A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano
History and overview:
The great songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” in 1935. As with many songs of the time, it was composed for a Broadway musical (Jumbo), became frequently “covered” by popular singers, and worked its way into the repertoire of jazz musicians everywhere.
(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.)
Tommy Dorsey: Tommy Dorsey Part 1
Sonny Rollins: Tenor Madness
Recorded in 1956 with Miles Davis’ rhythm section of Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Jo Jones on drums
Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” is a good example of how pop and jazz musicians often change the rhythm of a song to fit their own styles. Richard Rodgers composed the song as a waltz, in ¾ time. And if you hear a Broadway-style singer perform the song today, that’s probably how they’ll sing it. And it will sound very good; it’s a charming waltz with a “lilt” that fits the lyric perfectly.
But the song was written at the height of the Swing Era, and even many “pop” vocalists of the time began putting it into 4/4 time and “swinging” it. This gave it a modern sound for the time and undoubtedly helped them sell lots of records, since the Swing Era was a period when jazz and pop music kind of merged, with big bands having hit song after hit song. The Tommy Dorsey recording I’ve linked to above represents this kind of interpretation.
Jazz musicians typically play it in 4/4 too, stretching out the melody in each measure a little bit to accommodate the extra beat. The great thing about Sonny Rollins’ famous recording (see link above) is that Sonny actually begins by playing the song as a waltz, in ¾ time. By doing so, he’s “tipping his hat” to the song’s musical origin and musical theater history. After a while, the rhythm sections kicks into a very jazz-oriented 4/4 swing and Sonny “does his thing.” I love the fact that Sonny Rollins, who is one of the most jazzy musicians ever, isn’t afraid to play a pretty waltz once in a while. Setting the song up in this manner is an effective way to highlight the jazz interpretation of the tune. You can take inspiration from this and do it with other songs we play that were originally waltzes or ballads. For example, “Falling In Love With Love” was originally a waltz too, and The Real Book is filled with songs that were intended as ballads. Why not start one of these tunes slowly, and go into a fast swing after a minute or so? This technique could be very effective for you.
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
Further links and resources:
The Best Way To Use The Real Book
The Most Beautiful Girl In The World (1935 song): Wikipedia
Todd’s Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart Lyrics Page
Includes a few good essays as well as lyrics
How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively
Jazz Piano Video Course
This extensive, well-sequenced video course will get you playing jazz standards with a sense of flow and fluency.
Jazz Piano Lessons via Skype
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