Radio Faux Show Volume 3, Number 3: Intro To Jazz (Jazz Standards)

Radio Faux Show Volume 3, Number 3: Intro To Jazz (Jazz Standards)

Jazz Standards

If you have not read the last show of this series, Anatomy of a Jazz Tune, feel free to go back and read it. This Faux Show series is presented as an Intro to Jazz, especially created for those who want to begin an investigation into jazz.

Introduction

When we turn on the radio to listen to pop, rock, R&B, rap, country, or any other popular music styles, there is one almost universal truth. We are going, and expect, to hear songs we like by artists we know. If we turn on our local classic rock station and hear that synthesizer start playing “do do do do da da da da” we know it is “Baba O’Riley” by the Who. We know that the piano will come in around 0:35, the drums will come in around 0:45, and Roger Daltrey will sing “Out here in the fields…” at 1:05. This is what we want. Familiarity, nostalgia, emotional release – these are the trademarks of popular music. This is true for all forms of popular radio, and this is what most people want when they listen to music. Sure, it is enjoyable to hear new songs and new artists, but most people are most comfortable when that music is performed within their favorite styles and in ways that are familiar. A Keith Urban song is supposed to be sung by Keith Urban, a Kendrick Lamar song is supposed to be sung by Kendrick Lamar, and an Adele song is supposed to be sung by Adele. Other artists may cover those songs, but those are exceptions and are often either an homage to the original artist or an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of an older song that may not be as familiar to everyone anymore.

This is not true for jazz. The backbone of a jazz musician’s repertoire is jazz standards. These are tunes that have been performed by thousands of jazz artists for decades. Some jazz standards date back almost one hundred years and are still recorded and performed by today’s jazz artists. If you are lucky enough to be able to listen to a jazz radio station, you may hear the same song throughout the day, but performed by different artists in different ways. More importantly, with a few exceptions, none of those versions of the song are more familiar or important than the others. They are just different versions of jazz standards that most jazz musicians know and love. If you start to listen to jazz and attend live shows, you will start to understand how jazz standards serve to unite everyone involved.

I’ll let Ms. Faux explain it, and in doing so, provide an explanation of how to understand jazz

Perhaps the best way to understand jazz at its most fundamental level is that jazz is like performance art. It is an experience that can change with each performance of a tune. As opposed to other forms of music, jazz is an act of creation that can change in attitude, feeling, emotion, and energy with each performance of a tune. Through the creation of the tune as a piece of art, different musicians can create a new tune every time the tune is performed. This is true not only when performed in different styles, tempos, and instrument combinations, but even when performed by the same musicians in the same way. For this reason, jazz is as much a conversation between the listener and the artist as one between the musicians performing. All that the listener needs to do is listen and they become part of the performance.

I believe that this gets right to the heart of the matter. Jazz is the most universal of all music styles because its very existence depends on a connection between everyone either playing or listening to the music. Unlike most popular music, where the success of the music depends on a specific song by a specific artist becoming popular, jazz allows everyone involved to take part in the music from their own perspective. All that is needed is a tune, some musicians, and someone to listen. This is why standards are so important. There are plenty of new jazz tunes composed, performed, and recorded every day, and they are important to the advancement of jazz and new jazz artists, but the performance of jazz standards is how all future jazz musicians build their skills and how live jazz audiences become comfortable during a jazz performance. At their core, jazz standards allow everyone involved to step into the same mental and emotional space and understand each other.

Ten Standards

There are hundreds of well-known jazz standards, and I am certainly not arrogant enough to say that these ten are the Top Ten. My simple goal is to present ten standards that I believe will help you build a knowledge base of tunes you are sure to hear when you start listening to more jazz. In addition, I am presenting a variety of jazz styles and artists so you can continue your familiarity with the wide variety available.

One important thing to know is that some jazz standards start out as popular songs from other genres and others start out as jazz compositions, but it does not matter which of these two origins of a tune lead to its inclusion in the jazz standards lexicon. What matters is that there is some intrinsic property of the tune that leads to its evolution into a standard. It may be the melody. It may be the lyrics. It may be that the tune is fun for jazz musicians to play. There is no simple explanation for how it happens. All that matters for our purpose is that we start to learn some of these standards because the enjoyment of jazz grows exponentially once one becomes familiar with some of these tunes.

