A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
One fine evening in the late 1980s, I went to hear Sun Ra and Arkestra perform at New York City’s Village Gate. Sun Ra’s was a pianist/composer/arranger whose roots went back to the Swing Era, and he also embraced avant garde techniques, both as a pianist and as a bandleader. His live performances were WILD!

My seat at the Village Gate was close to the stage, and I sat there, totally enthralled, as the band played an old song that I had never heard before. Vocalists in colorful costumes sang the lyric “The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise” as dancers moved around the crowded stage. The rhythm section played a fairly traditional medium-tempo swing beat, while the trumpets, saxophones, and trombones played what I would call a very “loose” arrangement, with harmony notes that sounded “wrong” but very “right” at the same time.

The effect was astonishing! I remember having the feeling of being elated, as if I was being lightly lifted out of my seat to float in the air. Sun Ra and his group were producing true theatrical and musical magic!

Because of this experience, “The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise” will always have a special place in my heart. There is a Sun Ra recording of the tune, but I couldn’t find a YouTube video to provide a link here.

It’s a wonderful song from the Swing Era that is fun to play. It wasn’t in the earlier editions of The Real Book, so I’m delighted that it’s been included in the 6th edition.

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.)

Frankie Newton Orchestra

from 1939

Benny Goodman (video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise” is very easy to learn. The tune consists of just two 8-measure phrases which are virtually identical. The “old-fashioned” use of the V7(#5) chord in measures 2 and 10 is charming and evoked the sound of early 20th century popular music.

Try experimenting with both ‘2’ and ‘4’ feels in the bass. You can play the root on beat 1 and the 5th on beat 3, by themselves or with mid-register chords on beats 2 & 4 for a stride pattern. But also try it with a walking bass line and see which you prefer. The song is kind of similar to “All Of Me” so you can approach them in similar ways.

The harmonic shift from the III7 (E7) up a half-step to the IV (F) in measures 3-4 and 12-13 is also a characteristic of earlier popular songs. You’ll also hear it in such classics as “Sunny Side Of The Street.”

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

Further links and resources:
The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise (song): Wikipedia

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

How To Learn Jazz Piano
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Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

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

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