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Jazz standards are musical compositions which are an important part of the musical repertoire of jazz musicians, in that they widely known, performed, and recorded by jazz musicians, and widely known by listeners. There is no definitive list of jazz standards, and the list of songs deemed to be standards changes over time. Songs included in major fake book publications (sheet music collections of popular tunes) and jazz reference works offer a rough guide to which songs are considered standards.

Not all jazz standards were written by jazz composers. Many are originally Tin Pan Alleymarker popular songs, Broadwaymarker show tunes or songs from Hollywoodmarker musicals – the so-called Great American Songbook. A commonly played song can only be considered a jazz standard if it is widely played among jazz musicians. The jazz standard repertoire has some overlap with blues and pop standards.

The most recorded jazz standard was W. C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" for over 20 years from the 1930s onward, after which Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" replaced it. Today, the place is held by "Body and Soul" by Johnny Green. The most recorded standard composed by a jazz musician is Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight".

Before 1930

From its conception at the change of the twentieth century, jazz was music intended for dancing. This influenced the choice of material played by early jazz groups: King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, New Orleans Rhythm Kings and others included a large number of Tin Pan Alley popular songs in their repertoire, and record companies often used their power to dictate which songs were to be recorded by their artists. Certain songs were pushed by recording executives and therefore quickly achieved standard status; this started with the first jazz recordings in 1917. The first jazz artist to be given some liberty in choosing his material was Louis Armstrong, whose band helped popularize many of the early standards in the 1920s and 1930s.

The origins of jazz are in the various musical traditions of early twentieth century New Orleansmarker, including brass band music, the blues, ragtime and spiritual, and some of the most popular early standards come from these influences. Ragtime songs "Twelfth Street Rag" (1914) and "Tiger Rag" (1917) have became popular numbers for jazz artists, as have blues tunes "St. Louis Blues" (1914) and "St. James Infirmary Blues". Most of the early standards, however, are originally popular songs. Examples include "Indiana" (1917), "Sweet Georgia Brown" (1925) and the most recorded pre-1930s standard, "Stardust" (1929). Standards of this time written by jazz artists include Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Honeysuckle Rose" (1929) as well as Jelly Roll Morton's "King Porter Stomp" (1923).


Broadway theatremarker contributed some of the most popular standards of the 1930s, including George and Ira Gershwin's "Summertime" (1935), Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's "My Funny Valentine" (1937) and Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's "All the Things You Are" (1939). These songs still rank among the most recorded standards of all time. The most popular 1930s standard, Johnny Green's "Body and Soul", was introduced in Broadway and became a huge hit after Coleman Hawkins's 1939 recording.

1930s saw the rise of swing jazz as a dominant form in American music. Duke Ellington and his band members composed numerous swing era hits that have later become standards: "It Don't Mean a Thing " (1932), "Sophisticated Lady" (1933) and "Caravan" (1936), among others. Other influential band leaders of this period were Benny Goodman and Count Basie.


The swing era lasted until the mid-1940s, and produced popular tunes such as Duke Ellington's "Cotton Tail" (1940) and Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train" (1941). With the big bands struggling to keep going during World War II, a shift was happening in jazz in favor of smaller groups. Some swing era musicians, like Louis Jordan, later found popularity in a new kind of music, called "rhythm and blues", that would evolve into rock and roll in the 1950s.

Bebop emerged in the early 1940s, with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk leading the way. It appealed to a more specialized audiences than earlier forms of jazz, with sophisticated harmonies, fast tempos and often virtuoso musicianship. Bebop musicians often used 1930s standards, especially those from Broadwaymarker musicals, as part of their repertoire. Among standards written by bebop musicians are Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" (1941) and "A Night in Tunisia" (1942), Parker's "Anthropology" (1946), "Yardbird Suite" (1946) and "Scrapple from the Apple" (1947), and Monk's "'Round Midnight" (1944), which is currently the most recorded jazz standard composed by a jazz musician.

1950s and later

Modal jazz recordings, such as Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, became popular in the late 1950s. Popular modal standards include Davis's "All Blues" and "So What" (both 1959), John Coltrane's "Impressions" (1963) and Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" (1965). Later, Davis's "second great quintet", which included saxophonist Wayne Shorter and pianist Herbie Hancock, recorded a series of highly acclaimed albums in the mid-to-late 1960s. Standards from these sessions include Shorter's "Footprints" (1966) and Eddie Harris's "Freedom Jazz Dance" (1966).

In Brazilmarker, a new style of music called bossa nova evolved in the late 1950s. Based on the Brazilian samba as well as jazz, bossa nova was championed by João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá. Gilberto and Stan Getz started a bossa nova craze in the United States with their 1963 album Getz/Gilberto. Among the genre's songs that are now considered standards are Bonfá's "Manhã de Carnaval" (1959), Marcos Valle's "Summer Samba" (1966), and numerous Jobim's songs, including "Desafinado" (1959), "The Girl from Ipanema" (1962) and "Corcovado" (1962). Later, composers such as Edu Lobo and Egberto Gismonti have contributed a great deal to the Brazilian jazz repertoire, with tunes like "Casa Forte", "Frevo Rasgado" and "Loro".

The jazz fusion movement fused jazz with other musical styles, most famously funk and rock. Its golden age was from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. Top fusion artists, such as Weather Report, Return to Forever, Herbie Hancock and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, achieved cross-over popularity, although public interest in the genre faded at the turn of the 1980s. Fusion's biggest hits, Hancock's "Chameleon" (1973) and Joe Zawinul's "Birdland" (1977), have been covered numerous times thereafter and are sometimes considered modern jazz standards.


  1. What Types of Compositions Become Jazz Standards?, - retrieved on March 20 2009
  2. St. Louis Blues at - retrieved on February 20 2009
  3. Body and Soul at - retrieved on February 20 2009
  4. 'Round Midnight at - retrieved on February 20 2009
  5. Top 50 most recorded standards at - retrieved on May 18 2009
  6. Body and Soul at - retrieved on February 20 2009
  7. Jazz History (1940s) at - retrieved on May 18 2009
  8. Jazz History: The Standards (1940s) on - retrieved on May 18 2009
  9. 'Round Midnight at - retrieved on February 20 2009


  • Exploring Early Jazz: The Origins and Evolution of the New Orleans Style. Daniel Hardie, iUniverse, 2002. ISBN 0595218768

External links

  • - catalogue of over 1000 standards, ranked by the number of jazz artists who have recorded each one; also historical and biographical information
  • - includes almost 3000 standards, with scanned partitures of songs (harmony and theme) of pre- and post-war jazz
  • Real Book Chord Charts - Transposable with playback capability

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