Number One: Doxy by Sonny Rollins

This is not a Top Ten list, but I have to start somewhere, so I’ll start with arguably the most popular standard composed by my favorite saxophonist, Sonny Rollins. “Doxy” is a simple tune, but its influence is vast. Every jazz artist learns this tune as a young student. There is no way to define how a tune creates an emotional reaction, but the chord progression and melody of this tune can heal your soul. I’ve selected the most famous version of the tune, which is not only a great way to start this list, but also a great way to introduce some of the giants of jazz. This is the original 1954 version with a young Sonny Rollins (tenor sax), the legendary Miles Davis (trumpet), three founding members of The Modern Jazz Quartet, Milt Jackson (vibes), Percy Heath (bass), and Kenny Clarke (drums), and one of the great jazz composers, Horace Silver (piano).

Number Two: C Jam Blues by The Oscar Peterson Trio

“C Jam Blues” was composed by Duke Ellington in 1942 to be one of the simplest tunes to play. The tune is in C major and the basic melody is two notes, G and C, but the beauty of the composition is in the fact that such a simple tune allows for the musicians to improvise in a million ways. This simple tune may best exemplify the spirit of jazz. You can listen to dozens of versions of this tune, from the most simple jazz trio to nine-piece combos to big bands, and they will all start out with exactly the same opening melody (G, G, G, G, C), but then they will branch off into such different directions that you may not know they are the same tune if you don’t hear the opening melody. My, and Ms. Faux’s, favorite version is from The Oscar Peterson Trio’s 1963 album Night Train. Although this album was just one of dozens released by Peterson by 1963 (he was ridiculously prolific), it is now considered one of the great jazz recordings. The record is filled with standards, such as Moten Swing, Bag’s Groove, Georgia On My Mind, and C Jam Blues, and is a great place to go to hear how a piano trio (piano, bass, drums) can thrive on the playing of standards.

Number Three: My Funny Valentine by Chet Baker

I will present an entire show later in this series that focuses on jazz vocalists, so for now I’ll only present one tune to introduce this type of jazz. Vocal jazz recordings are arguably the most popular style of the genre. Artists such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Diana Krall are some of the most well-known and best-selling artists in the history of jazz. Vocal jazz can be presented in a small combo, in a big band, or even with a symphony. As such, the performances are often focused on the tune itself and not as much on improvisation by the musicians, but at their core these are still jazz tunes. I have selected the Chet Baker version of Ms. Faux’s favorite vocal tune, “My Funny Valentine,” because it provides a wonderful example of the interplay between a jazz vocalist and the musicians. If you focus solely on the vocal performance then you will enjoy the tune simply for the beautiful voice of Baker. However, I would recommend listening to the piano to see how Russ Freeman fills the spaces in between the lyrics. That interplay is the heart of great vocal jazz performances and when a vocal jazz tune is performed as well as this one it provides an experience much more enriching than more straightforward vocal performances.

Number Four: Begin the Beguine by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra

Anyone from my generation or earlier has heard much more big band swing era music than they probably wanted to. Especially as a child, it was difficult to escape hearing this music that already sounded old by the time Elvis Presley took over the world in 1954, and even older by the time the Bee Gees were making disco and Kiss was spitting blood all over the stage. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even our parents were still listening to these nostalgic tunes by Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and others. I vividly remember tv commercials selling collections of these tunes throughout the years when our household owned its first color television. I argued with myself whether I should include any of these tunes in this list of standards. Faux Jr. even told me that if someone showed up at a jam session and suggested to play “In The Mood” they would be met with consternation. However, these tunes are standards and this music is jazz. The music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald is currently more acceptable to the higher institutions of jazz instruction, but there will always be a fanbase for the music of Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, and Benny Goodman. In fact, I can’t imagine a holiday season that doesn’t include the music of these band leaders from the swing era of the ’40s. In the end, I elected to include one tune on this list. I chose “Begin the Beguine” by Artie Shaw because it is still performed by big bands regularly, and because it is less conventional than other better-known tunes like “In The Mood” and “Sing Sing Sing.” I may put together an entire show about big bands in this series, and Artie Shaw is sure to be included, so I won’t go into much detail about him here. I’ll just say that if you find that your favorite music in this week’s show is “Begin the Beguine” by Artie Shaw then you shouldn’t let any elitist jazz snobs tell you that you’re wrong. This music swings and the most popular tunes are 100% earworms, so dance your ass off and, most importantly, dig those clarinets!

Number Five: Chameleon by Herbie Hancock

By the time Herbie Hancock decided to evolve his sound into jazz fusion, he was already one of the most highly regarded jazz pianists of his generation. In addition to his recordings of his own compositions and his session work with artists such as Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson, Freddie Hubbard, Eric Dolphy, and many others, Hancock was a member of the Miles Davis groups that redefined jazz in the ’60s. By the time the ’70s rolled around, jazz was exploding in new directions and Hancock was at the forefront of that revolution. I wanted to include at least one fusion tune in this list, and I went back and forth between this tune by Hancock and “Spain” by Chick Corea. I may devote an entire show in this series to fusion, and “Spain” will be a centerpiece if I do, but I ended up selecting “Chameleon” for the simple fact that I think it may be the most-performed fusion song ever written. The head is legendary (see the last show in this series if you don’t know what that means) and this tune has influenced music across multiple genres, from jazz to R&B to funk to rap. Most people of the MTV generation and later probably know Hancock’s “Rockit” better than any of his other material, but when Hancock dies and struts off into the next realm I am 100% positive that “Chameleon” is the tune that will be playing as he glides away.

