This JazzPianoSkills Podcast Episode explores the Form, Melody, Harmony, and Function of George Gershwin's "Summertime".
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Every JazzPianoSkills weekly podcast episode introduces aspiring jazz pianists to essential Jazz Piano Skills. Each Podcast episode explores a specific Jazz Piano Skill in depth. Today you will discover, learn, play George Gershwin's Summertime. In this Jazz Piano Lesson you will:
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Welcome to jazz piano skills. I'm Dr. Bob Lawrence. It's time to discover, learn and play jazz piano. Wow was last week fun or what? It was a blast welcoming jazz foenum Jeremy Siskin to jazz piano skills to talk about all things jazz piano. The interview went extremely well, at least I think so. And Jeremy shared so many wonderful insights about the study of jazz. really thrilled about all the wonderful feedback received from all of you about the new segment as well. Again, I gotta be honest, I wasn't quite sure how well the idea was going to go over. So I definitely breathe a huge sigh of relief once I started receiving all the wonderful emails and speakpipe messages, so thank you. My game plan at least for now is to welcome a prominent jazz pianist educator to jazz piano skills every five to six weeks to discuss the various essential jazz piano skills that we explore on a week to week basis technique theory transcriptions tunes. So anyway, with all that being said, I simply want to extend a huge thank you to Jeremy Siskin for helping me launch the new team Tuesday segment. Speaking of episode segments, if you are a regular listener to jazz piano skills podcast then you already know that I release a new episode every Tuesday of every week. And every Tuesday of every week is dedicated to a specific jazz study such as theory, technique, transcriptions tunes, and the objective of each episode each segment, regardless of the area of concentration is to help you to help all of us become better jazz pianist today is certainly no different. Today we are doing a tunes study exploring a classic jazz standard by George Gershwin summertime, so much to say about this today that it's actually hard to know exactly where to begin. In fact, probably the best place to actually begin is to address the debate that has existed and continues to exist to this day. Amongst all the musicology experts, the debate simply stems from trying to answer one simple little question. What is it? What is summertime? Gershwin actually thought he composed a nice little lullaby but others the experts had conflicting opinions. Some felt that summertime best belong to a pop category of music, and others felt that belong to the world of opera, while others felt it was more of a spiritual piece. Get this some actually feel that summertime has more in common with the music of the vor Jacques and Wagner than it will then it does was say WC handy St. Louis Blues bottom line. I cannot think of any other piece of music that has caused such a stir and trying to figure out what it is. Let me in this debate right here right now. How about this? Let's just call summertime. A great to a tune by the way. As with all great tunes can be played in a variety of settings, grooves and tempos. To prove my point, it's interesting to note that more than 400 jazz cover versions of summertime were recorded during the 1950s in the 1960s alone, just during that period alone. among one of the best known recordings, of course is Miles Davis is performance. From his Porgy and Bess project with Gil Evans. So many different interpretations of this Gershwin classic to check out it's impossible to mention them all. Hear right now so I want to encourage you to spend some time on YouTube this week. And if you do, you will be blown away by the various as artists who have recorded summertime and not just from the jazz world, go check it out, you're going to be shocked. It's actually pretty amazing. So with all that being said, I thought summertime would be a great tune for us to take a look at today to discover, learn and play it so that it becomes a staple in your jazz repertoire. But before we do before we get down to business I want to take a second and personally invite all new first time listeners and and all you old timers to join jazz piano skills to become an active member. Simply go to jazz piano skills calm select a membership plan, click on the join link, and welcome to our jazz family. Once an official member you will have full access to all of the educational content and resources at jazz piano skills. You'll have access to all of the podcast packets, the illustrations the lead sheets, the play alongs you'll have access to the interactive courses which are a which make up a sequential jazz piano curriculum utilize any self paced format, you'll have access to the weekly masterclass, which is a live one hour online masterclass with me every week, you'll have access to the private jazz piano skills community, the skill specific forums and the course specific forums. Plus, you'll have unlimited personal and professional support when ever you need it as often as you need it. I will be of course sharing more details about these amazing benefits throughout today's episode. But I say this every week because it is that important. And I simply cannot stress it enough. If you are indeed serious about developing the jazz piano skills needed for you to become an accomplished jazz pianist, then you should absolutely without a doubt, become a jazz piano skills member. And begin taking advantage of all of the educational content, materials, resources and professional support. There are several membership plans to choose from, so you can definitely find one that is going to be a good fit for you. You can become a member just for a month if you just want to check it out. Try it out for a little bit, see what you think. You can certainly do that. There's also a quarterly membership plan. There's an annual membership plan. And of course, there's even a lifetime membership plan. All four plans will grant you full access to all of the educational content, materials, resources