A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Believe it or not, “You Don’t Know What Love Is” was originally written for an Abbot and Costello movie in 1941. (If you haven’t seen them yet, they’re a wonderful old comedy team most famous for their “Who’s on first?” routine.) The tune is a bluesy “torch song” and was composed by Don Raye and Gene de Paul.

It’s probably best known in the jazz world due to its inclusion on Sonny Rollins’ “Saxophone Colossus” album, and remains a favorite jazz ballad to this day.

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.)

Lennie Tristano: The New Tristano

Sonny Rollins: SaxophoneColossus

Cassandra Wilson: Funchal Jazz Festival, Portugal (video)

Jamie Cullum: Montreux Jazz Festival (video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The way to learning “You Don’t Know What Love Is” begins with listening to a vocal rendition. The Cassandra Wilson version I’ve linked to above would be a great place to start. You don’t have to memorize all the lyrics, but you’ll benefit by connecting the emotional content of the music with the words. It would be really difficult to deliver a convincing rendition of the melody without hearing the words “You don’t know what love is” in your mind as you play it.

No one plays a ballad melody better than the pianist Keith Jarrett, and Jarrett has stated in interviews that his Standards Trio made it a goal to “sing” through their instruments. (Jarrett, of course, sometimes actually sings along with his playing too!!!) But his intent is clear: connect with the lyric and sing from your heart. Through your instrument.

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

Further links and resources:
You Don’t Know What Love Is (song): Wikipedia

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