A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“Straight No Chaser” may be the most widely-played blues in The Real Book. (This has become especially true since Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” disappeared from the book with the new edition!)
If you call the tune at a jam session, be sure to specify what key you want to play it in. Thelonious Monk composed it in the key of Bb and always played it in that key. Miles Davis, however, recorded it in the key of F, probably because that key puts it nicely in the trumpet’s range. After Miles’ recording became very famous, jazz musicians began playing “Straight No Chaser” in F more than the original key of Bb. Indeed, the original Real Book had it in F and a whole generation of jazz musicians grew up playing it exclusively in that key.
The newest edition of the Real Book has restored it to its original key of Bb, which can occasionally cause confusion during performances. Since some players still strongly associate it with F, while others have learned it in Bb, you’ll want to clear this up before you count off 1-2-3-4!
(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.)
Thelonious Monk: Live At The It Club
My favorite recording of the tune
Miles Davis: Milestones
In the key of F (see explanation above)
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“Straight No Chaser” is a “straight ahead” jazz blues. If someone at a jazz jam session says “Let’s play a blues in F,” play these chords. But as with all of Monk’s tunes, the melody is what sets it apart and makes it unique. Monk bases the entire melody on the opening motif, particularly the chromatic part. You can use this to your advantage by playing around with this motif during your solo. For inspiration, listen to tenor sax player Charlie Rouse do this during his solo on the Live At The It Club which I’ve linked to above. That way, you’re actually soloing on the song itself, rather than a generic blues. You can use the motif for a while, then go your own way, and then revisit the motif. Use it creatively and listen to how good your solo sounds!
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
Interview with Robin D. G. Kelley, Monk’s biographer
I learned a lot from this interview (and yes, the whole book is worth reading!)
The Best Way To Use The Real Book
How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively
Learn the 5 Essential Left Hand Techniques with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
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