and professional support. check everything out at jazz piano skills calm and if you have any questions, let me know. I'm happy to spend some time with you by phone or through speakpipe or through email. To help you determine which jazz panel skills membership plan is best for you. Alright, let's discover, learn and play this amazing pop to or opera to or spiritual tune or jazz standard or whatever else you want to call it. Let's discover learn and play summertime. So today you're going to discover George Gershwin's summertime, you're going to learn how to strategically study and practice summertime and you are going to play summer time using a standard and enhanced chord progression. So regardless of where you are in your jazz journey, whether you're a beginner, an intermediate player, and advanced player or even if you are an experienced professional, you will find this jazz panel skills podcast lesson exploring George Gershwin's summertime to be very beneficial. To begin all jazz piano skills members need to pause this episode right now take a few minutes and print the podcast packets, the illustrations and the lead sheets. always important to have these packets in front of you as we go through the lesson. As the old saying goes a picture's worth 1000 words, the illustrations and the lead sheets will indeed illuminate various aspects of summertime. As we discover, learn and play it so I'll take a second right now pause, hit the pause button and print out the jazz the podcast packets. Okay, now that you have the podcast packets in front of you, I want to walk you through them. Let's begin with the illustrations What you have in front of you is a breakdown of the chord scale relationships of summertime. For each chord, you will have the scales illustrated using orange x's on those keyboard diagrams. And the arpeggios are notated are illustrated using green O's. So basically what you have is what I like to call the X's and O's of summertime. You'll also notice on the left hand side of the page of the illustrations, you'll also notice an outline where I have several suggestions for you to implement when practicing and I strongly suggest that you take the time to read them, check them out, read them, and do them. Okay, so these X's and O's These are your chord scale relationships have the basic progression for summertime. Okay, now let's look at the lead sheets and you should have 12 lead sheets in your hands. lead sheet one is summertime, it's the melody and chord changes. But before I go any further, I want to encourage you to learn the melody by using your ears. In other words, do not read the melody. Only use the music I provide this, because I only want you to use the music to check you're transcribing the melody. Use the music as a simple checks and balance system. That's it. If you learn the melody by reading it, then you're playing of the melody will more than likely end up sounding stiff, like you're reading it. I imagine that. On the other hand, if you learn the melody using your ears, you're playing the melody will sound like you're singing it which is exactly how you want it to sound. So keep that in mind. Okay, lead sheets two and three, give you the basic chord changes and function of those chord changes what I like to call the harmonic DNA of summertime, lead sheets four and five give you the basic left hand shell voicings and the primary two handed voicings that I am going to be using today. lead sheet six gives you a set of enhanced chord changes for summertime can have doctored up a little bit and I will be demonstrating these chord changes today as well. Lead sheets seven and eight give you the left hand shell and two handed primary voicings that I'm using today as well. And just a quick side note if you have not listened to the podcast episodes dealing with the primary voicings for major dominant minor and half diminished chords, then I would like to encourage you to do so as quickly as possible, it will help you eight on the last four lead sheets isolate each of the minor tonalities you have to deal with when improvising over summer time plus a major and minor 251 progression that you have to have a command of as well when playing summertime. All 12 lead sheets make an amazing podcast packet that will help you truly truly learn summertime. Finally I want to mention and stress the importance of using the play alongs packet as well that I have produced and included in your membership for this jazz panel skills podcast lesson on summertime, you have play alongs for the minor chord improvisation exercises for the major and minor 251 exercises that are found in summertime plus you have a play alongs for summertime using the basic harmonic structure of the tune and then also play along play along track for the enhanced chord changes that I have presented today as well. So use all of the packets, the illustration packets, the lead sheet packet and the play along packet right. What a trio they will help you immensely develop as a jazz pianist and also help you learn summertime. No doubt. We have a ton to cover today. And of course even with the podcast packets in your hands, the illustrations the lead sheets in the play alongs you will indeed have some questions and that is precisely Why I am committed to providing all jazz panel skills members immediate, personal and professional support. If you're listening to this podcast, the jazz panel skills website, which I hope you are, you can use the extremely convenient speakpipe widget nestled directly beneath the podcast player to send me a voicemail message. It's that easy. It's that simple. One click and the two of us are interacting with each other. Send me a voice message with your questions. And I will send you one back with answers. Very cool technology. If you're listening on iHeartRadio, Spotify, Apple, Google Pandora, amazon music or any of the other popular podcast directories, you can simply use the URL speakpipe.com forward slash jazz piano skills to send me a quick message. If you are a scaredy cat, and are afraid to send me a voice message, then you can post your question. In the private jazz piano skills forum let the