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"I know that some classical composers liked to associate certain keys with certain moods, or colors, but that doesn't mean I have to buy into it. Many of those ideas are holdovers from the days of valveless horns, untunable tympani, and very different pianos than we have today."
Nor do we have to buy into the notion you seem to be suggesting, that they just chose any key willy-nilly, and what difference does it make anyway.
If you want to believe that Beethoven put the Moonlight Sonata in C#m just to be difficult, when he could have just as easily put in Am, well try in Am and then see if your opinion changes. There was method in his madness.
So no, I completely disagree that any key is just as good for a particular work. Same holds true for all genres, but not as noticeable so not as much of worry, sure. But, there is still method and logic behind the decision.
Rhodes74--I'm not sure whether you agree with me or not. But again, horn home keys may not be the published key, so so much for that.
I don't think about the key vs my voicings--I will change my voicings on the fly to suit the key I play in (which is always my singing key). And the mood of the tune is what you make it, in any key. If you can't make a tune happy, or doleful, or tragic or whatever, in any key, you may want to step back and think about it for awhile. After all, what if a happy song is published in C, but you can't get happy in C?
So you follow the singer, that's ok. And off course you can give the tune any expression or mood you want.
But what makes a song? Melody, harmonic progression? That's fine for a jam.
What if the composer wants to achieve s specific sound? The notation defines the voicings and gives the song a signature. For example a simple tune like "Chitlin con carnes". Effectively a C Minor Blues starting with a C #9-Pattern around middle C. Sounds resonant and perfectly clear. A few tone higher, the resonance is lost, deeper, the clarity is gone. On a more refined level, i think a Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett is quite conscious about placing a lovely shaped chord cadenza in the sweet spot of the Instrument.
As for the horn home keys: Just talking of comfort zones, they seem to prefer a few flats to many sharps...
Nahum--again, we're not talking about violins. You played fiddle, and the difference between B and C flat is noticeable there. But not on an equal-temperament piano. I'm guessing that you adjusted your note when playing with a pianist--or did you? I hope so.
Greener--again, we're talking about jazz pianists, not Beethoven. Plus, I doubt there would be a huge difference between Moonlight sonata in C or D minor, rather than c sharp. A minor, yes, there would be a BIG difference.
As an aside--let's not forget that A440 was not the standard back in 1815, notes were lower, so Beethoven's c sharp was probably closer to our c. If not, it was still lower than it is now. And Beethoven's piano was radically different than today's monsters.
Finally, I accept that classical composers had reasons for writing in a particular key. But we don't know what those reasons are. But in pop songs, again, the published key may not be the key the composer wrote in.
Rhodes74--first, you quoted Greener, not me. so there's that--unless you were talking to Greener. If so, ignore this.
second, re horns--you make my point for me--if horn players want to play in b flat but the tune was published in c, the pianist plays in b flat, apparently ruining the song thereby. But again, this thread is not about horns.
and once again, the published key may not be the key the composer wrote in, and also again, we have no way of knowing what key the composer wrote in. Also again, I usually speak of golden age Tin Pan alley standards. I know from nuthin about bebop tunes and publishing practices. But I know this--Chitlins con carne was written by Kenny Burrell, a guitarist, and so is irrelevant to this discussion. And for more fun, Stevie Ray Vaughan plays it in b minor.
and finally, here's 2 more thoughts--
1: individual pianos can be idiosyncratic when it comes to sweet spots. This has to do with various technical, design, and voicing issues. Some pianos are all sweet spot, some aren't (I'm guessing most aren't).
2: On most pianos. most people play most music in the middle 4-5 octaves of the keyboard, and really mostly in the center 2-3 octaves, not at the outer edges. This results in hammer felts being harder in the middle and softer in the high and low ranges, which results in a harder, more resonant sound in the middle. I would guess there are very few who spend most of their time at the outer extremes.
If you doubt either of these, you can ask on the tech forum.
I personally would look askance at a piano where its resources are so limited as to make transposition so iffy. That seems quite extreme.
Greener--again, we're talking about jazz pianists, not Beethoven...
Yes, you mentioned before that we are not talking about classical, but then you referenced it again after that, so I figured it was fair game now. Anyway, I was just using for comparative purposes, as were you and I do not see any harm in it. It is understood what we are talking about.
Originally Posted by rogerzell
Finally, I accept that classical composers had reasons for writing in a particular key. But we don't know what those reasons are.
But in pop songs, again, the published key may not be the key the composer wrote in.
They had their reasons is sufficient for me.
For most things as you say, it likely doesn't matter that much. But for fussy things, it would matter to me, but I can't recall ever having a problem finding where anything was originally written.
Greener--I won't mention classical again TO YOU if you won't.
but re this--"but I can't recall ever having a problem finding where anything was originally written"--I'm assuming you're talking about pop music here? If not, and you refer to classical, I have no problem.
