A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
“The Green Mountains” is a tune by Steve Swallow that first appeared on Gary Burton’s album Country Roads & Other Places in 1969. Swallow played bass in Burton’s group at the time, and incidentally, the drummer on the album was the legendary Roy Haynes, who had come up during the bebop era and had performed with Charlie Parker, among others.
By the late 1960s, a lot of jazz musicians were looking to bring pop music influences into the world of jazz, and this is reflected in “The Green Mountains.” Swallow combines an overall jazz harmonic language but with some triads instead of the usual 7th and 9th chords, and the simple, “straight 8th” note rhythmic feel is more “country pop” than jazz. It’s a lovely song that does justice to its title.
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.)
The Gary Burton Quartet: Country Roads & Other Places
Gary Burton’s Bootleg Series 1973a
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
One of the great things about looking at a tune like “The Green Mountains” for the first time is that you can’t go on “automatic pilot” right away (if at all). You have to think: “OK. What’s happening during the introduction. Oh, I see, it’s a I-V sequence in C major and the V chord is suspended for a modal sound.” “Now, what’s going on during the melody? Oh, yeah, they’re all major 7th chords but aren’t related in obvious ways.”
Gradually, the picture becomes clearer and we get a sense of how to approach the tune. The ending looks really complex until we realize that the bass line is simply descending chromatically and it’s harmonized with basic chords that move around the circle of 4ths. Then it begins to make sense and we can begin to play it to hear what it actually sounds like on the piano.
All of Steve Swallow’s tunes are carefully crafted and each one is a voyage of discovery.
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
Country Roads & Other Places: Wikipedia
Steve Swallow interview
The composer of “Falling Grace” discusses his composing and bass playing
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