A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
This song, from the Broadway musical The Sound Of Music, is famous as a jazz vehicle because John Coltrane played it as a modal tune in the early 1960s. This was right at the end of the era when jazz musicians looked to the Broadway stage for inspiration and Coltrane realized that “My Favorite Things” would let him improvise in the way he wanted while giving his audiences something recognizable.
It’s a good choice for when you’re playing a “background music” gig, such as a party or restaurant. A lot of your listeners will perk their ears up when they recognize the melody, and you don’t have to compromise your choice of songs to play something popular!
(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.)
John Coltrane: My Favorite Things (recording)
John Coltrane: My Favorite Things: TV appearance (video)
Sarah Vaughan: After Hours
Brad Mehldau: Jazz a Vienne, 2010
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
There are two main ways to solo over “My Favorite Things,” and I like to do both! You can either treat the tune like you would any other jazz standard and improvise over the entire chord progression, or you can “go modal” and just repeat the Em7/F#m7 progressions as a vamp. This is what Coltrane’s quartet did, with each soloist cueing the band to play the play a bit of the tune at the end of each solo. (Most players don’t do this however, each soloist just improvises over the 2 chords.)
When I play the tune, I generally solo over the entire form a few times and then extend my solo modally with the Em7/F#7 for a while. Or I’ll insert them as an open vamp in between my two choruses of the song’s form in my solo. I enjoy thinking of the melody as I solo so I don’t often choose to abandon the form entirely, as Coltrane did.
On the other hand, going “modal” for your entire solo is certainly within a great tradition on this tune. Try both approaches and use them freely whenever you like.
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
The Best Way To Use The Real Book
My Favorite Things: “Let’s Jam Together” video playalong
My Favorite Things (song): Wikipedia
John Coltrane, avant garde jazz & the evolution of My Favorite Things
Intensive discussion and analysis of Coltrane’s interpretation of “My Favorite Things”
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.
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