A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“Stompin’ At The Savoy” is one of the big instrumental tunes from the Swing Era. Composed in 1936, it’s credited to Benny Goodman, Edgar Sampson, and Chick Webb. The melody is rhythmic and riff-oriented which made it perfect for the big ballroom dances of the era, where literally thousands of people would gather each weekend to dance to the big band sound.
(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.)
Clifford Brown: Ultimate
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The ‘A’ Section of “Stompin’ At The Savoy” is one of the easier things in The Real Book except….. it’s in the key of Db!!!!
Why would anyone ever write a song with five flats in the key signature? And it’s not just “Stompin’ At The Savoy.” “Body And Soul” and “Lush Life” are in Db as well. In fact, the original sheet music for “Body And Soul” was in the key of C major, because the publishers thought (probably correctly) that no “home pianist” would want to play it in such a “hard” key!!!
So why are these tunes in Db major? Well, there may be a few reasons. First of all, maybe those keys simply sounded better to the composers. Even listeners without perfect pitch can detect a certain mellowness or warmth when they hear something in Db. That’s why a lot of gospel music is written and performed in Db. It’s comforting. Also, it also helps horn players, since it puts the tunes in Eb for trumpets and tenor saxes, and Bb for the tenor sax, with only 3 and 2 flats respectively.
For us pianists, it’s actually a great opportunity to buckle down, practice hard, and learn to play in Db. If you dedicate yourself to playing “Stompin’ At The Savoy” for just a few minutes every day, you’ll begin to feel comfortable playing in the formerly hard key of Db in just a couple of months. Start today, and those couple of months will fly by!
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
Stompin’ At The Savoy (song): Wikipedia
About The Savoy Ballroom
A history of the legendary Harlem ballroom, which inspired the song
The Best Way To Use The Real Book
How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively
Mastering The Real Book: A 10-week Skype Intensive for Jazz Pianists
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