A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Triste” is a wonderful bossa nova composed by one of the original creators of the style, Antonio Carlos Jobim. Unlike some of the other Jobim songs in The Real Book, like “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Desafinado,” which were composed right at the very beginning of the bossa nova movement, “Triste” came a little later, in 1966.

The song has a beautiful, winding melody that’s a lot of fun to play. And as with all bossa, you have a choice in how “rhythmic” you play it. You can dig in to the Latin rhythms or play in a very smooth, lyrical way. You may also prefer alternating between both approaches. Experiment, try different things, and enjoy this tune by one of the great composers of popular song!

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.)

Antonio Carlos Jobim: Wave

Ella Fitzgerald: Ella Abraca Jobim

Eliane Elias: Live (video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
One of the interesting things going on in “Triste” is how Jobim explores 4 different places to go after a Bb tonic chord.

In m. 1, he stays on BbMaj7 for 2 full measures, and then surprises us by going to the bVI chord, GbMaj7 and then B7b5. This is a pretty big harmonic shift from the key of Bb!

After that, he goes right back to BbMaj7 in m.5 to begin the next phrase. This time, however, he stays in the home key of Bb afterwards, with the iii (Dm7) and VI (G7) chords. These are two completely different ways to follow the tonic harmony and will lead you to different melodic territories in your solos.

But Jobim’s not finished yet. Halfway through the tune, in m. 17, he returns to the BbMaj7hrmony, holding it out as before for 2 full measures. But does he follow it with the same chords as at the beginning? No! He’s having fun trying things out here, and he takes us to a ii/V in the key of Ab, changing the chord’s quality to minor 7th (Bbm7) and then going to Eb7. But instead of letting this resolve naturally to Ab, be “resets” the harmonic journey at the beginning again, with yet another BbMaj7. This time he takes a more traditional route and bring us to Fm7/ Bb7, which is a ii/V that does indeed lead to a resolution in the key of Eb. This Eb functions as the IV chord in Bb and Jobim contrasts all of the earlier harmonic experimentation with a very conventional ending which could have been written by earlier composers such as Irving Berlin or George Gershwin.

Have fun trying this out for yourself, and seeing how wonderful and inventive Jobim was as a composer. Hiding behind that gentle bossa nova rhythm is a pretty radical harmonic experience!

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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