Instantly recognisable, easily hummable, repeatedly playable; just three of the myriad reasons why Jazz Standards are held in such great esteem among musical literati.
But what is a jazz standard? Broadly defined, Jazz standards are jazz songs commonly known by jazz lovers and widely performed by the musicians. That is to say, whether a composition originates from the Broadway Stage, a Hollywood hillock, or Tin Pan Alley, it must be held in continuing esteem as well as commonly used as the basis for jazz arrangements for it to be considered as a standard. Notably, it’s not even a requirement that a jazz composer write them, so long as they’re widely employed as a foundational melody for jazz improv. Musical repertoire of Jazz musicians is built on the number of songs known and performed by them.
If you are a Jazz fan you’ve probably heard Autumn Leaves, Summer Time , Take 5 and Baby Steps. Here is a list of other jazz standards you must know about.
My Funny Valentine
The Schubert Theatre in April, 1937 was the setting for the first live performance of ‘My Funny Valentine’, a show tune composed by Richard Rodgers for his hit Broadway musical Babes in Arms. The lyrics offer a queer yoking of contemporary colloquialisms with archaic words. (“Thou knowest not my dim witted friend.”, “I choose a sweet lollapalooza in thee.”). A classic version of this song, with Miles Davis on the muted trumpet, is one that continues to steals hours of airplay up till today.
All The Things You Are
Renowned for its near-perfect musical construction, All The Things You Are by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein was atypical for its time period. Written for Kern’s final musical, Very Warm For May, the melody was unusually complex and laced with sentiment. Despite its offbeat nature, the songs’ chord foundations became essential in the nascent beginnings of the bebop movement, with classical versions featuring Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus and Thelonius Monk garnering mass appeal in the late 1950’s.
This is Thelonious Monk’s most popular Jazz composition, recorded in 1944 by jazz artist Cootie Williams. Dizzy Gillespie, Art Pepper, and Miles Davis have further popularised the jazz standard with songwriter Bernie Hanighen adding lyrics. Both Williams and Hanighen have received co-credits for their contributions. ‘Round Midnight” is the most-recorded jazz standard composed by a jazz musician and has been performed by jazz musicians time and again.
Stella by Starlight
This is a jazz standard written by Victor Young. Recorded by Henry James and his orchestra in 1947, the song made a place in the pop charts. Frank Sinatra with Axel Stordahl and his orchestra also recorded the song two months later. Charlie Parker, playing alto saxophone, made the first jazz recording of the song in January 1952, which was shortly followed by a tenor sax version by Stan Getz (December 1952), a piano version by Bud Powell, and a rendition by the big band of Stan Kenton, which featured bass trombonist George Roberts.
How High the Moon
This jazz standard was written by Nancy Hamilton and music was given by Morgan Lewis. First featured in the 1940 Broadway revue Two for the Show, it was sung by Alfred Drake and Frances Comstock. The best-known recording of the song is by Les Paul and Mary Ford, made on January 4, 1951. The song was sung in various recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, becoming Ella’s signature tune.
This jazz standard was first performed by Walter Gross as “Walter’s Melody” for his friends. The lyrics were later given by Jack Lawrence and the song was called “Tenderly”. However, the standard was popularised by Rosemary Clooney who recorded the song along with Percy Faith and his orchestra. The recorded version made it to the Billboard Magazine pop charts in 1952. Many variations of the standard has been recorded since.
A 1960 studio album by jazz musician John Coltrane, Giant Steps marked the first time that he had composed all of the pieces on a recording. The ability to play over the “Giant Steps”/Coltrane cycle remains to this day one of the benchmark standards by which a jazz musician’s improvising skill is measured.The album is also considered to be Coltrane’s farewell to bebop.