I was thinking about the tune Laura, composed by David Raskin in 1945. To my mind, this is a most beautiful piece of music; and yet I find it difficult to play and virtually impossible to improvise on.
Although, like thousands of other songs, it has a 32-bar structure, Laura is based on an extraordinary and complex chord progression. It runs through far more chords than the typical traditional jazz band tune. In fact, I think it uses 17 different chords. And the melody notes are sometimes on the ninth note of the chord.
There is on YouTube a brief video of Raskin himself playing the tune. Listen. Watch his hands. Note the rich succession of chords. CLICK HERE TO VIEW IT.
It struck me that this would make a very good test piece for a traditional jazz musician. I would be very impressed by anybody who - without using a chord book or the printed music - could play a decent full 32-bar improvisation on this tune.
One of my friends is a very fine English guitarist of the younger generation (by which I mean he is under 60!). He is booked frequently to play at festivals. So I asked him whether - without referring to a chord book - he could play Laura, complete with an improvised chorus. He responded first with a twinkle of the eye, because he knew exactly what a challenge I was setting. But he picked up his guitar and immediately played a couple of perfect, magical choruses, just for my personal entertainment. He had clearly passed the test. I was mightily impressed and felt privileged to hear it.
I have written about Laura before - in a post which you can read BY CLICKING HERE.