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Jazz Standards You Should Learn Part 1

Posted on by Steve Nixon

Have you ever wondered

what the first jazz tunes you
should learn are?

If so, Id like to help you get


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 cant learn
all of them right away though so we have to start

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. Once you master these be
sure to all check out these 9 must know jazz standards.

Jazz not Classical

In 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 dont want to waste your money on garbage

fakebooks 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. Im not saying dont ever use a fakebook.
Rather, what Im saying is make sure the recording is
your main source of learning and a fakebook being a
supplementary guide.

Finding Great Recordings of Jazz

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

Lets lay down a couple of ground rules. When Im

researching to find a good recording of a tune I
general start with these few things in mind.

1. If Im 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.

So, 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

Im 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.

2. Once Ive found a vocal recording I like then Ill

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.

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 Im trying to learn Blue Bossa I will

refer to the first time the tune was recorded. In this
case it was introduced on Joe Hendersons album
Page One.

Jazz Tunes To Know

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

I will briefly discuss why and give you some great

reference recordings.

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

Its also usually played at a fairly relaxed tempo. So,

its 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.

Heres a great version of Oscar Peterson playing it as

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

This chord progression is extremely common

throughout jazz standards. Its also a tune that
non jazz fans usually recognize.

Heres a swingin version of Chet Baker doing it.

By the way, if you 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.

Blue Bossa
Not all jazz music swings. A lot of times youll 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.

Heres 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.

Girl From Ipanema

This is one of the most popular jazz standards of all
time. Its another bossa nova based tune with some
beautiful harmonies in there.

Heres is a good reference version of the tune played

and sung by Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz.

I also love Oscar Petersons version of Girl From


Green Dolphin Street

This tunes features all kind of cool stuff.

Feel changes (latin to swing)

An ABAC form
Playing modally over various chords in the A
The B section has some long form II-V-Is.
The C section has some several short form II-V-Is.

Also, it has a catchy melody too

Most importantly, its called at jam sessions very

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.

Heres a great Miles Davis recording of it. Awesome

solos on this one and I love Bill Evans intro.

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 wont want to miss the next one. 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?

If you enjoyed reading this post please leave a

comment below.
Steve Nixon is the proud owner of He is a world touring
jazz and blues keyboard player and

Steve is the author of Premium Jazz

Lessons Elite Membership (A
comprehensive all-in-one online jazz piano

He is also the author of the The Jazz

Masters Method DVD (A study of 9
legendary jazz piano players).

If you are a blues piano fan you can also

check out his popular Learn Blues Piano
DVD Course.

Related Lessons:

1. Are You Forgetting To Practice This Critical Skill?

2. Shell Voicings Lesson Super Simple Yet
Powerful Jazz Chords
3. 4 Tips to Get More Jazz Gigs
4. How To Learn Jazz Songs The Right Way
5. How To Practice Jazz For Long Term Growth



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EDMOND 5 months ago
Thanks Steve, actually I don't know how describe my feeling
it's like you've opened A treasure box for me, I don't know , I
just want to take every thing for me . YOU ARE GREAT
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Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons) Mod EDMOND

5 months ago
You're welcome Edmond!
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lilleytwo 10 months ago

I love this site. Thank you! I am getting so much
understanding. Now I can really appreciate these great artist.
You have given so much in these lessons and I will always be
thankful for finding you.
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Zlatko70 a year ago

Thank you , great site ! Giant steps by Coltrane is my
favourite song and Four brothers by Anita O'Day ... Keep
teaching !
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Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons) Mod Zlatko70

a year ago
Thanks Zlatko! Always nice to hear what tunes people


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Oscar a year ago

First song I started learning was Stella by Starlight, I use Mark
Levins' jazz piano book, what do you think about it?
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Oscar a year ago

Love and admire your site and what you are doing here,
Steve. "All my loving" from Spain.
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Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons) Mod Oscar

a year ago
Very nice of you to say Oscar and so happy you're
enjoying the material.
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Paul a year ago


south jersey

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Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons) Mod Paul

Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons) Mod Paul
a year ago
Thanks Paul!
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moody 2 years ago

Hi Steve! Thanks again for what you are doing here it's very
Can you advise me some exercise which can help to improve
my skills of transcribing? For me is very hard to "get" tune by
listening and I'm struggling to change that.
Thank you!
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Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons) Mod moody

2 years ago
Hey Moody,
I wrote an article about a program that will help you
transcribe. This
will definitely help.
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moody Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

2 years ago
Thanks! That works great!!!
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