30 essential jazz standards every beginner should know to avoid getting SHOT on stage

Jazz standards make up the bulk of a jazz musician’s repertoire and provide the chord changes and song structures that form the basis for improvisation. If you haven’t yet learnt some of the more popular requested standards, chances are you’re headed straight for a train wreck, or even worse, you’ll be SHOT on stage by the pros. Here are 30 essential jazz tunes you should start learning now if you haven’t yet already!

Pre-requisite 1. Blues

This is a basic requirement for any jazz musician. It is ultimately where all jazz music stems from. There are more complex variations to this 12 bar progression of course, but I’ve listed a few easy to intermediate ones below to help get you kick started.

  • All Blues
  • Billie’s Bounce
  • Birk’s Works
  • Blue Monk
  • C Jam Blues
  • Footprints
  • Freddie Freeloader
  • Mr P.C.
  • Now’s the time
  • Straight, No Chaser
  • Watermelon Man

Pre-requisite 2. Rhythm Changes

Another staple in the jazz man’s repertory is the Rhythm Changes song form, which is an AABA structure with standard chord changes. There are variations to this progression too but it usually doesn’t comprise of anything more than an extra secondary dominant or tritone substitution. Here are some common Rhythm Changes tunes.

  • Anthropolgy
  • Flintstones Theme
  • I got rhythm
  • Oleo
  • Rhythm-a-ning
  • Scrapple from the apple
  • Straighten up and fly right

30 essential jazz standards you SHOULD know

In order of hierarchy, here are the most requested jazz standards that every jazz musician MUST know. Learn them all and in all 12 keys and you’re bound to be the jazzer that gets called to play more gigs than the rest.

  1. Fly me to the moon
  2. Autumn Leaves
  3. L-O-V-E
  4. Cheek to Cheek
  5. The girl from Ipanema
  6. The way you look tonight
  7. What a wonderful world
  8. Summertime
  9. At last
  10. Misty
  11. Somewhere over the rainbow
  12. Quando, quando, quando
  13. Quizás, quizás, quizás 
  14. Come fly with me
  15. Summer Samba (So Nice)
  16. Sway
  17. Besame Mucho
  18. All of me *Not the John Legend one
  19. Take the A train
  20. Satin Doll
  21. Blue Bossa
  22. Days of wine and roses
  23. Bye bye blackbird
  24. When I fall in love
  25. I can’t give you anything but love
  26. But not for me
  27. Someday my prince will come
  28. Body and Soul
  29. So What
  30. Cantaloupe Island

Concluding Thoughts

There are many different versions of jazz standards that are covered by various artistes and the list above is by no means exhaustive. Check out as many as you can to see how each individual interprets the songs and infuses their own unique style into the tunes. It will also help you discover more possibilities when you shape your own renditions!

Now that you’ve read about the 30 essential jazz standards every beginner should know, what are some other standards do you think could be added to the list? What’s your favourite standard? I’d like to know! Leave your comments below.

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