Sep 9, 2012

“Must-Know” Jazz Tunes: Comparing Lists

After my last post, a review of Ted Gioia's book “The Jazz Standards,” it occurred to me to try comparing various “must-know” lists of jazz standards, and to try to compile some kind of list of mutual agreement. I selected six lists that seemed well-considered; they are listed below. Each one has its quirks.

1) The list of all tunes discussed in “The Jazz Standards” (252 Songs). According to the author’s introduction, this list was first conceived as a “must-know” list for his students. It strikes me as also having a jazz-history aspect, in many of the song choices.

2) The table of contents in Jamey Aebersold’s “Pocket Changes” (335 songs), a changes-only fakebook from (I think) the 1980s. I have an older edition; a newer one is available now. It seems to me that a fakebook can be a sort of de facto must-know list, particularly if it is a one-volume book aimed at jazz players - even more so, if the song choices are not limited by copyright considerations. It is “settled law” these days that chord progressions can not be copyrighted; this book shows only chords, not melodies. At first I considered using the song list from the original bootleg Real Book for the same reason I included “Pocket Changes,” but decided that the old RB (1974) has had such a pervasive influence in defining standard repertoire that it would already in effect be represented in the other lists.

3) The list of jazz repertoire on Pete Thomas’ website, (165 songs). These were chosen with jazz education in mind. I used his entire list, but on his website he has noted which of these 165 tunes he considers “should know” and which are “must know.” If you’d like to see his breakdown, click on the link above.

4) The website lists the top 1000 jazz standards, chosen and ranked by a statistical method related to number of CD recordings. I have used only the top 200 of these; the sample size seemed more or less in keeping with my other sources. Besides, including a larger sample would have produced increasing numbers of “outlier” tunes.

5) Bert Ligon has posted a list on the University of South Carolina website that he compiled by asking “several jazz educators” for their top 100 tunes that “everyone should know” and then adding a few more of his own (428 songs altogether). This method produced a list with quite a few outliers (tunes that appear on no other list). It seems to me that some of his contributors made what I would call eccentric choices. However, since this list actually represented input from several jazz educators, it seemed like exactly the sort of source I was looking for.

6) My own list of “100 Must-Know Jazz Tunes.” This list originated as a “List of Shame” that I compiled for my adult jazz combo classes. The idea was that the combo musicians were all adults, and lifelong players, and should probably never again have to open a fakebook to jam on basic tunes (Blue Bossa, Take the A Train, All of Me, etc.). The original concept morphed into this “top 100” list, which is posted as an article on my studio website. The list also includes preferred (that is, relatively correct) fakebook sources for the 100 tunes. In this article you will also find a further explanation of my criteria.

I should mention here that I initially wanted to include the repertoire list from Chapter 21 of Mark Levine’s “The Jazz Theory Book,” a very good list that is skewed towards more modern tunes (e.g., Wayne Shorter). But as I made a table of these lists, it appeared as though Ligon’s list had already incorporated Levine’s - that is, Levine’s list is an almost exact subset of Ligon’s. That is the only reason that Levine’s list is not among the ones I used. (If I’m right, though, ML actually contributed 227 titles. Just 2 songs on ML’s list don’t appear on BL’s - “How Deep is the Ocean,” and “Witchcraft.”)

The authors of the six lists obviously used widely varying criteria in choosing tunes. There might be regional differences (for example, Pete Thomas is in the UK), generational differences, stylistic preferences, and/or differences in the exact purpose of the list (statistical, historical, educational). It seemed to me that the intersection of these lists would produce an interesting result.

So - I made up a chart of the 618 tunes represented in these six sources, and charted the number of “hits” for each tune - 618 rows for the tunes, six columns for the sources.

If a tune had six hits, the various lists were all in agreement that the tune was a “must-know.”

Five hits had the effect of eliminating one “outlier” source that failed to include the tune for some reason. For example, the list is only statistical, and does not include tunes that someone else might list for pedagogical reasons. My own list is limited in size to just 100 tunes, and of necessity leaves out some likely choices. "Pocket Changes" tends to exclude blues tunes, since the chords are generally pretty much the same from one blues tune to the next. In fact, if a blues tune has 4 or 5 hits, it’s a very important tune to know.

