most common form in jazz standards is the AABA form. Every A lasts
8 bars, and every A has more or less the same chords. After the
first 16 bars comes a B of 8 bars with different chords and a different
melody, followed by 8 bars of another A. In the first half of the
20th century, a lot of songs had this form. These songs were not
jazz standards, but songs you would hear on the radio or in musicals.
There has been a time when jazz was music you heard a lot on the
radio, though that maybe hard to imagine now. It was like that in
the swing period, before Parker and Gillespy turned jazz into an
Nowadays the AABA form is seldom used in popular music, but in jazz
its still the most common form. A lot of jazz-musicians love
playing standards, and most of these standards are based on songs
from the first half of the 20th century.
Some people just cant get used to this form. They start playing
the B totally out of the blue. Ive played with several piano
players who had this problem. And although it doesnt seem
very difficult to have to count to three (after each B youll
play 3 As), it is understandable why these people got confused.
We jazz musicians have to pay attention to a lot of things at the
same time. In practically every bar we have to play new chords,
sometimes up to 4 chords in one bar. We have to play in a number
of keys in each song. Jazz is complicated music and the beginning
jazz musician is very busy solving many, many problems as they come
along. So it is no wonder he sometimes looses sight of the big picture.
But do not despair if youre a beginning jazz musician. It
is a very rewarding, a deep emotional experience and fun to play
jazz after a while.
A tip that may help you not to get confused: play some sort of ending
at the end of the harmony, just for yourself. For instance, you
could end with a number of high notes and start with low notes in
the first A or the other way around. It doesnt matter what
you play exactly, as long as you get the feeling that youve
played an ending. If you do this the right way, youll only
have to count till 2 instead of 3, which makes a big difference.
As I mentioned, the B has different harmonies than the A. Usually,
the last 2 bars of the second A differ from the last 2 bars of the
other As, because they were used to make a nice harmonic transition
to the B harmony. This helps; actually every change in the harmony
of the A makes counting easier.
Coltrane and Miles Davis have made modal playing popular in jazz.
In modal playing, there are few chords in the harmony. So What for
instance only has 2 chords. The As are D minor 7, the B is
Eb minor 7. You think in keys rather than in chords when you play
modal jazz, and because there are few chords the freedom to do so
is enormous. At the same time, this poses a problem for many musicians.
Youll have to wait 24 bars after youve just played the
B before you go up half a step again. Luckily all musicians develop
sort of an 8 bar feeling. Somehow we just know when 8 bars
have been played without counting each and everyone of them.