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Nathan Johnson
Nathan Johnson

Learn to Play Leaving by Richie Beirach: A PDF Guide for Jazz Pianists

Leaving by Richie Beirach: A Jazz Classic

If you are a fan of jazz piano, you have probably heard of Richie Beirach, one of the most influential and innovative pianists of his generation. He has collaborated with legends such as Stan Getz, Dave Liebman, Chet Baker, John Abercrombie, and many more. He has also composed dozens of original songs that have become jazz standards, such as Elm, Broken Wing, Sunday Song, and Leaving.


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Leaving is one of Beirach's favorite songs, as he has said in several interviews. It is a beautiful ballad that showcases his lyrical and harmonic sensibility, as well as his mastery of form and structure. It is also a song that has been recorded and performed by many other artists, such as Chet Baker, Jim McNeely, Dave Liebman, Gary Peacock, Marc Copland, and more.

In this article, we will explore the history, analysis, and sheet music of Leaving, so you can appreciate this jazz classic even more. Whether you want to listen to it, play it, or arrange it for your own ensemble, you will find everything you need to know here.

The History of Leaving

The Original Trio Recording

Leaving was composed by Richie Beirach in the late 1970s, when he was living in New York City. He was inspired by his personal experience of leaving his home country, Germany, where he was born in 1947. He said in an interview with JazzTimes:

"I wrote that tune when I left Germany for good. I had been living there for a couple of years after I got out of Berklee. I had a girlfriend there, and I was very close to her family. But I realized that I had to go back to New York if I wanted to pursue my career. So I wrote that tune as a farewell to them."

Beirach recorded Leaving for the first time in 1979, with his trio featuring Frank Tusa on bass and Jeff Williams on drums. The album was called Hubris, and it was released by ECM Records, a prestigious label known for its high-quality sound and artistic vision. The album also included other original compositions by Beirach, such as Sea Priestess, Rectilinear, and Useless Landscape.

The trio recording of Leaving is a masterpiece of jazz piano trio playing. Beirach plays the melody with a delicate touch and a rich tone, while Tusa and Williams provide a subtle and supportive accompaniment. The song has a haunting and melancholic mood, but also a sense of hope and beauty. Beirach improvises with grace and creativity, using the harmonic and melodic material of the song as a springboard for his musical ideas.

The Tribute to Chet Baker

In 1988, Beirach had the opportunity to record Leaving again, this time with one of his idols, the legendary trumpeter and singer Chet Baker. The album was called Tribute to Chet Baker, and it was released by Triloka Records. The album also featured George Mraz on bass, Adam Nussbaum on drums, and Dave Liebman on soprano saxophone.

The album was a homage to Baker, who had died tragically in 1988, after falling from a hotel window in Amsterdam. Beirach had met Baker in the early 1970s, when they were both playing with Stan Getz. He had always admired Baker's lyrical and expressive style, as well as his unique voice. He said in an interview with All About Jazz:

"Chet was one of my heroes. He had such a beautiful sound and such a natural way of playing. He was also a great singer, very honest and sincere. He had a lot of problems in his life, but he always played with his heart."

The recording of Leaving with Baker is a stunning example of jazz ballad playing. Baker plays the melody with his trademark warm and soft tone, while Beirach accompanies him with lush and sophisticated chords. The song has a romantic and nostalgic atmosphere, but also a hint of sadness and regret. Baker improvises with elegance and simplicity, using his breath and phrasing to create musical sentences.

The Other Versions and Covers

Leaving is a song that has been recorded and performed by many other artists, in different settings and styles. Some of the most notable versions and covers are:

  • Dave Liebman: The saxophonist recorded Leaving several times, both as a leader and as a sideman. He played it with Beirach on Tribute to Chet Baker, but also on his own albums, such as The Unknown Jobim, The Elements: Water, and Songs for My Daughter. He also played it with Marc Copland on Bookends, and with Gary Peacock on Lunaria.

  • Jim McNeely: The pianist and arranger recorded Leaving as a solo piano piece on his album Solo Piano: Sound Bites. He also arranged it for big band with solo voice, as part of the Advance Music Big Band Series. The arrangement is available for purchase online, and it features a beautiful vocal melody and harmonies, as well as an intricate orchestration.

  • Marc Copland: The pianist recorded Leaving as a duo with Dave Liebman on Bookends, but also as a trio with Gary Peacock and Bill Stewart on New York Trio Recordings Vol. 2: Voices in the Night. He also played it live with John Abercrombie on guitar, Drew Gress on bass, and Joey Baron on drums.

  • Gary Peacock: The bassist recorded Leaving as a duo with Dave Liebman on Lunaria, but also as a trio with Marc Copland and Paul Motian on New York Trio Recordings Vol. 2: Voices in the Night. He also played it live with Keith Jarrett on piano and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

  • John Abercrombie: The guitarist played Leaving live with Marc Copland on piano, Drew Gress on bass, and Joey Baron on drums.

  • Randy Brecker: The trumpeter played Leaving live with Richie Beirach on piano, George Mraz on bass, Billy Hart on drums, and Ada Rovatti on saxophone.

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