Portrait of Jennie, a beautiful ballad written for the 1948 film by the same name, has been recorded by some of the most recognized trumpeters in jazz. Blue Mitchell, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard and Donald Byrd all have recorded versions. The piece was therefore a natural choice when I was looking for a ballad for my 13-year old son to learn.
Rather than having him read it from a fakebook lead sheet, I wanted him to learn it by imitation. I chose the 1977 version from Blue Mitchell’s album, “Stablemates.” [Unfortunately this version of Portrait of Jennie isn’t uploaded to YouTube, so I can’t share it here.] After listening to this track repeatedly (mostly in the car as we drove places), I had him try playing along by ear for a few days.
I then transcribed Blue’s head interpretation, which Logan and I learned together on trumpet. Because some of it was quite technical, I ended up simplifying it, so he wouldn’t get too frustrated. Here’s the “more accessible” version he learned and performed at his mid-year recital:
This performance is a definite “proud father moment.” I thought he did a great job, and was thrilled to accompany him. My wife captured the following video with her phone.
“Portrait of Jennie” is a tune I hope Logan will continue to revisit and play for many years. When he “sits in” with my bands, I’ll encourage him to play it. It is great both as an audition piece and as a hip tune to call at jam sessions. One day, maybe I’ll get to hear him improvise on it. I’ll think back to our time together when I introduced him to the piece.