Jazz Standards You Should Learn Part 1

Have you ever wondered what the first jazz tunes you should learn are?

If so, I’d like to help you get started.

There are so many fantastic jazz tunes in the Great American Songbook that it can feel overwhelming when trying to find a place to start.

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of wonderful standards to choose from. We can’t learn all of them right away though so we have to start somewhere.

In this post we are going to discuss 5 jazz tunes to know that will give you a great start in building your jazz repertoire. Playing jazz piano is an infinitely rewarding artform and I think you’l love learning these jazz tunes. Once you master these be sure to all check out these 9 must know jazz standards.

Jazz Tunes not Classical

jazz standards to learnIn classical music you learn music almost exclusively by reading the exact written notation of a piece on a score.  

Unlike classical music though much of the way we learn jazz tunes will be based off listening to “reference” recordings of the tune.

With the recordings we will be either learning the tune completely by ear or using a fakebook in conjunction.

(You don’t want to waste your money on garbage fakebooks or do fruitless searches for things like jazz piano standards pdf. So, be sure to also read this article on finding the best fake books for sale.)

It is VERY important to listen to great reference recordings with your fake books.  This step should not be skipped. 

Jazz is an aural artform and the best way to learn is to listen. I’m not saying don’t ever use a fakebook or search out jazz piano sheet music for beginners. 

Rather, what I’m saying is make sure the recording or a video is your main source of learning. Usually a fake book is more of a supplementary guide.

Finding Great Recordings of Jazz Tunes

So, how do we find the right recordings of jazz tunes to learn from?

Lets lay down a couple of “ground rules” for playing jazz piano.  When I’m researching to find a good recording of a tune I general start with these 4 things in mind.

Jazz Standards Rule #1

If I’m learning a song from the Great American Songbook I start by trying to find a good vocal recording of the tune.

Listening to it over and over will help me phrase the tune properly and eventually help me put some style into my interpretation.

Learning from a fakebook is often times easier initially but can create sort of “square” phrasing and a pretty vanilla interpretation of the tune.

jazz songs to knowSo, what singers should you listen to?  I like to start with Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett, or Johnny Hartman.  

They sing the melody fairly straight ahead but usually are using swing rhythms.  This is especially true with Frank.

I’m a HUGE fan of Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, and Sarah Vaughn but often times they will play with the melody of the tune.  

So, I love listening to recordings of them but not as my first “reference” recording.  I will usually turn to them a little later in the process.

Jazz Standards Rule #2

Once I’ve found a vocal recording I like then I’ll try to check out some of my favorite instrumentalists interpreting the tune.

This gives me tons of ideas and hopefully some material in which to develop my own version.

Jazz Standards Rule #3

If the tune is a jazz composition (meaning that it was written by a jazz composer and technically not part of the American Songbook) I will listen to the original recording of the tune.

For example, if I’m trying to learn Blue Bossa I will refer to the first time the tune was recorded. In this case it was introduced on Joe Henderson’s album Page One.

Jazz Tunes To Know

Now that we have discussed how you should learn jazz standards lets move on to the actual jazz tunes you should be learning.

I will briefly discuss why to learn these beginner jazz songs and give you some great reference recordings. All these songs are easy jazz piano songs to learn. Audiences also recognize them and they’re great learning vehicles. So, learning these jazz tunes is a triple win!

1. Satin Doll 

This one is an Ellington classic and is requested all the time.  The whole tune is II-V’s or II-V-I’s.  You will learn a ton about what to play over II-V-I’s on this one.  

It’s also usually played at a fairly relaxed tempo.  So, it’s a great starter tune.

I transcribed a Wes Montgomery solo on this tune a number of years ago that really helped my overall jazz playing.  You can check out the Wes Montgomery Satin Doll transcription here.  

Or you can even take a free jazz piano lesson on how to play Satin Doll.

Here’s a great version of Oscar Peterson playing it as well. 

