A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars” is a beautiful bossa nova which was composed in 1960 by Antonio Carlos Jobim. The original Brazilian title is “Corcovado,” and the “Quiet Nights” title came about as the result of the later English lyric written by Gene Lees.

Whichever title you use, be sure to learn this great tune, which is one of the most-played bossa novas, along with “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Wave,” and “Black Orpheus.” All of these tunes are in The Real Book and will provide you with a good, solid introduction to the authentic bossa nova repertoire.

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: Terra Brasilis

Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto: Getz/Gilberto

Oscar Peterson: We Get Requests

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Jobim did a wonderful thing by beginning “Quiet Nights” with a D7 chord with the A in the bass. Just by using this simple inversion, he lightened the sound of the harmonies which perfectly frames and supports the floating rhythms of the melody. This is one of the keys to great songwriting; make the chords and melody function as “one.” Jobim’s a master at this.

Improvise over the opening chord as you would for any other D7 chord (D Mixolydian mode), even with the A in the bass. The next chord is Abdim7, which we don’t see as often as one might think (can you name me one other tune that has a diminished 7th chord held out for 2 full measures?). Enjoy this harmonic moment. I usually use a diminished scale to improvise here (Ab Bb B C# D E F G). Moments like this remind us that Jobim was more of a radical composer that is immediately apparent. His music sounds so simple and logical that we might not always realize the high degree of craftsmanship and compositional sophistication that went into its creation.

Most of the melody is based on the opening motif which features a simple, step-wise alternation of notes. It’s very evocative, and may bring to mind a gently rolling sea or shimmering stars (probably the latter since this reflects the song’s title). The overall musical form has 2 large sections, with an extended coda or built-in “tag” at the end.

In order to explore all the possible approached to playing bossa, be sure to listen to some Brazilian versions of “Quiet Nights” as well as some American ones. (See links above.) There are rhythmic as well as melodic differences between the cultures, and we pianists can benefit from both.

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

Further links and resources:
Tom Jobim’s Story of Bossa Nova

An excellent video containing interviews with Jobim

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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