Number Six: The Girl From Ipanema by Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Astrud Gilberto

An introduction to jazz standards is not complete without at least one bossa nova tune, so I have included two. The first is one that you most likely already know. “The Girl From Ipanema” is the most-recorded bossa nova vocal tune. Since being composed in 1962, it was recorded by almost every important vocalist of the ’60s, including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and Barbra Streisand. It won the Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965. It is the second most-recorded pop song in history, behind “Yesterday” by The Beatles. However, even after all of the thousands of recordings it has produced, the version that made it popular is still the best. If you attend a live vocal jazz concert, there is always a good chance that they will perform this tune.

Number Seven: Blue Bossa by Joe Henderson

The second bossa nova tune I have included is “Blue Bossa.” It was composed in 1963 by trumpeter Kenny Dorham and first recorded by Joe Henderson for his album Page One. This period (the early ’60s) saw a bossa nova craze sweep the world, due in large part to the work of Stan Getz and this tune. Since then, bossa nova tunes have become a staple of all jazz, not just Latin jazz, and “Blue Bossa” is often the first tune that young musicians learn in order to perfect this style. As a tune, it is actually a little bit simple and dull, but its place as one of the most important jazz standards can’t be denied. An understanding of the bossa nova rhythm and an introduction to Latin jazz is needed by anyone who wants to begin a journey into a lifetime love of jazz, and this is the perfect tune from which to start.

Number Eight: On Green Dolphin Street by Miles Davis

The last three slots in this list could have been filled by a lot of different tunes, but I chose some of my favorites. “On Green Dolphin Street” is another tune that is often learned by young jazz musicians in order to build a knowledge of standards. It has been performed for almost seventy years in a variety of styles, and will continue to be performed because the melody is so wonderful. This version of the tune is a lesser-known out-take from the sessions for the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue, but I selected it because it is a great version that features some more of the giants of jazz – Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley (sax), Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums) – and allows me to introduce Kind of Blue, one of the Mount Rushmore of jazz albums.

Number Nine: Impressions by John Coltrane

Selecting a John Coltrane tune as a standard is not the most obvious choice because his tunes are not as commonly played by others due to their difficulty. I could have selected “Giant Steps” or “A Love Supreme,” but they really aren’t performed very often by others. “Impressions” isn’t performed as much as most standards either, but it is an important example of the music now called modal jazz. I was going to include the modal jazz masterpiece “So What” from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, but since I already included “On Green Dolphin Street” from those sessions, I went with “Impressions.” The tune uses the same chord progression as “So What” and is also a modal jazz masterpiece. I don’t get too caught up in trying to label music in categories such as modal jazz, hard bop, and so on, but it is important to know that there are specific categories of jazz that musicians focus on in order to help define the playing of the tunes. You don’t have to understand the music theory behind these different forms, but it is good to learn what kind of jazz a specific tune that you like is so that you can better discover more music of that form. If you like Kind of Blue and Impressions then it is easy to search out other modal jazz recordings to find more that you like.

Number Ten: Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise by Modern Jazz Quartet

This is my favorite jazz standard. It probably isn’t a Top Ten standard when you consider all of the great standards I left off of this list, but that isn’t the point. If you listen to enough jazz, you will hear this tune sooner or later. This version is my favorite. It is from the 1955 album Concorde by The Modern Jazz Quartet, featuring Milt Jackson (vibes), John Lewis (piano), Percy Heath (bass), and Connie Kay (drums). There are many ways to perform this tune, and the melody works in all of them, but the intimacy provided by just a rhythm section with vibes is the best. This was originally a 1928 Broadway song about lost love with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, and although the original is much more melancholy, most jazz versions present it in the same spirit as this MJQ version.

That is ten standards, but there are hundreds more to choose from. If you want to listen to some more, check out the Anatomy of a Jazz Tune show where I break down “Autumn Leaves,” a definite Top Ten standard. You can also listen to the Duke Ellington standard “Take The “A” Train” in that show’s playlist. In addition, I have put together a playlist for this week that presents the ten tunes from this week’s show plus ten more common standards. I would probably listen to this list more attentively than most, but it works just as well as background music, albeit the best background music you will hear all day.

