Young At Heart (from The Jazz Pianist’s Ultimate Guide to The Real Book) (Finished)

A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Young At Heart” is one of the most charming songs from The Great American Songbook, and you’ll get the best sense of this by listening to Jimmy Durante sing it, via the link below. Durante’s recording was a huge hit, and the song was part of popular culture in the 1960s-70s.

Songwriters Johnny Richards and Carolyn Leigh wrote the music and lyrics in 1953, and the first recording was actually by Frank Sinatra (was there any standard that Sinatra didn’t sing?). Durante recorded it a decade later, and although it’s not a big jam session tune, an occasional jazz version will surface now and again such as the version by Brad Mehldau which I’ve linked to below. The tune lends itself well to jazz harmonies, and the music and lyrics combine to convey an optimistic sense of life, in a way that similar to the songs “When You Wish Upon A Star” and “Moon River.”

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.)

Jimmy Durante

Frank Sinatra

Brad Mehldau: The Art Of The Trio, Vol. 3

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
In one sense, a lot of standard songs are similar. Take a quick look at the lead sheet for “Young At Heart” in The Real Book and you see the same things you’ll see in many other tunes: BbMaj7 chords, ii/V’s, standard turnarounds and even some of the same melodic figures. With all of this “sameness,” it may be tempting to simply play all the tunes the same way. Unfortunately, a lot of jazz musicians do this very thing, and they’re missing out on a lot!

To avoid doing this yourself, begin by asking “What is it that makes this song unique?” Perhaps it’s the descending high points of the melody, punctuated by triplets. Perhaps it’s the lyric, or even the sound of Jimmy Durante’s voice which can inspire us. Or perhaps it’s the way the melody relates to the underlying swing rhythm. Or the chord voicings you mentally “hear” under the melody.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that each tune is unique and that even though we tend to study ii/V’s and such, the important thing is how they’re used in an individual way and how they function in each particular tune.

So even though “Young At Heart,” may contain the same musical elements as countless other standards, no member of the listening public “back in the day” would have viewed it as the “same” as any other song. It has a totally unique charm that is the combination of all the elements I mentioned above: the Chords, the melody, the lyrics, and yes, the sound of how our favorite performers have interpreted the song before we even knew it existed.

And then, of course, there’s the you factor. What unique perspective can you yourself bring to the tune? That’s what your job as a pianist is: to find out what’s unique about the sang and to interpret it in a personal fashion, as only you can.

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

Further links and resources:
Jimmy Durante: Wikipedia

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

How To Learn Jazz Piano
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Mastering The Real Book: A 10-week Skype Intensive for Jazz Pianists

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