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The blues “Now’s The Time” and jazz lead sheets

The blues "Now's The Time" and jazz lead sheets
I’d like us to look at a new blues -— a blues in F. It’s important that you can play tunes in different keys, but the three most important keys for a blues are probably C, F and B flat. And of that, I guess, F is probably the most used frequently used. In fact, the most used key I would say in the whole of jazz is probably F. It’s important for us to start learning a blues in F.
I’m going to look at the blues “Now’s The Time” attributed to Charlie Parker, but I am going to do something slightly unusual in that I’m going to first of all play you the version of the tune “Now’s The Time” that I know and then I will play the version attributed to Charlie Parker. Let’s look at what I’ll call my version first. I’m going to play in the left hand seventh tenths for F7 and open sevenths for Bflat7 and C7 and I’ll explain the reason why in a minute.
One small change: I’m going to play a skeletal blues but I’m gong to change the second bar from F7 to Bflat7. In other words, I’m going to go to the subdominant and then back home again. I don’t have to, but I am going to enhance the sequence slightly and then as we develop our understanding of the blues in the course we’ll look at different chord sequences which are more extensive than our skeletal blues sequence. Here’s my version of the tune. One, two, three, four,…
A few things about the chords: we’re playing seventh tenths for F7 but we’re playing open sevenths for Bflat7 and C7. Why? Look at the fifth bar. The tune goes … So it’s actually got the note D in the tune. So if I played it with the thumb in the left hand then the fingers would get in each others way. That phrase actually goes down to B flat. So again if I played D in the left hand -— the seventh tenth -— the two hands would get in each others way. Since I prefer to play the blues in the middle of the piano, it’s better to play an open seventh at that point.
Of course, if I played the tune up an octave then I can play seventh tenths throughout. The same thing occurs in the ninth bar with C7 where it’s easier to play an open seventh.
The other thing is that when it got to the end I played F7 probably on the “and” of four, rather than on the front of the bar -— on the “one” of the bar -— because, to make it match the tune, it was easier to do that. But that’s not really what I want to concentrate on. What I want to concentrate on, at this part of the session, is the difference with Charlie Parker’s version, that is the version that’s given in the Real Book, volume 2, of “Now’s The Time”. Let me play it to you. It went a bit wrong at the end.
Notice in my version that the pick-up note -— pick-up meaning the note you play before the front of the first bar -— is D … where as in Charlie Parker’s version it’s C … When you get to the middle line, apart from that pick-up note, it’s more or less the same in both … apart from the D and the C. Then it changes. My version … Parker’s version … You’ll notice first of all that there is this ornamentation in Parker’s … and it goes down to B natural there, whereas it doesn’t in my version. The tenth bar is the same, pretty much, but then you get this phrase … which is repeated in my version.
That phrase isn’t there at all in Parker’s version. You may ask the question ‘’Which is the right version of the tune -— surely it’s Charlie Parker’s?’’ And what I want to try and make the point here is that it’s not a good question, because music from this era was an aural tradition. This was probably not written down, probably not ever written down by Charlie Parker. In fact, he himself may have got it from other music.
In a sense, there was a thing called the “Huckle-buck” which I think is … That’s called the “Huckle-buck” and I think it was probably played in big bands as a big band riff, perhaps behind soloists, and my guess is that Parker heard it, liked it and ended up turning it into a blues by adding a couple of more phrases. But, when he played that blues throughout his career, it probably changed, it probably developed. There were perhaps other ornamentations that he included. Listen to, if you can on YouTube, Miles Davis’s version of “Now’s The Time” played in 1955 at the Newport Jazz Festival -— the year Parker died. You’ll hear it’s much closer to mine.
Whether the pick-up note is C or D -— I can’t tell. Perhaps you can. But the rest of it I think you’ll find is much closer to mine, certainly that final phrase and its repetition. So because jazz is an aural tradition it may well mean that it’s not definitive. The tunes evolve and change depending on whose playing them. What’s important is to realise that the music of jazz is the music of the “cult of the personality”. In other words, it depends very much on whose playing it. It’s all about individualisation -— in taking ownership of the tune. If you hear other people playing this tune you may well hear them emphasising different notes, anticipating a phrase, delaying a phrase.
All these things are to do with the individual interpreting the music. It’s not like classical music where, in some sense, there is an “ideal” performance -— there’s one and only one way of interpreting a piece of written music and you have to stick to what’s written. Jazz isn’t really like that. So when I write something down -— and we do write things down these days because it’s quicker to learn things -— you must always bear in mind that it’s open to interpretation. You needn’t play certain phrases it you don’t choose to. I mean, listen to the music. Get a feel for what different people do. Decide on what you like and then use those devices.
We are now in a position where you can play this blues in F. As I say, it is probably the most important key in the music. In the left hand you can use open sevenths -— using the thumb to mark the pulse if you want to, fifth tenths, seventh tenths -— again using the top two fingers to mark the pulse. Then you can play the tune and improvise on it using the American blues scale in F throughout, or the seventh scales matching the underlying chords, or the full blues scales again matching the underlying chords. But I want to move on to something else now.

In this video you will hear a new blues, one in the key of F which is probably the most used key in Jazz.

I will also talk about the origin and evolution of individual Jazz pieces. You can download the two variants of the charts for “Now’s The Time” in PDF format at the bottom of this step.

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Learn Jazz Piano: Begin with the Blues

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