A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“My One And Only Love” is one of the great ballads in the jazz repertoire. Composed in 1952 by Guy Wood and Robert Mellin, it’s from that period in music that’s right before the rock era, when lots of composers were still writing ballads in the Swing Era tradition.
To get a good feel for the song, be sure to listen to the John Coltrane recording I’ve linked to below, which features the wonderful vocalist Johnny Hartman. Even though Coltrane was also playing “cutting edge” progressive jazz at this time, he clearly enjoyed making this more traditional ballad album with Hartman, who had such a rich bass voice!
(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 and Johnny Hartman
Chick Corea Akoustic Band
Stevie Wonder: Live at Finney Chapel
Unbelievably expressive harmonica playing!
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“My One And Only Love” is composed in a standard, 32-bar AABA form. The ‘A’ Sections are in the key of C major and the bridge modulates to E minor, which provides for a nice contrast.
One of the cool things about the tune is that it uses a lot of “slash chords,” with alternate notes in the bass line. While this can be a little confusing at first glance, it makes sense once you play the bass notes by themselves a few times.
Look at the bass line in the first 3 measures: C B A G F# F E F. See how they’re all stepwise? They just go down the scale, with a little chromaticism on the F# and F. This is part of what gives the song it’s distinctive sound. The chords have a different “weight” or “color” when there’s a different bass note at the bottom. It’s also wonderful how the melody goes upward at the same time that the bass line goes downward. Good old-fashioned counterpoint, just like Old Bach used to write! In fact, if you play just the melody and bass line, without any chords, it sounds a little like the outer voices in some of Bach’s pieces. The melody and bass line are perfectly balanced against each other, and the chords just fill it in harmonically.
Chick Corea sometimes writes bass lines like this in his own compositions, which may be one reason why he recorded the song (see link above.) And while we’re on the subject of recordings, be sure to listen to the Bill Evans version since it’s a classic, and, for some fun, to the Stevie Wonder live recording too. The way he embellishes and improvises around the melody is masterful!
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
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 instruction and guidance to get you to a new level of playing. Beginning through Advanced.
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