A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“(The Old Man From) The Old Country” is one a handful of famous tunes written by cornetist Nat Adderley. Nat’s brother, Cannonball Adderley, played alto sax with Miles Davis in the 1950s, and the two siblings formed their own quintet in the 1960s.

Nat’s compositions feature a “down-home” bluesiness that reflected the movement in some parts of the jazz world towards a riff-oriented approach that harkened back to the roots of jazz and the blues.

The Nancy Wilson recording I’ve linked to below is very well-known, and hey, Keith Jarrett recorded the tune on Standards Live , which may very well be the best live piano trio album ever recorded. That in itself says something about how good this tune is!

Recommended videos/recordings:
(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.)

Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley

Nat Adderley and the Big Sax Section: That’s Right!

Shirley Horn: Live at Newport 8/15/92 (video)

Keith Jarrett Trio: Standards Live

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The Real Book version of The Old Country included the brief introductory verse, which isn’t always played although Nat Adderley himself did arrange it for brass on the recording That’s Right! (see link above.) Unlike many intro verses from older standards, this one is meant to be played in rhythm, not rubato.

After that, the tune itself is very simple. It’s in the key of C minor and sounds a little like a “minor blues,” but unlike a true blues, The Old Country is 16 bars long. The chords are basic, but they flow together wonderfully. Spend some time comparing how the various phrases sound in terms of the harmonies. The first phrase, for instance, ends on the minor tonic (Cm), while the second phrase modulates to the relative major (Eb major). Let these shifting tonal centers influence your melodic lines.

The progression then return to the relative minor (Cm), but Adderley puts in a few unexpected chords (AbMaj7, D7) near the end to give a slightly different feeling to the song as the chorus comes to an end.

To solo, try alternating between modes and the C blues scale to put some nice contrast in your improvisation. Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley transcription

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively

Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

Mastering The Real Book: A 10-week Skype Intensive for Jazz Pianists

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