A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Once I Loved” is a bossa nova that the great Brazilian composer Antonio Carlo Jobim wrote in 1960. (Jobim is also the composer of the most famous bossa nova in history, “The Girl From Ipanema.”)

A lot of jazz musicians like to play “Once I Loved” when they’re providing background music for a party or wedding reception. Its light, moderate rhythm and lyrical melody seem to create a nice musical atmosphere for this type of event.

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.)

Astrud Gilberto: The Astrud Gilberto Album

Cannonball Adderley with the Bossa Rio Sextet

Joe Henderson (video)

Frank Sinatra: Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
One thing I love about Antonio Carlos Jobim’s composing is that he makes each piece unique, without relying on any particular formula or even a standard musical form. “Once I Loved,” at 44 measures in length, is a great example of this.

The song’s form is AA with a coda. Each ‘A’ Section is 16 bars long, with the 2nd ‘A’ leading smoothly into the extended coda. Check out how marvelously Jobim gets us into the coda, by repeating the melodic motif at the end of the 2nd ending down a step as a melodic sequence. Moments like this are when “genius” and “craft” come together!

The chords themselves could have been written 30-40 years earlier, in the Swing Era. In fact, the abundance of ii/V’s makes it an easy tune for jazz musicians to solo on. We’ve seen all these chords in other tunes!

When you’re learning “Once I Loved,” spend a good amount of time listen to the composer himself playing the tune (see video link below). You don’t have to copy his exact interpretation, but you should be aware of how much space he uses and how delicately he plays this music. So even if you decide to take the tune in another musical direction, at least you’ll know why you’re doing it and how your version differs from the original. You’ll also be more rooted in the authentic Brazilian rhythm, which many jazz players aren’t.

It can be a fun exercise to play “Once I Loved” two times: once very gently and legato and the next time more rhythmic and jazzy. See how these two approaches feel and decide how your own vision of this music fits in.

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

Further links and resources:
Once I Loved: Wikipedia

Antonio Carlos Jobim on the NBC Today show, 1986

Tom Jobim’s Story Of Bossa Nova (video with English subtitles)

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