As I was writing my article featuring George Gershwin’s But Not for Me a couple of weeks ago, I found myself anxious to explore the possibility of doing a swing arrangement of this wonderful standard as soon as I could. There were so many terrific swing style tracks on my Spotify playlist that listening to them created the impetus for me to give it a whirl.
There was also another reason behind doing this. It’s something that I often demonstrate for my adolescent and adult piano students. When playing songs found in fake book, the pianist has the flexibility to create a variety of accompaniment styles of the same tune. More about that in a minute.
Years ago, Pulitzer Prize winning Boston composer John Harbison made a rather astute observation. He said that when it comes to the standards from the Great American Songbook, the song is the song i.e. each tune is recognizable in whatever style it is plays. On the other hand, today’s popular songs are the “record” i.e. the recorded performance of a song that is heard on a CD, mp3, LP or any other digital music file. Here’s an example of what I mean.
The theme song from the movie, Beaches, is called The Wind Beneath My Wings. Although a few singers have recorded it, the definitive version was sung by Bette Midler, who just happened to be the star of the movie. As a result, listeners at the time who thought of the song, always “heard” Bette’s rendition in their heads.
Thus, when one of my adult piano students brought the sheet music for The Wind Beneath My Wings into her lesson, she quickly became frustrated because any arrangement we could create were so DIFFERENT from the original recording, that to her nothing WAS The Wind Beneath My Wings i.e. the song was NOT the record. She eventually put the song aside for that reason.
Now I’m not saying that interpreting a pop song in a different way is impossible. Rather it seems like the potential for personalizing an arrangement is much more limited than creating a unique rendition of a standard from the Great American Songbook. That said there is yet another piece to this puzzle.
Years ago, an adult piano student (who had been playing the piano for her entire life) enrolled in lessons with me. She was an excellent reader of music as well as a rather accomplished pianist. So when she wanted to learn how to play Misty, she went out and purchased several different note-for-note arrangements of this great standard.
She didn’t like ANY of them. She thought that each had some wonderful ideas, but no one rendition was satisfying for her to play. Thus she concluded that there must be a solution. So her next step was to find a different way to play her favorite standards-which is why she decided to take piano lessons from me.
The first thing we did was to select a song in Hal Leonard’s This Is the Ultimate Fake Book. Next, I edited and changed quite a few of the chords. I also adjusted the placement of several of the chords. Once this was completed, it was time to select a style that was both effective and satisfying for my student.
Therein lies the value and versatility of using a fake book (a book of songs showing the melody and the words with the chord symbols above the single staff melody). Once the chords are edited and correctly placed, the fun begins.
And so, I demonstrated how Misty would work as a ballad, as a swing tune with walking bass, as a beguine and even as a jazz waltz. She chose to play this standard as a ballad, but she could have revisited the tune years later and played it differently.
With this scenario in mind, I hope you can see why the recording for my previous But Not For Me post arranged in Latin rhythm style was simply NOT enough to satisfy my musical creativity. After listening to so many terrific tracks that were swing renditions, I thought that my enthusiasm would burst at the seams if I didn’t explore and express this timeless Gershwin standard in that way.
When you listen to my swing version of But Not for Me you’ll hear sections with walking bass, “bass in 2”, some left hand percussive /repeated chords reminiscent of the Freddie Green guitar style I often show my students, a bass solo in which I played an improvised solo in the lower range of the piano envisioning myself playing the upright bass. Finally, after the return of the melody, the piece closes with a vamp consisting of ii-V chord progressions.
As you might expect, I enjoyed Revisiting My Favorite Tune even though there was virtually no time between the original Latin rhythm version of But Not For Me and the follow-up. I hope you can now see how much fun you can have by playing the music you love in whatever style suits your fancy at the time.
You will find that by using the “lead sheet” version of a standard found in a Fake Book to learn and play a selection from the Great American Songbook that the experience will be infinitely more satisfying than purchasing several sheet music arrangements of an individual piece.
And that’s where the Ed Mascari Piano Studios come in!
When you take piano lessons from one of our patient, knowledgeable and encouraging piano teachers, you’ll get the help you need to learn to play the piano if you are a beginner, refresh your skills if you took lessons in the past or take your playing to the next level if you are more advanced. Whatever your skill level, you can learn to play or return to your favorite piano pieces in the style that suits you.
Now is the time to immerse yourself in music as a way to energize your life by taking piano lessons at the Ed Mascari Piano Studios. To find out is taking piano lessons is right for you or your son or daughter, you can schedule a free interview /consultation with me. I will be delighted to meet with you at either our Natick MA piano studio or Hudson MA piano studio locations.
All you need to do to get started is to take 20 seconds to contact us today.