Summertime – Chord Melody, Single-Note Solo & Chord Shapes

Composed by George Gershwin

Tune’s History

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.

Summertime: 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.

Download your “Summertime – Chord Melody, Solo, and More” PDF here.

Summertime: Thumbnail

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: Comping Ideas

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!

Download your “Summertime – Chord Melody, Solo, and More” PDF here.

Suggested Listening

-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!

Porgy_and_Bess_(Miles_Davis)

-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!

Summertime: Best of Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

-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.

Summertime: John Coltrane - My Favorite Things

-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.

Joe Pass - Complete Catch Me Sessions

 


Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.

10 thoughts on “Summertime – Chord Melody, Single-Note Solo & Chord Shapes

  1. I keep on clicking “Summertime PDF – EASY chord melody + chord sheet” (several times – lost track), but never get an email.

    • Hi Donald, were you asked to input your email address on the form on the website? If you gave your email address and you haven’t received an email yet, be sure to check your junk mail folder in case it went there by accident. Otherwise, please send an email to admin@jazzguitarlessons.net with the subject line “Summertime PDF – EASY chord melody + chord sheet” and I’ll be happy to send the .pdf your way.

  2. Thanks Marc, I like the scotch tape method, the playing 5 times in a row with the constraints before moving on… I was the type of guy to try and play the whole piece at once and get frustrated because it sucked. I started smiling as I started to actually here the tune unfold as I was playing it bit by bit, it really works for me. Thank you!

    • Hi Bob, I’m so glad to hear this has worked for you. You can use this method for all of your playing, too, not just for jazz.

  3. I have a question. On the leadsheet i’ve downloaded and I’ve been praticing it says it’s in the key of C or A min. But isn’t it in F or D min? When i tried to play it in different keys I got confused because on most leadsheets the song start in A minor and the first note of the melody is a E. So since this start on a D minor and the first note of the melody is an A wouldn’t it be in D minor? Thanks

    • Hi Filippo, you are correct: this version of Summertime is written so that it sounds in the key of Dm. However, in jazz, it’s sometimes easier to write an arrangement with NO key signature, because a lot of jazz tunes go back and forth between different keys. As a result, writing with a “C major” key signature oftentimes reduces the number accidentals that the musician has to read when reading the chart.

      With this in mind, it’s actually better to think of it as having “NO key signature” rather than being played in “C major”: if you need sharp or flat notes, we can write them in when we want to. Depending on whose charts you’re reading, this can be standard practice for how they write charts.

    • Hi Neil! Thanks for pointing it out. Two of those are actually 8th notes. The image was cut off in the wrong place.

      We’ll have to fix that 🙂

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