Composed by George Gershwin
Summertime is a big one. Most would agree that it is, in fact, one of the all-time greatest standards in history. A timeless tune, Summertime has been played and recorded in a wide array of settings over the course of several decades. It was originally composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by DuBose Heyward in 1935 for the American folk opera, Porgy and Bess.
The Nuts and Bolts
Summertime is a very deep and meaningful piece of music, and I often perform it in “cocktail” situations. It also works very nicely with a backbeat on drums.
This tune is often called by singers at jam sessions, which means you should be ready to tackle it in any key to accommodate the singer.
Therefore, I would suggest practicing this tune in all 12 keys! It’s worth the effort and it will prepare you for addressing the same issue for other tunes.
For Summertime, this is actually not all that difficult. If you are somewhat familiar with jazz harmony, you will notice that the two main focal points of the tune are Dm and Gm. Toward the end of the tune, there’s an F major chord, which is, in fact, the relative major.
Therefore, in very general terms, the tune starts out over the i minor, then it goes to the iv minor, then it briefly goes to the relative major before returning home. I would suggest not learning this chord by chord, but think about it 4-8 bars at a time and always have the melody in your head.
***Note – This tune is dissected in our FREE 7-Day Beginning Chord Melody course. I *highly* recommend this if you want to play Summertime like a real jazzer!
Summertime: Comping Ideas
Here, you have a few simple voicings that you can use for comping over Summertime. Always play around with the space the melody gives you, and if you are comping with the melody, it might be a good idea to play with longer values to give the melody room to breathe.
Summertime: Chord Melody
For the most part, we are simply making use of shell voicings and drop 2 voicings. There are a few exceptions but these are the main tools here. These voicings are typically the first voicings a jazz guitar player learns, so we are putting them to work right away here.
Here, we are applying a 6/8 type of feel to the chord melody. This tune lends itself to a lot of different interpretations.
You also may have noticed that I use Eb7 and the Em7b5-A7 progression interchangeably. This is a stylistic consideration for you. They both serve as dominant functions so it’s up to you and the context in which you are playing!
Summertime: Single-Note Solo
In this solo, we are focusing on thematic development, as always. We are also making sure to hit those changes by targeting guide-tones on strong beats.
As always, pay attention to the use of space and phrasing.
Summertime: Chord Reference Sheet
In addition to all of this great content, we have also provided you with a reference sheet full of some basic chord shapes you can use over this tune!
-Miles Davis’ Porgy and Bess album recorded in 1958. It features a brilliant orchestral arrangement of this tune by Gil Evans. Definitely in my top 50 jazz albums of all time!
-Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong’s Best of album. The copies of the original recorded in 1957 are sometimes difficult to find and this album is more readily available. Their version is very moody, beginning with a wonderful interpretation of the melody on trumpet followed by the two of them singing. Highly recommended!
-John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things album recorded in 1960 and released in 1961. Although only four tracks, this album is absolutely killing, particularly his version of Summertime.
-Joe Pass’ Complete Catch Me Sessions album is a must-have for any jazz guitar enthusiast. This album features a nice medium swing take on this classic tune.
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