A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
In 1987, when I was his assistant, the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan suggested that I might enjoy learning this tune. Shortly afterward, he recorded it himself (see link below). I couldn’t, however, learn it from The Real Book since it wasn’t included in the original version. I’m therefore delighted to see that’s it’s now in the book, since it’s such a great tune. It makes an excellent concert opener, with its exciting melody and fairly straight-ahead chord changes.

“My Shining Hour” was composed in 1942 by Harold Arlen (who had previously written the songs for the movie The Wizard Of Oz) and lyricist Johnny Mercer.

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.)

John Coltrane: Coltrane Jazz

Gerry Mulligan: Dream A Little Dream

Roy Hargrove: Approaching Standards

Nancy Wilson: Live (video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The Real Book indication of “Medium Ballad” for “My Shining Hour” reflects the original way the song was performed by vocalists. This can sound wonderful as an instrumental too, and the tune also sounds very exciting at a fast swing tempo. Try if both ways and decide which way you prefer. (Or, you can play it differently on different days.)

I like playing the tune in the key of C, even though it’s in Eb in The Real Book. Again, it’s a personal choice. C is a little brighter, while Eb is mellower and also puts the melody in a slightly higher place on the piano. See which you prefer.

Harmonically, the song is “standard-issue” Swing Era. Lots of I/vi/ii/V’s and variants, with some modulations to related keys for variety. Once yu learn a few tunes like this, you’ll begin recognizing the same patterns in many other songs too, so learning new tunes begins to come easier, instead of harder, for you.

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

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

My Shining Hour (song): Wikipedia

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