Vanilla chords for Jazz students
So many beautiful pieces to learn and so many chords to master. It's a real problem for beginning jazz students. Lester Young, the legendary sax player of the 1940's, is known to have requested or demanded that the pianist play the "vanilla chords." "Forgot the fancy reharmonizations, just give me the vanilla chords; I'll decorate the harmony." Or something to that effect. It was a story told to me many decades ago. So, here are the vanilla chords for hundreds of jazz standards. Let it be your guide to taking the harmony back to a more manageable level.
Me: What was Lester Young referring to when he said play the vanilla chords?
ChatGPT: Lester Young was known for his distinctive and influential saxophone playing style in jazz music. There are a few different stories and interpretations of what he meant when he referred to "vanilla chords."
One interpretation is that Young was encouraging his fellow musicians to stick to the basic, fundamental chords in a song, rather than adding too many complicated or unusual harmonies. In this sense, "vanilla chords" could be understood as simple and straightforward chords that provide a solid harmonic foundation for improvisation and soloing.
Another interpretation is that Young was referring to the use of the basic major and minor chords in a blues progression. In this context, "vanilla" could be seen as a metaphor for the basic, essential ingredients of a blues song, and Young was emphasizing the importance of staying true to that traditional form.
However, it's worth noting that the exact phrase "vanilla chords" does not appear in any known recordings or transcripts of Young's performances or interviews. So the meaning of the phrase remains somewhat elusive and subject to interpretation.
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You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted percussionist and drum teacher.