A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“My Buddy” was written by Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn in 1922. While it can sound good as an instrumental, in my opinion the lyric really brings the song to life. Follow the discussion below in “Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips” to see this for yourself!

Recommended videos/recordings:
(for international readers who may not have access to these YouTube links, I’ve indicated the original album names wherever possible so you can listen to them on music streaming services, etc.)

Harry James Orchestra with Frank Sinatra

Chet Baker

Ray Charles: Tribute To Quincy Jones

Stunning in its simplicity and heartfelt emotion.

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“My Buddy” is a good example of why we sometimes “can’t judge a tune by its leadsheet.”

On paper, it’s looks pretty ordinary and nondescript, doesn’t it? Harmonically, it’s just a few simple turnarounds in the key of G major, and the melody looks fairly boring in The Real Book. And if you play though it, you may be tempted to just move on to the next song.

So let’s take a different approach, shall we? Start by listening to the Harry James/Frank Sinatra recording above. Ah… now it’s getting a little more interesting. Now we’re hearing a beautiful pop song that was beloved by millions of listeners in the Swing Era, and Sinatra sings it with more passion than we probably played it when reading the notes from the leadsheet. Sinatra shows us that the melody does have a musical arc, and even more, the lyrics are a nice, heartfelt expression of friendship.

Since we’ve now “opened the door” to appreciating the song for what it really is, let’s take it a step toward jazz and listen to what Chet Baker did with it (again, the link is above). Baker brings the tune into the world of jazz while completely respecting and acknowledging the song’s original intent. He gives us the “best of both worlds,” and can serve as a model for us to do the same.

Finally, take it even further and watch Ray Charles perform the song in the 3rd rendition I’ve linked to above. Ray performed it as a tribute to his longtime friend Quincy Jones, and I’m not even going to attempt to describe it here. All I’ll say is that Ray and Quincy had known each since they were teenagers and that I’ve never seen another performance as simple, heartfelt, and resonant as this one. Do yourself a favor and take a couple of minutes to watch it, and learn its lessons well. We all have the opportunity to do something similar in our own performances, if we wish to.

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

Further links and resources:
The Best Way To Use The Real Book

My Buddy: Wikipedia

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