A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“They Didn’t Believe Me” was composed by Jerome Kern and lyricist Herbert Reynolds. The wrote it in 1914 for the Broadway show “The Girl From Utah.” (I wonder what she was like???) As with many musical theater songs of the day, it found it’s way into the repertoire of popular and cabaret singers. It’s not really a song that instrumentalists perform much, but like many other songs by Kern it sounds great in a jazz context. Try it with a relaxed stride left hand, and phrase the melody as a vocalist would. Getting a sense of the lyrics will help too.

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.)

Tony Bennett and Bill Charlap

Sammy Davis, Jr. and Carmen McRae: Boy Meets Girl

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
“They Didn’t Believe Me” is a good example of how much variety the great songwriters of standards could get from using the same chords over and over in their songs. The whole harmonic progression revolves around a ii/V/I/vi in the key of G with an occasional iii chord substituting for I. In fact, it’s only in m. 14 that Jerome Kern feels the need for something different. And then he goes right back into the same chords again!

But “They Didn’t Believe Me” doesn’t sound like any other of the hundreds if not thousands of songs that us these chords. That’s the magic of songwriting!

The good news for us jazz musicians is that we already know all these chords. We’ve used them in countless other tunes and can readily improvise over them, play bass lines, and have already practiced many chord voicings on these harmonies. If you’re at this point, all you have to do is learn the melody and “hear” how the chords underlie it.

Have fun playing this tune by one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived. Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
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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