The Jazz Standard

Pete BarenBregge
By Pete BarenBregge
Instrumental Jazz Editor

What makes a song a jazz standard? Wikipedia defines the term as: “Jazz standards are musical compositions which are an important part of the musical repertoire of jazz musicians, in that they are widely known, performed, and recorded by jazz musicians, and widely known by listeners.”

Jazz greats/legends do account for composing many jazz standards. But there are countless tunes considered jazz standards composed by individuals not associated with jazz at all. For example composers of show tunes, Tin Pan Alley songs, blues tunes, pop tunes—both new and vintage pop, and many other genres as well.

Where can I see a list of jazz standards? While there are many informal lists in books, magazines, and online, the reality is there is no definitive or official list of jazz standards as it is a fluid subject, constantly changing and based on an interpretation or opinion.

Who are some jazz standard composers? The easiest and most accessible resource to find jazz standards and jazz composers is a real book or fake book.

Here is a very short list of composers of jazz standards—there are many, many more:
• Antonio Carlos Jobim
• Cannonball Adderley
• Charlie Parker
• Clifford Brown
• Cole Porter
• Duke Ellington
• Eddie Harris
• Freddie Hubbard
• George Gershwin
• Harold Arlen
• Herbie Hancock
• Horace Silver
• Joe Henderson
• John Coltrane
• John Lennon/Paul McCartney
• Johnny Mandel
• Juan Tizol
• Kenny Dorham
• Luiz Bonfa
• Miles Davis
• Nat Adderley
• Quincy Jones
• Sonny Rollins
• Thelonious Monk
• Wayne Shorter
• Wes Montgomery

Why do band directors want to have their jazz groups play jazz standards?
• Title recognition
• Melody recognition
• Teaching students some jazz history by performing jazz standards, many of which are composed by jazz greats/legends

The successful jazz program is often influenced on the music performed by the bands. Therefore, directors will carefully select and purchase new music that will be educationally sound, playable by their band, charts that are fun to play for the students, and accessible to the audience.

Where can you get jazz song titles and published arrangements of jazz standard charts at various difficulty levels? Check out the real books and jazz ensemble arrangements of jazz standards by Belwin Jazz/Alfred Music Publishing.

What’s your favorite jazz chart? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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