Reducing the vast library of jazz classics to a list of 5 or 10 is bound to upset a few (or many) people. There really is no way to cover all the bases here, but I will make an attempt with what I consider some of the must-haves for any first time listener. Here are the top 10 jazz songs to listen to.
10 – Fly Me to the Moon
Yes, you have probably heard this one all your life in any number or rom-coms or wedding receptions. That is precisely why it is worth mentioning. This classic was written in 1954 by Bart Howard and one of the most – if not the most – popular version was sung by the legendary Frank Sinatra.
9 – My Funny Valentine
Another classic written in 1937 by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Hard to pick just one version of this. Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, and many more have all had their turns with this wonderful tune.
8 – Donna Lee
I felt it necessary to go over a few tunes from different periods in jazz music. Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee has been done by so many great performers and is one of the most well-known tunes from the 1940s bebop period.
7 – Four On Six
Up next, Wes Montgomery’s Four On Six. The hard bop period is probably my favorite of the old school, and as a guitar player, you’d better believe I’m including a Wes tune!
6 – Girl from Ipanema
Ah yes, the tune every musician everywhere is tired of playing. That should tell you something about its reach and it’s easy to see why it made the list. The tune was written by the legendary Antonio Carlos Jobim in the midst of the Bossa Nova explosion in the 60s. It blew up internationally in ‘64 after the Stan Getz / Astrud Gilbert recording was released.
5 – Giant Steps
This Coltrane tune turned the world on its head when it was first released. For aspiring jazz musicians, Giant Steps is also a benchmark for many. The harmony has been superimposed over any number of popular standards as it is still a very modern sound even over a half century later.
4 – Summertime
This Gershwin classic written in 1934 for the 1935 opera, “Porgy and Bess,” has been performed and reinvented in so many different ways by so many different performers. Indeed, this is a beautiful melody and simple harmony that lends itself to so many different approaches.
3 – So What
So What is one of the anthems of Miles Davis’ cool jazz movement. Miles was looking to see how much exploration he could do over one sound instead of playing over a bunch of different chord changes. This album on which this was released, Kind of Blue, is the gateway for most new jazz listeners.
2 – Take Five
Take Five is the tune the seems to best represent the west coast jazz of the period. Written by Dave Brubeck, the title is meant to allude to the tune being in a 5/4 time signature.
1 – Stella by Starlight
For me, this song is quite overplayed, but it’s easy to see why. It was written in 1944 by Victor Young for the movie, “The Uninvited.” A captivating listen for fans of any genre of music.