As I prepared to write this blog post, I found 500 tracks of My Romance on Rhapsody Music and selected 70 of them for listening. It has truly amazed me that every rendition (vocal and instrumental) works beautifully at the tempo and style of the particular performance. What a concept! As I think back to my many years of playing solo piano gigs, I had probably only explored a couple of ways to play this great tune. This is why I feel grateful for how much technology has benefitted all of us. With a few clicks of the mouse, I have had the opportunity to discover the large variety of possible interpretations for one of the most popular standards in the American Popular Songbook.
As a child I saw the movie Jumbo which was based on the 1935 Broadway show of the same name. Needless to say, it wasn’t until much later that I found out that My Romance came from that show. In fact, I have no idea when I first became aware of the song. Richard Rodgers (1902 – 1979) composed My Romance with his first songwriting partner, Lorenz Hart (1895 -1943). Once, Boston Pops pianist Bob Winter shared an observation with me. He said that there was a special quality in the musical material created by this team that made it more interesting for the jazz pianist than the songs that came from Rodgers’ later partnership with Oscar Hammerstein (1895 -1960). Perhaps Hart’s collaboration with Rodgers (1920 -1943) reflected the times, but his lyrics also provided the composer with subject matter and literary style that inspired more of a New York flavor. And the Big Apple is the home of American Jazz.
In my blog post about the song I’m Old Fashioned, I talked about how Jerome Kern, in keeping the rhythm of the melody relatively simple (almost no 8th notes), left the jazz pianist plenty of room for embellishing and varying the melody without obscuring the identity of the song. By making excellent use of motives, the composer also helps the listener to remember and recognize the song regardless of the style.
Using the same compositional approach, Richard Rodgers created My Romance with simple rhythms and used motive to create unity. Notice how the melodic material (which features a scale passage climbing from E up to C) in the first four measures (see example No.1) is then repeated a third lower in the next four measures (see example No. 2). The final section brings the scale melody to the highest note (high E) in the song (see Example No. 3) so the listener feels the intensity as the song climaxes. In order to help us feel settled at the song’s conclusion, Rodgers precedes the final two measures with a descent from the high E to F (see Example No. 4). You can easily see the relationship between this section of the melody and the five ascending scale lines that occur previously in the piece.
Recently, I was telling one of my teen-age piano students about how I became familiar with many of the standards. While most young people today get to know songs because of school musicals, my frame of reference came from hearing my favorite jazz musicians play the same tunes, but with a different flavor entirely. When songs are played in the shows, they exemplify the Broadway style. This means that the chords are simpler, the rhythm more straightforward, and the vocals closer to what is notated in the musical score. Not so with the jazz style. The jazz musicians who play this material from musicals incorporate more complex chords and harmonic substitutions as well as syncopated rhythms.
Since it is rare to hear non-commercial music without making a special effort to find specific broadcasts, most piano students have no concept of what can be done with a particular piece of music. This is because they have only heard the straightforward renderings of their favorite Broadway songs. It’s only by seeking the inspiration of the master interpreters that you’ll open up ideas for your own way of playing these great pieces.
Recently, one of my adult students told me that she had located and began listening to some Oscar Peterson recordings. Not only was she enthusiastic about her new discovery, but she also started to see the impact of this new behavior (listening to one of the great jazz pianists) as she sought to improve her own piano playing. Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear this: especially when she told me that she remembered how many times I had recommended that she follow this routine.
Before I sign off, I’d like to invite you to check out some of the recordings of My Romance that you may find as inspirational as I did. Oscar Peterson and his former bassist Ray Brown each have bluesy upbeat versions. Dave Brubeck manages to incorporate Bach-like counterpoint in his extended introduction before the rest of the quartet moves into their trademark cool jazz medium tempo swing. Pianist Bill Evans has recorded the song numerous times: always as an up tempo swing number. Some of the ballad versions tend to include a medium tempo swing improvisation section. Guitarists Tal Farlow, Charlie Byrd and Wes Montgomery all follow this formula as does jazz organist Jimmy Smith.
Do you have a favorite recording of My Romance? If so, why don’t you leave it in the Comments section below this post so that your fellow readers might get some added inspiration?
In the meantime, if you want help learning how to play My Romance or any of the other great standards, please do get in touch with us. One of our Ed Mascari Piano Studios
faculty members will be delighted to assist you in learning to play the music you love.