A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
The ballad “My Foolish Heart” was composed by Victor Young and lyricist Ned Washington in 1949. In those days, jazz musicians still looked to movies and the Broadway stage for material, and “My Foolish Heart” was no exception, having been featured in the film of the same name.

The tune is more complex than a “typical” AABA 32-bar song, and is famous in jazz circles mainly because of Bill Evans’ groundbreaking version with his trio (I’ve linked to the recording below).

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.)

Bill Evans Trio (video)

Carole Sloane: Love You Madly

Ahmad Jamal Trio and George Coleman (video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
I become fascinated each time I play through the melody to “My Foolish Heart” and experience once again how beautifully it all unfolds. It’s very motivic, and each phrase ascends a little higher than the previous one, until it reaches a peak in m.9. This is like the crest of a wave after which the melodic line gradually descends again, leading back down to the beginning a second time in m. 19 (same as m.1 in The Real Book). The same thing happens in the second half of the tune, except that it says in the upper range until the very end.

Looking at the tune’s leadsheet in The Real Book as I’m writing this, I’ve just noticed something about “My Foolish Heart” that I’ve never realized before: the melody is entirely “diatonic.” Every note is in the Bb major scale, with no accidentals. I’ve seen this in other tunes, but “My Foolish Heart” is pretty complex, and I didn’t expect this. It seems like the chords are what give it such complexity, along with the musical form, in which the melodic phrases lead smoothly from one section to the next, without marked contrast.

As simple as the melody is from a harmonic viewpoint, the chords are where the color and variety are. If you want a good “eartraining” challenge, try singing the bass line while playing the chords and melody. Use a syllable like “la” and actually sing the chord roots until you can “hear” them well. Not only will this help you learn the tune very well, but it will give you a first-hand appreciation for how harmonically rich “My Foolish Things” actually is. This is one of the more complicated ballads in The Real Book, but it’s well worth the effort it takes to learn.

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

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

My Foolish Heart (song): Wikipedia

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