A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“One Note Samba” is one of the most famous Bossa Nova songs, and is a big favorite among jazz vocalists. Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote the song in 1960, and the “one note” of the title comes from the extensive use of a repeated note at the beginning of the melody. The song's lyric is very clever in how it comments on the static nature of the melodic line.

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.)

Antonio Carlos Jobim: The Composer Of Desafinado, Plays

Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd: Jazz Samba

Astrud Gilberto

Dizzy Gillespie: Paris, 1965 (video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Unlike many tunes, “One Note Samba” begins on the iiim7 chord and then works it's way chromatically down with a series of triton substitutions. (Instead of iii/Vi/ii/V, Jobim uses iii/bIII/ii/bii.) To learn how to improvise on this, you'll have to figure out which scales to use. Here's one possibility:

Dm7: D Phrygian (Bb major)
Db7: Db Lydian (b7)
Cm7: C Dorian (Bb major)
B7b5: B altered scale

After this, there's a straight ii/V/I in the key of Eb which then goes to a dominant IV chord (Ab7), for a bluesy touch, before returning to the same chords used at the top, which finally resolve to the tonic key of Bb major.

The bridge consists of two ii/V/I progressions, in Db and B.

Like many Jobim songs, the form is a departure from the standard AABA 32-bar song form (although he did use that in “The Girl From Ipanema” and others). “One Note Samba” is ABA, with the 'A' Sections being 16 bars in length while the bridge is only 8 measures long. Having a short bridge like this is an interesting effect, which Jobim emphasizes by using an 8th-note melodic line which is quicker than what he used during the 'A' Sections. It's details like this that set his work apart from the rest.

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

Further links and resources:
One Note Samba: Wikipedia

More than a one-bossa-nova-hit wonder
NY Times article about Antonio Carlos Jobim

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

How To Learn Jazz Piano
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Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

Mastering The Real Book: A 10-week Skype Intensive for Jazz Pianists

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