The tunes with four hits also seem to me to be basic repertoire, even if two sources failed to list them. I drew the line there, and am not listing those with three hits or less.

These 6-, 5-, and 4-hit "derivative" lists are really short on blues, IMHO. There are NO blues tunes on the 6-hit list. Blues with 5 hits were "Billie's Bounce," "Blue Monk," and "C Jam Blues." 4-hit blues were "All Blues," "Straight No Chaser," and  "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." That's it. However, the entire list of 618 standards included 44 blues heads (7%), almost all of them well-known classics. Besides the issue with "Pocket Changes" noted above, the 6 compilers seem to have made some widely varying personal choices about which of these classic blues to include.

Note: I address this blues issue in my Oct. 14 post, comparing a total of 12 "must-know" tune lists, to arrive at a ranked list of must-know blues tunes.

Here are the results; you can draw any conclusions you like. 

These tunes appear on all 6 lists (31 songs):
All of Me
All the Things You Are
Autumn Leaves
Body and Soul
Bye Bye Blackbird
Days of Wine and Roses
Donna Lee
Georgia on My Mind
How High the Moon
I Got Rhythm
In a Mellow Tone
Just Friends
Night and Day
Night in Tunisia
Oh, Lady Be Good!
On Green Dolphin Street
Out of Nowhere
Round Midnight
Satin Doll
Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise
Star Eyes
Stella by Starlight
Sweet Georgia Brown
Take the A Train
There Will Never Be Another You
What Is This Thing Called Love?
Willow Weep for Me
Yardbird Suite

These tunes appear on 5 of the lists (47 songs):
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Alone Together
Autumn in New York
Billie’s Bounce
Blue Bossa
Blue Monk
But Not For Me
C Jam Blues
Embraceable You
Fly Me to the Moon
Girl From Ipanema, The
Groovin’ High
Have You Met Miss Jones?
Here’s That Rainy Day
I Can’t Get Started
I Got It Bad
I Remember Clifford
I’ll Remember April
It Could Happen to You
Jitterbug Waltz
Like Someone in Love
Love for Sale
Lover Man
Lullaby of Birdland
Mack the Knife
My Funny Valentine
One Note Samba
Over the Rainbow
Pennies From Heaven
Prelude to a Kiss
St. Thomas
Scrapple From the Apple
So What
Someone to Watch Over Me
Song for My Father
Sophisticated Lady
Star Dust
Stormy Weather
There Is No Greater Love

These tunes appear on 4 of the lists (76 songs):
All Blues
Angel Eyes
Blue Moon
But Beautiful
Come Rain or Come Shine
Darn That Dream
Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
East of the Sun
Easy Living
Giant Steps
God Bless the Child
Gone With the Wind
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was
I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart
I Remember You
I Should Care
I Thought About You
If You Could See Me Now
It Might As Well Be Spring
Joy Spring
Lady Bird
Lover, Come Back to Me
Maiden Voyage
Man I Love, The
Manha de Carnaval (Black Orpheus)
Mean to Me
Milestones (new)
Moment’s Notice
Moonlight In Vermont
My Favorite Things
My Foolish Heart
My Old Flame
My One and Only Love
My Romance
Nearness of You, The
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Old Folks
Once I Loved
Our Love Is Here to Stay
Polka Dots and Moonbeams
Shiny Stockings
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
Someday My Prince Will Come
Song Is You, The
Speak Low
Stompin’ at the Savoy
Straight, No Chaser
Take Five
Tea for Two
These Foolish Things
Things Ain’t What They Used to Be
Time After Time
Tune Up
Way You Look Tonight, The
Well, You Needn’t
What’s New?
Work Song
You Don’t Know What Love Is
You Stepped Out of a Dream
You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To


tjjazzpiano said...

Ha! List of shame. It's great to be a jazz musician and know that there will always be more to learn and study.

Aaron said...

Love it! It's nice to see other jazz musicians who are so organized. Thanks for putting this together :)

I was just about to copy all the values from the Levine "Jazz Theory Book" into an excel chart, but you saved me a TON of work with this list!