community help you. To do this, just look directly directly beneath the speakpipe widget and you'll see the links for easy access to the jazz panel skills community. Or, if you are free on Thursday evening, you can attend the Thursday evening jazz panel skills masterclass that I host every week, join me online 8pm Central time using the zoom link posted on the jazz panel skills website. Join the class and get your questions answered face to face. I provide you with so many ways I provide all jazz piano skills members with so many ways to get help. So definitely take advantage of the opportunities. As you know, my entire goal here is to provide you with the very best jazz piano lessons, the very best jazz piano educational materials in the very best jazz panels support that is available anywhere today. Okay, so when I begin to study a tune, I break it down into five categories, which I attack one at a time. Here are my categories. Number one, form number two, harmonic motion. Number three, Melody number four, chords and melody. And number five, improvisation. That list again, number one form number two, harmonic motion. Number three, melody, number four chords plus melody and number five improvisation. So let's start with the form of summertime. Summertime is a short little composition 16 measures long. That's it. Now that 16 measures is split into four sections, each section consisting of four measures each. So we basically have what I would call an A B, A c four. And if you are not familiar with this kind of verbiage, then let me just quickly say that in the jazz world, especially the jazz standard world. We communicate form by using letters, the most common forms being a BA, and a b a, b. Of course there are variants to these two primary formats. And summertime is a great example of such variation. Most standards are 32 measures in length, not 16. Each section of a standard typically consists of eight measures, not four. So basically the form of summertime is cut in half all the way around. Plus it has three distinct sections, as opposed to only two we have a C section, and not just an alternating A and B section. So you can see understanding the form of a piece is the very first thing you should attack. And it's funny. Form is the first thing you should look at and study and it's rarely if ever mentioned or discussed when talking about a tune. In fact, so much so that if I had to bet whether or not a student knows the form of a tune that he or she is playing, I would bet that they do not. I have asked students countless times over my 30 plus years of teaching to tell me the form of a piece that they are playing, only to be met with a blank stare We're not going to let that happen to us. Summertime, A, B, A c 16 measures, four sections, four measures each. Okay after for my study harmonic motion, I want to determine the key the piece and then map out what I like to call the harmonic DNA at the piece. The one chord going into the six chord going to court, etc. I am playing summertime and D minor, like john Coltrane did Gershwin however originally wrote summertime in B minor. And it's commonly played in a minor. So, you know, I, the fact is though i i've i've had it called in G minor, B flat minor, C minor and jam session. So you know, who knows right today, today is D minor, D minor is our key of choice for today. So grab your lead sheets, the one with the basic changes, and the harmonic function notated plus the one with the two handed primary voicings and that I have mapped out for you as well as the shell voicings grab all those lead sheets, follow along I want to play summertime right now. And then we'll talk about it okay, just the harmonic function. So here we go. Summertime. Nice to skippack quick comments, notice how I was just playing the chord changes, no melody, at this stage of the song learning process, I am focusing on solidifying form and harmonic motion. When I imply it, I am thinking in terms of function, I am not thinking in terms in terms of chord changes. In other words, I'm thinking one minor, then four minor, then two half diminished, then five dominant, and so on. I would do this over and over and over again until I could do it in my sleep. I want to truly hear summertime. Right. We say that again. I want to truly hear summertime, that harmonic motion. After I have a command on the form and the harmonic movement, then I turn my attention to the melody So once I pick out the melody by ear, then I begin to play it in time. And let me show you how I do this. So I'm, I'm going to bring the ensemble back end, and I'm going to learn the melody of summertime. So let's check this out and then we'll talk about it. Okay, here we go check it out. Did you notice no chords, I played melody only in the right hand, while my left hand sat in my lap. Again, I would do this over and over and over again until I can play the melody in my sleep. Here's the simple truth when listening to a jazz musician playing, I can tell right away in his or her soloing, how well they actually know the melody of a tune. If they know the melody, well, it is constantly being referenced. If they do not know the melody, well, you have no idea what tune they are playing. And if you have no idea of what tune they are playing, while they are sewing, then I I can promise you that it's not a very good solo. All this to say, learn the melody of a tune, learn the melody, really, truly learn it. If you do your plane and especially your soloing will get so much better. Okay, once I have a handle on the form, I have a handle on the chord changes. I have a handle on the melody. It's time to bring it all together. So now let me play summertime using my left hand shell voicings on your lead sheet their two handed primary voicings also on a lead sheet plus the melody right so grab those lead sheets follow along as I play summertime. chords plus melody. Okay, here we go. Let's check it out. Pretty darn nice okay this time did you notice that I did not try to improvise. I focused on planes summertime, the form chord changes voicings and melody until I can actually play the tune incorporating those elements form chord changes