on the cutting edge of jazz in the late 1960s/early 70s and songs like “Lucky Southern” and “Grow Your Own” effectively capture something of that time period.

Recommended recording:
(for international readers who may not have access to this YouTube link, I’ve indicated the original album name so you can listen to the recording on music streaming services, etc.)

Airto Moreira: Free

With Keith Jarrett on piano

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Each four measures of “Lucky Southern” have a different harmonic sound. Yes, there’s continuity, but at the same time, it’s almost as if a different coloration or photographic filter influences how we hear each short section.

To hear this, let’s go through the piece, phrase-by-phrase.

The introduction stays on a bright DMaj7 chord, but Jarrett uses the chord symbols to indicate a chromatic inner-voice, with and A for the 1st chord, A# for the 2nd, B for the 3rd, and then returning to A# for the 4th. It’s a nice touch, and sets up the beginning of the tune perfectly, which stays on the “sharp side” with the DMaj7 tonic chord moving to E7, a very bright “major II” chord.

In the next phrase, Jarrett unexpectedly goes to the IV chord, GMaj7, which, moving from E7, was typical in pop music of the day. (This is one reason why Jarrett “crossed over” to the general public early in his career. He combined popular music and jazz.)

But right after that, Jarrett brings in a touch of the blues: Bb7-A7, with a syncopated rhythm. Antonio Carlos Jobim, by the way, used the same bluesy sequence in his hit bossa nova song “Wave” (also in The Real Book).

Jarrett resolves this to the tonic chord but then gives us another harmonic surprise, if not shock, by using the bIIMaj7(#11) instead of the traditional dominant for the turnaround at the end of the first ‘A’ Section. He also places it on beat 2, which is reminiscent of how Jobim did the same thing on “The Girl From Ipanema.” (Perhaps Jobim, from South America, was the “Lucky Southern” of the song’s title!)

In any event, Jarrett later even includes a few held out m7th chords, which provide a touch of modal harmony. Viewed in this way, “Lucky Southern” turns out to be a delightful excursion through a shifting harmonic palette, with each turn of phrase providing us a glimpse into a different world of jazz. It’s to Jarrett’s credit as a composer that he manages to make it all flow naturally in a coherent musical composition.

It can be fun to bring each of these musical worlds out during our improvisation, for example by playing a bluesy lick over the Bb7-A7 chords and using modes over the F#m7 and Em7 passage. Try different approaches and see what suits you the best!

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
Keith Jarrett interviewed by Ted Rosenthal
More in-depth than most of Jarrett’s interviews

Free (Airto album): Wikipedia

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively

Jazz Piano Video Course
This extensive, well-sequenced video course will get you playing jazz standards with a sense of flow and fluency.

Jazz Piano Lessons via Skype
Personal guidance from an expert, caring teacher. Beginning through Advanced.

Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

Previous Song           Table of Contents           Next Song

Learn the 5 Essential Left Hand Techniques with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
You'll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration