A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Valse Hot” is a jazz waltz by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, who is perhaps best known as a composer for his calypso “St. Thomas.” Rollins first recorded “Valse Hot,” which means “Hot Waltz,” in 1956 with members of the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet, of which Rollins was a part.

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.)

Sonny Rollins: Sonny Rollins + 4

Clifford Brown: Brownie Lives!

A live recording of the Clifford Brown/ Max Roach group

Roy Hargrove: With The Tenors Of Our Time

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The tune starts out with a harmonically dense introduction, which is followed by a more expansive chorus section. The melody reminds me a little bit of old-fashioned carnival music, such as would have been played on a calliope. The 8th notes are played straight, not swung, for most of the tune. When you listen to the original recording, on the Sonny Rollins + 4 album, you’ll hear how they only start swinging the 8th notes about 7 measures from the end, when the harmony gets more jazzy. (Isn’t it fascinating how harmony can influence rhythm??!!)

The Intro can be repeated after the ‘”Head,” before the solos begin. For the solos, leave out the Intro section and only play over the chords to the part labelled “Head,” which is jazz parlance means “main melody.” The chords are pretty straight-forward, and are reminiscent of many Early-20th Century popular songs, of which Sonny Rollins is a big fan. He would often record obscure Tin Pan Alley songs which many jazz musicians didn’t even know, and he also liked to “quote” from old popular songs during his tenor sax solos.

Enjoy playing “Valse Hot,” and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
An interview with Sonny Rollins, by David Marchese
Sonny really opens up here about his goals, his music, and his view on life.

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