It may be difficult to believe, but in 9 years of publishing this Conversations at the Piano blog, composer George Gershwin has never once been featured. There were several reasons for this. One of these is to give many other slightly less popular composers the well-deserved attention that is due them.
That said, rather than waiting to schedule a George Gershwin series (which I may do at one point), I recently became excited about playing one of his well-known standards But Not for Me. In all honesty, it is difficult for me to decide whether it falls under the Revisiting My Favorite Tunes series or the Always Learning one. The reason for this is that my relationship with But Not for Me includes both categories.
Interestingly enough, when it came to working on But Not for Me, I found myself in the same situation that several of my Adult Piano Students have experienced. What these students have found, is that over the years they have accumulated a long list of songs that they had learned. Unfortunately, time constraints often cause pianists like you to stop playing the songs that you have learned in the past. That is UNLESS you have a good system in place for repertoire review.
Even so, there are far more songs than any professional or amateur pianist has learned over the years that could possibly be reviewed on a regular basis. As a result, many tunes end up falling by the wayside. Believe it or not, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
With each phase of musical development a piano student (as well as a professional pianist) learns a group of songs. Then what happens is that at one point a new skill level is reached. I think of this as if piano students slowly going up a musical ramp that has a gradual incline. Little by little the music gets better. However, the ramp ends and the student is required to go up a high stair to reach the next landing. Once there, the student goes up the next musical ramp as the process (this time on a more advanced level) is repeated.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Suppose Michelle has learned to play several songs with 3 note chords. At one point, she is ready to advance to 4 note chords, which make the music sound much more interesting. This is because it is often filled with ii-V-I progressions, which are characteristic of the standards found in the Great American Songbook.
This process can go on for a number of years. Then what happens is that student Michelle recalls liking a song she played a long time ago in a simple arrangement. Now, with her much more advanced pianistic level, she revisits the same basic level song. Then she and I (student and teacher) collaborate on creating a more advanced and sophisticated arrangement, which requires a certain amount of practice time to master.
At this point, we now must ask the question: does the song fall under Revisiting My Favorite Tunes or Always Learning? Of course the answer is BOTH. Here’s why. When revisiting a song from the past, we end up relearning, recasting, revising and playing it with more musical maturity. Thus, the end result is that the student (or professional) is always learning.
This is what happened to me when I dusted off the sheet music for But Not for Me. It has probably been close to 15 years since I last performed this great standard. Back in the years at my Radisson Milford Hotel solo piano gig, I often played But Not for Me in a medium swing tempo combining bass in 2 with walking bass in my arrangement. I’m embarrassed to say that although audience members enjoyed to performance, I hadn’t done much more than play this great tune with my customary musical language.
Fast forward several years. At this juncture, I have learned to invest much more time in exploring the particulars of each piece. So when I tried to recapture my original concept for But Not for Me, it simply did NOT cut it.
Because of my years of practicing, teaching, composing, recording, performing and listening, I ended up taking a totally different approach to this Gershwin classic. So when you listen to my recording of But Not for Me, you’ll hear my Latin rhythm treatment of this tune. Honestly, I never would have guessed that this would be the style that would allow me the best avenue for creative expression. But that is exactly what happened.
When I listened to the tracks on my Spotify playlist, there were only two or three performances that employed a Latin rhythm. Two of my favorites were Argentine pianist Lalo Schifrin’s instrumental version and jazz vocalist Kenny Rankin’s rendition from his Professional Dreamer CD.
In keeping what I said above about always being in the process of musical development, I found that listening to swing versions of But Not for Me on my Spotify playlist inspired me to consider giving this tune another treatment in the not-too-distant future.
After all, listening to these marvelous renditions by pianists Bill Evans, Les McCann, Sir Roland Hanna and Ahmad Jamal as well as by trumpet players Claudio Roditi and Bobby Shew, is extremely motivating.
How about you? Is there a song that fits into both your revisiting my favorite tunes as well as your always learning category?
Given a little thought, I bet you can come up with an excellent list. Most of our adult piano students can certainly do this.
When you take piano lessons at the Ed Mascari Piano Studios 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.
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