A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Not to be confused with the John Mayer song of the same name, “Paper Doll” is one of the older standards in The Real Book. It reminds me a little of Up A Lazy River in that they both have a relaxed “lilt” to the rhythm that always makes me smile!

The song is almost always played at a medium-slow swing tempo, but it also works surprisingly well when played fast. If you choose to do this, make each 8th note in the original into a quarter-not, and play a walking bass throughout.

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.)

The Mills Brothers

This is the classic rendition of the song.

Michael Bublé

Listen to the vocal harmony about halfway through which evokes the sound of The Mill Brothers.

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Paper Doll” is one of those tunes that will mean more to you if you learn a few of the lyrics. It’s not necessary to memorize the whole lyric, it’s enough to know a few key words and that the overall concept is a charming way of expressing love. All the great jazz musicians of the time knew this and it greatly influenced the way they played the melody and improvised on it.

I love playing songs like this in a slow stride style. Keep the feeling relaxed and enjoy moving from harmony to harmony. The chords are all standard fare, but when combined with the song’s melody and lyric, prove to be much more than the sum of their parts.

You can also use a simple tune like this as a way to get comfortable playing in different keys. Spend a few weeks playing “Paper Doll” up a half step, in the key of F#. While this might feel very strange for a few days, after a while you’ll start to surprise yourself and feel “at home” in F#. Wouldn’t that be great?

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

Further links and resources:
The Mills Brothers: Wikipedia

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively

Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

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

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