voicings and melody. I have no business thinking about improvising In fact, until I solidify my groove my tempo and the chord changes harmonic motion that I want to play when playing summertime. Until all that solidified I should not be messing around with improvisation. For example, here's an enhanced version of summertime that I like to play still in D minor, but I spice it up a little. So grab the lead sheet with the enhanced chord changes and the lead sheet with the shell voicings and the primary two handed voicings for the enhanced chord changes and follow along. So now let's check this out. Here we go. Wow, pretty cool. Did you notice right away I was playing more in a kind of a very relaxed and chilled out bossa nova groove. a completely different, completely different from the classic swing group that I've been playing, that I've been using up until now. See, my whole point is this, there is so much to learn in a to that must come first, before you even start working on improvisational ideas, we tend to want to gloss over all of those essential elements of learning a tune, right that I just mentioned that I that we just went through all those elements of form, harmonic function, the melody, putting it all together, we want to we just kind of want to kind of skim over all of that in rush to get to improvisation. And then, for some reason, we're always shocked and we're disappointed when our improvisation doesn't sound as good as we would like. Wow, imagine that take the shortcut improvisation. You can always count on being disappointed when improvising so now let's pretend that we have done all our homework, right? We actually truly know summertime we know the form we have a great set of chord changes that we've decided upon using under our fingers we can play the melody backwards and forwards we have we have not we don't have any problems playing summertime we actually know it we we can play it in different tempos different grooves. And so now finally now we want to begin working on developing some improvisational ideas great fantastic. So, how should we begin EZ chord tones chord tones only not chord tones and scale tones chord tones only. Just a quick reminder, I think of improvisation in three phases, phase one, mastery of chord tones, phase two mastery of scale tones, phase three mastery of non scale tones do not even think about scale tones and non scale tones before you can actually make music using core tones. So the next two demonstrations I am going to to play I am going to take one of the minor sounds from summertime and one of the 251 progressions from summertime. And practice improvising using chord tones only. Okay, so let's start with the D minor sound. Alright, so we're just going to sit on a D minor, and I'm going to use core tones only and try to make something musical. So here we go. Let's check this out. See, chord tones are not boring. If you cannot create using chord tones, only, the creation process does not get easier by adding other options. That's, that is just that is just silly thinking. Okay, so now let's do the same thing for the minor 251 progression. So I'm going to play the E minor seven, flat five, going to the a seven with the flat nine, flat 13 sound resolving to the D minor seven. And again, I'm just going to use chord tones only. So this is kind of like a little to measure exercise, it's a non repeating, you got the half diminished chords on count one and two, the a seven on counts three and four followed by D minor seven for entire measure. And I'm just going to repeat that several times. And I'm going to just focus on using chord tones only when improvising. Alright, so let's check this out. Here we go. Pretty cool. Right? Pretty cool. Core tones only what a great way to start. You don't even have to worry about CT scan relationships, right? Just chord tones only get comfortable with making music and improvising using those chord tones. Again, it doesn't get easier when you add the scale tones. And it doesn't get easier when you add the non scale tones. So start there, isolate different sections of a tune. And then practice improvising using the chord tones. In your podcast packets, you have exercises for the G minor sound as well. And you also have exercises and play alongs for the major 251 that's utilized in summertime, the G minor seven to C dominant to F major seven. It is amazing to me a 16 measure song like summertime, there's really so much to unpack in this beautiful piece. That it's all. It's all packed into 16 measures and there's so much to talk about that it's simply impossible to do within a one hour podcast episode. So I hope though today that I've given you a place to start a way to begin learning George Gershwin's summertime, it is a song that you absolutely should have in your repertoire and be able to play it is a staple in the jazz world in the jazz literature. So I hope you have found this jazz piano skills podcast lesson exploring George Gershwin's summertime to be insightful and of course I hope it has been very beneficial. Don't forget if you are a jazz piano skills member I will see you online Thursday evening at the jazz piano skills masterclass 8pm Central time to discuss this podcast episode lesson exploring Gershwin's summertime in greater detail and to answer any questions that you may have about summertime, or about the study of jazz in general. Also, as a jazz piano skills member, be sure to check out the all of the podcast packets for all of the podcast episodes. And of course, check out the jazz piano skills courses as well. All of it will just simply maximize your musical growth. Likewise, make sure you are an active participant in the jazz piano skills forums, get involved. Make some new jazz Piano friends, as always, you can reach me by phone 972-380-8050 extension 211 by email Dr. Lawrence, Dr. Lawrence at jazz piano skills.com or by speakpipe found throughout the jazz piano skills website and in the jazz piano skills courses as well. Well, that's it for now. And until next week, enjoy the journey. Enjoy George Gershwin's summertime, and most of all, and have fun as you discover, learn and play jazz piano