for the veteran jazz pianists out there...

as you play in many years worth of gigs and thousands of songs, how does your brain remember everything?  for me, since i've only been playing jazz a few years, i learn a song by learning the chords from sheet music or a fake book.  then you play it enough and you memorize it.  eventually, i memorize in terms of roman numerals rather than specific letter chords, so it transposes.

but what do you guys do as it gets many years down the line and you've played hundreds of songs?  what happens in your brain?  are you still remembering the songs by their chord progression?  if i were to guess, i would say that by that time, you've played so many tunes, that you can recall any chord progression by just remembering the melody of the song.  that is, it's not really memorized anymore, you just know that to do this melody, it has to be this particular chord progression.  am i right?
There are 8 comments, leave a comment.
good questions! i'm not at all a vetern but i'm lucky enough to work with some. i have to use charts/fakebooks still. it blows me away when i play with guys that can play the whole gig without opening the book. i want to be able to do that too!
as i tell everyone all the time "playing music is almost exactly the same thing as juggling".

this means that, if you play a tune enough times your body will remember it.

it's called muscle memory.

often i will try to consciously recall a song and find that the only way to remember it is just to let my hands play it and watch what they're doing, and then (and only then) consciously analyze it.

recently that happened to me with a chick corea tune called "spain". i hadn't played it in over twenty years, then my new bass player said he wanted to do it.

since i had lost or misplaced the music for it (and the real book chart i  had tried to work off of was so full of wrong chords i couldn't believe it), i just sat down and bulldozed my way through the tune.

by the end of a half-hour, i was back up to speed.
eventually you don't need to memorize tunes.  tunes like spain are different, they've got parts that must be perfect, but as time goes on your ear will let you play any tune that you can hum.

in the meantime, just keep on keeping on. learn a new tune every week and always keep them fresh in your head.

once you've learned the core set of tunes (see the top ten tunes link) then you just have to keep them in your fingers.

for bop tunes and such, you just have to decide which tunes you love to play and keep those fresh. no one knows all the bop heads but as long as you're familiar with the big ones and have played through all the others, you'll also do fine in that area.

i personally can't memorize stuff, it's hard, but like 7 said, if i'm familiar enough with it i can play it because of the sound, not because i've memorized the notes.
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if you do it enough, it's as easy as humming a tune that's in your head,  only it comes out your fingers...(at least that's how i do it:)
it seems like after so many years of playing, the music just morphs into one huge tune.  i couldn't tell you what chord i'm going to play next or even what the name of the tune is going to be.  that's the bass player's job, to annoy you with chord progressions.  once you learn to play in all keys you can play anything you hear.  scot's system is excellent.  of course, unusual tunes like: chelsea bridge or round midnight you might have to memorize. about the only thing i take to a gig is a list of tunes.  i still can't remember the names of the songs.
ok, so it's just like i thought.  just by knowing the tune, you automatically know which progressions will lead to that particular tune.

i relate it to when i first learned the blues or the 1-6-2-5 progression.  at first i was always thinking, "c7...f7...g7...c7", but then it eventually just becomes one thought.  you just start playing.  and then you can just feel when the tune is going to go to a bridge or to the 2 chord and so forth.  i guess the same will happen with all the jazz standards after a while, it's just that the chords will be more complex and a few more variations.
i have to keep revisiting tunes to remember them well, otherwise i use a fake book.
hi,
i have always tried to memorize the tunes i play with my bands instead of using sheet music. a system i found after learning maybe 30 or 40 standars is to compare tunes and remember them by other tunes that are similar. i never were a fan og the roman numeral system maybe its convinient but its harder for me to remember numbers than chords like f g7 etc.
anyway take for instance the song: so danco samba the a part is very similar to take the a-train and the b part is like satin doll. sweet sue, scraple from the apple and honesuckle rose are all most identical.the a part in easyliving is similar to apart in makin whoppee etc. however tunes like body and soul, giant steps are hard to compare with other tunes so i would choose just to learn them well.
hope this will be helpful
(by the way i think im able to play around 300 standars by heart not in all keys that is!)
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