A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Sometimes called simply “Blue Room,” this song is a Rodgers and Hart classic from 1926. (The songwriting duo also wrote “My Funny Valentine,” “Blue Moon,” and countless other great standards.) Like so many other standard songs originally intended for the Broadway stage, “Blue Room” is open to a wide variety of jazz interpretations.

Here are some recommended recordings/videos:
(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.)

Arden and Ohman (Piano Instrumental, 1926)

This type of performance was very common during the 1920s-1950s. Listening to it will give you a good reference point to see how jazz musicians interpreted it their own way.

Benny Goodman: Yale University album

Mel Tormé (1950)

Chet Baker

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The simplest way to view “Blue Room” from a jazz standpoint is that it’s basically “Rhythm Changes” in F, but with a different bridge. The chords in the ‘A’ Sections are the same as George Gershwin used in his song “I Got Rhythm,” but whereas Gershwin went out of the key a little, Rodgers and Hart chose to stay in it, beginning their bridge on the ii chord.

Composers in the Great American Songbook era generally notated their songs with very basic rhythms, letting each performer vary the phrasing at will. One eye-opening exercise would be to listen to each of the recordings I’ve included below while following along on the printed page. Notice how often the performers slightly change the melodic rhythm by anticipating a note here, and delaying a note there. This is all part of interpreting a melody in your own way. I once transcribed a Billie Holiday vocal performance, exactly as she sang the song. I was shocked to see how many times she delayed lyrics by a 16th note. By the time I had notated the entire melody, the music looked much more complex than the original sheet music. On the other hand, sheet music for contemporary pop music will often notate the melody exactly as the vocalist sang it on the recording, which can be overly difficult to sightread.

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

Further links and resources:
The Blue Room playalong track

The Blue Room: Wikipedia

The Blue Room: Journey Through The Real Book #39

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

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