A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Penthouse Serenade,” also known as “When We’re Alone,” is a beautiful Swing-Era ballad that sounds great both as a solo piano piece and when played in ensembles. Written in 1931 by Will Jason and Val Burton, it’s also one of those ballads that work well when you’re playing for ballroom dancing.

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.)

Victor Arden, Phil Ohman and Their Orchestra

This is a definitive, Swing Era version of the song

Nat King Cole

Erroll Garner: Penthouse Serenade

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
One of the distinguishing musical characteristics of “Penthouse Serenade” is how the quarter-note triplets in the melody sound over the steady 1-2-3-4 of the underlying beat. They kind of stretch the time feeling a bit in a very legato, lyrical way. It’s like gently pulling taffy apart as you play.

The melody sounds great when harmonized with block chords, in the style of a big band sax section. Be sure to listen to all three recordings that I’ve linked to above, to get a sense of the song’s basic feel and how Nat King Cole and Erroll Garner personalized their approaches while keeping to the original flavor of the tune.

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

Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

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

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