Gershwin’s SummertimeGershwin’s Summertime

Hi! Below here, an abridged version of my introductory article to my 3/4 time piano solo arrangement of George Gershwin‘s “Summertime“, originally published in the Summer 2007 issue of the glorious magazine Piano Today (USA). Please contact me if you are interested in the sheet music of this arrangement (as well as for knowing more in the other items quoted here). 

In my arrangement, the statement of Gershwin’s theme (bars 1-49) is wholly based on a repeated bass figure somehow suggesting one of the most common jazz waltz basic overall rhythms. On this, the right hand plays the theme along with some “comping” rhythmic chords (placed wherever possible on long melody notes).

Then, all the written Improvisation (bars 50-78) features a binary-ternary polyrhythmic approach—i.e., the left hand keeps a figure that creates a binary pulse against the basic ternary rhythm of the right hand. This is a common technique used in jazz waltzes, and several applications and variants of this basic accompaniment figure are featured in the “Jazz Waltz Stylings” chapter of my method Jazz Piano: The Left Hand (Ekay Music/Steinway & Sons, 2005).

Altough not a 12-bar blues,  “Summertime” definitely has a minor blues “sound” and mood. Therefore, I have chosen to build the whole right hand improvisation (bars 50-78) on the D blues scale. Also used here are various double-note passages, whose top note is D (i.e. the tonic of the main key of this piece). This is one of the most typical blues piano techniques, stemming from a very distinctive peculiarity of Afro-American music since its very beginnings, i.e. the “vocalization” of musical instruments (and, conversely, the “instrumental-like” use of the human voice). This double-note technique, in fact, allows you to make your right hand phrases more vocal-like, sonorous and expressive, also making your piano “growl” and “moan” just like a singer, a sax, a trumpet or a guitar can do through effects such as portamento, bended notes, mutes, etc. As you can see in bars 66-69 of my arrangement, the melody is actually found in the right hand low part, while the top notes work just as upper harmonic tones. Also note the use of acciaccaturas and “slide fingerings. Besides, if you try bars 66-69 without these right hand top notes, you will easily notice how much more sonorous and expressive a simple phrase can be when played again with the double-note bluesy technique.

More complex examples of this technique are found in the recordings of many jazz and blues piano greats—see for instance Dick Wellstood’s memorable interpretations of “St. James Infirmary”, “Happy Feet” and “Night Song For The White Rabbit”, all of them transcribed note-for-note in my books The Soul of Blues, Stride & Swing Piano and Dick Wellstood: The Art of Jazz and Blues Piano, Vol. 1. Also, this technique is very useful when playing “breaks” too (a striking example of that is the first break played by pianist/keyboardist John Evans in the song “Hymn 43”, from Jethro Tull‘s famous album Aqualung.

For another piano solo approach to “Summertime”, you can also see my 4/4 walking bass arrangement published in another issue of “Piano Today” (and then reprinted in Jazz Piano: The Left Hand), beautifully played here by Mark Porter. Thanks so much, Mark, for having posted this!