2. Autumn Leaves

This is one of the first tunes I ever learned. It features both major II-V-I’s and minor II-V-I’s.  In addition, most of the tune features diatonic chords progressing in 4ths.  

This chord progression is extremely common throughout jazz piano songs and jazz standards.  It’s also a tune that “non jazz fans” usually recognize.

Playing jazz piano is a lot more fun when audiences love what you’re playing! 

Here’s a swingin’ version of Chet Baker doing it. 

 (Want to learn how to play Autumn Leaves like the pros do?

There are over 2 hours of in depth tutorials on it inside the Premium Jazz Lessons Membership Course.)

3. Blue Bossa

Here’s an important thing to consider when playing jazz piano. Not all jazz music swings.  A lot of times you’ll hear tunes played with a straight eighth note feel and more latin rhythms being used.  

Blues Bossa is an example of this. In addition, it also features diatonic chords progressing in 4ths similar to Autumn Leaves.

Here’s the original recording of the Kenny Dorham tune on a Joe Henderson album.

Blue Bossa is another tune that is explored inside the Premium Jazz Lessons Membership Course as well.

We explore tons of pro piano voicings you can use, 3 different pro piano arrangements of the tune, and much more.

If you want to start making a big impact on your jazz piano playing right away then Premium Membership will be an essential tool for you to that.

4. Girl From Ipanema

This is one of the most popular jazz standards of all time.  It’s another bossa nova based tune and is filled with all kinds of beautiful jazz theory concepts. 

Again, when playing jazz piano you always want to have a great reference tune to learn from and model.

Here’s is a good reference version of the tune played and sung by Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz.

I also love Oscar Peterson’s version of Girl From Ipanema

5. Green Dolphin Street 

This tunes features all kind of cool stuff. In fact there so many common jazz harmony concepts that I often time recommend it as a masterclass in harmony theory.

  • Feel changes (latin to swing)
  • An ABAC form
  • Playing modally over various chords in the A section.
  • The B section has some long form II-V-I’s.  
  • The C section has some several short form II-V-I’s.  
  • Also, it has a catchy melody too 🙂  
  • Most importantly, it’s called at jam sessions very often.  

If you would like more ideas on how to solo on the tune check out this transcription of Barry Harris solo on Green Dolphin Street.

And if you want to learn how to create a jazz solo on this tune and many more I highly recommend you check out the Jazz Improvisation Super System. It’s a game changing program.

Here’s a great Miles Davis recording of it.  Awesome solos on this one and I love Bill Evans intro.

6. Fly Me To The Moon

This tune is perhaps most requested jazz tune of today’s day and age. I think it’s probably because the Frank Sinatra version of the tune has become an iconic classic that’s played at weddings, events, commercial etc.  

As a tune, there are some really and must know jazz chord progression moves. For example:

  • Chord motion around the circle of 5ths.
  • 2-5-1’s in both major and minor keys. 
  • Mostly diatonic melody notes. 
  • Also, it has a catchy melody too 🙂  

Here’s a cool fly me to the moon piano tutorial video I made demonstrating how 2 jazz masters would play chords on Fly Me To The Moon.

This is an excerpt from the Zero To Jazz Piano Hero program.

So, in summary here are the 6 easy jazz piano songs from this article.

  1. Satin Doll
  2. Autumn Leaves
  3. Blues Bossa
  4. Girl From Ipanema
  5. Green Dolphin Street
  6. Fly Me To The Moon

More Jazz Piano Songs & Jazz Tunes To Learn

In the next post we will discuss 9 more essential jazz tunes you will want and need to know. Please make sure you bookmark or subscribe to the site as I promise you won’t want to miss the next one.

By the way, if you’re still 100% new to jazz piano and looking for some great jazz piano sheet music for beginners I recommend you grab a copy of the Zero To Jazz Piano Hero program.

After going through that program you’ll never have to waste money on sheet music or printing up bad arrangements from crappy jazz piano standards pdfs again. Cheers until then and keep practicing!

Update: You can find the lesson right here 9 must know jazz standards

What tunes do you love to play?

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