If so, you can only be talking about printed sheet music, where, again (and I can't seem to say this enough times) USUALLY the publisher NOT THE COMPOSER chooses the key that appears on the printed sheet music. It would be very daunting (probably impossible) to research hundreds or thousands of songs to find out what key the composer originally wrote it in. (Except, once again, Irving Berlin, who "wrote" exclusively in f sharp.)
And here's a case in point--J. Russel Robinson's song "Palesteena", and his original recording of it.
The sheet music (that I know of) is in C minor and major, and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's (of which he was a member) recording is in--well, that can be tricky--Youtube vids of 78 records vary from e flat min/maj to f minor/maj, with stops in between.
And once again, it was fairly common practice for publishers to issue the same song in more than one key, usually labeled "for high voice" or "for low voice".
In short, published music keys may or may not correlate to what's on the composers' handwritten lead sheet. And who has access to those? All of them?
Irving Berlin "wrote" White Christmas in F sharp, but published it in C (he was his own publisher), and authorized Bing Crosby to sing it in B for the movie Holiday Inn, which premiered the song. Crosby also recorded it in A.
Whatever's good for Berlin is good for me.
I don't doubt that some shnooks would insist on publishing in the key they wrote in (Kern and Gershwin come to mind), but we know Berlin didn't, nor did he care what key it was performed in. darn it--participles dangling everywhere.
But Berlin was supremely pragmatic.
Also, one of my 2 musical heroes. or I should say, one of my 5 heroes.
and by the way, here's a couple useful tools for finding keys and bpm
Why do most jazz pianists, as far as I know, usually play a song in the key it was originally written in?
I don't really understand the question. My question would be, why would you NOT play it in the key it was originally written in? The only valid reason would be the singer. (Disclaimer: I'm not a jazz pianist)
My question would be, why would you NOT play it in the key it was originally written in?
Possible reasons are … - we don’t know what tune the key it was written in. (learned it from the real book maybe, or off some record) - we think it sounds better in another key - for variety (even if it doesn’t sound ‘better’) - for practice (getting familiar playing in a different key) - cos we just want to be difficult
Reminds of the the time when School Boy Porter [a great sax player] was mentoring me and we had worked on Girl from Ipanema in the key of F for a couple of weeks and then he had me show up at this Jazz Jam session and introduce me to the audience and said we are going play Girl from Ipanema and started to count it out and turns to me and said in the KEY OF Bb. Well needless to said my debut did not go well at all. Below is a cut of BESAME MUCHO if you listen very carefully at the beginning we are trying to establish a key because the singer who went by the the name CHA CHA came up said she wanted to sing and didn't really know were she wanted it A- OR D- [07-12 sec] we decided on A-. When you are put on the spot its easy when you have an electric piano because you have a transpose function but when you play acoustic piano it's a different story. Probably should work on the Real Book and pick out tunes you know you would be ask to play and learn them in at least 3 to 4 different keys.
dpvjazz---you gotta watch out for those CHACHAs. I've played in hundreds of singalong situations--it can be fun, it can be miserable, it can be a learning moment. One thing I learned is to stop doing it.
something fun for the forum--I came from New York to Boston and got a playing job. Someone asked for HATTAMYHAT. It took me some minutes to discover she meant Heart of my Heart.
I once had a drunk ask for TOAD SUCKERS, and he was unable to render it coherently. I only recently learned that it's more of a tuneless chant.
Going back to the original question from pianoloverus, I'm not at all sure that his/her assumption is true, even if we know the original key, which me may not. See my other posts above on that.
rogerzell quote [But if you're talking about Tin Pan Alley standards, they all apply.] Like this guy
The anonymous sleeve notes on Handful of Keys state that Waller copyrighted over 400 songs, usually with Razaf. Razaf described his partner as “the soul of melody…a man who made the piano sing…both big in body and in mind… known for his generosity… a bubbling bundle of joy” Waller soon became one of the most prolific pianists and songwriters of the era, finding success in the United States and Europe. He was called “the black Horowitz” by fellow pianist Oscar Levant.
pianoloverus Why do most jazz pianists, as far as I know, usually play a song in the key it was originally written in?
1. How many jazz pianists to you know? 2. Most the jazz pianists I know don't get hung up what key its in unless they can't navigate the changes. In that case they might transpose to a key they feel comfortable with. 3. You usually play whatever the group decides on. It most likely the real book changes but there are singers and horn players to contend with. And yes Rogerzell I learn also unless the singers has her own charts it's a resounding no you can't get up and sing. Cha Cha actually came in a few days before the gig and introduce herself so I knew what I was getting into. 4. Occasionally you try a different key because your so tired of playing Girl From Ipanema in F for the last 30 years so you try it in Db the original key and its a whole new tune.