Amazon Prime Playlist

Spotify Playlist

Tracks 1-10 are the tracks discussed above, in that order.

Track 11: Thelonious Monk “Straight, No Chaser”: Thelonious Monk is one of the most heralded jazz composers. He wrote several standards, including “Round Midnight,” “Misterioso,” “Ruby, My Dear,” “Well You Needn’t,” and this tune. He is the second most recorded jazz composer behind Duke Ellington. Learning the tunes of Monk is a great way to prepare yourself for live jazz performances which very often include his compositions.

Track 12: Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers “Caravan”: This tune was composed in 1936 by Puerto Rican trombonist Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington. It is one of the most-recorded standards, and has been played in almost every style of jazz. It was especially popular during the exotica movement of the ’50s, with recordings by Les Baxter, Martin Denny, and others. It is sometimes presented with vocals, and can be performed by big bands and small combos. This version features a fantastic drum opening by Blakey before expanding into a stone cold groove by the Jazz Messengers, punctuated with several Blakey drum breaks. The Jazz Messengers were an ever-evolving group led by Blakey, but this version may be the best as it includes Wayne Shorter (sax) and Freddie Hubbard (trumpet).

Track 13: Dizzy Gillespie “A Night In Tunisia”: Gillespie composed his composition “Interlude” in the early 1940s, but it has become known as “A Night In Tunisia.” It has been recorded by thousands of artists at all levels of experience for over eighty years. It is especially popular for trumpeters to do their best Dizzy Gillespie high note imitations.

Track 14: Billie Holiday “Summertime”: This is the first song presented in George Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. It is a standard for pop, R&B, blues, opera, and jazz vocalists. I selected Billie Holiday’s 1936 version because it is the original jazz vocalist recording of the tune and has influenced performances over the last eighty years.

Track 15: Benny Goodman and His Orchestra “Sing, Sing, Sing”: You’ve probably heard this one, and this is the most famous version. This is big band swing at its finest. Originally composed by Louis Prima in 1936, this tune became the signature song for The Benny Goodman Orchestra. Their original 1937 version features three of the giants of the era, Goodman (clarinet), Gene Krupa (drums), and Harry James (trumpet).

Track 16: Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli “All The Things You Are”: This 1939 tune was written by Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern and has since become a standard performed by thousands of artists. There are many versions I could have selected, but I thought this was a great chance to throw in a recording by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. Reinhardt (guitar) and Grappelli (violin) were co-founders of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, one of the first all string jazz combos.

Track 17: Lester Young and the Oscar Peterson Trio “There Will Never Be Another You”: This is another tune from a musical that has become a standard for jazz groups during the eighty years since it was written. I selected this version in order to showcase the gorgeous playing of Lester Young, one of the original tenor sax pioneers. This recording was made with a young Oscar Peterson and his combo just a few years before Young died from alcohol-related complications. Young is often ignored nowadays due to the long line of more popular sax players who came after his early death, such as Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Wayne Shorter, Wynton Marsalis, and all of those smooth jazz dudes, but his tone sets the bar against which all other players should be measured.

Side note: There are a lot of great facts you can learn about Lester Young, but I’ll throw out just this one: Lester Young coined the term “cool” to mean something good. Like, cool, man, y’dig.

Track 18: Charlie Parker “Billies Bounce”: Charlie Parker composed “Billies Bounce” in 1945. It is one of the original bebop tunes. Charlie Parker is important.

Track 11: Sarah Vaughan “Body and Soul”: This tune was written in 1930 and is, therefore, one of the oldest standards in the jazz vocal lexicon. Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald are the best-known vocalists of the early jazz era, but Sarah Vaughan is the Faux household favorite. Her collections of recordings of the American songbook are all fantastic. I selected her version of this tune to showcase her amazing tone and vocal interpretation technique.

Track 11: Errol Garner “I’ll Remember April”: This tune debuted in a 1942 Abbott and Costello film, but is now a vocal standard for pop and jazz vocalists, as well as for all jazz musicians. This version is from pianist Errol Garner’s 1955 live album Concert By The Sea, one of the greatest recordings of live jazz ever released. Garner was a master at interpreting standards, and this entire album is a masterclass and a perfect way to end this list.

That is twenty standards, and hopefully a great introduction to how standards are the building blocks of jazz. The next show will focus on the instruments, starting with the rhythm section.

If you know anyone, especially youngsters, who are interested in expanding their knowledge of music, please forward this show on to them.

Also, go out and support a local jazz group. They are out there near you, performing standards just like these every week.

And, as always, thanks for listening and reading!

4 thoughts on “Radio Faux Show Volume 3, Number 3: Intro To Jazz (Jazz Standards)

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