Some characteristics of Advanced standards may include:
- Complicated harmonic structure
- Sometimes Fast Tempos
- Moves between multiple key centers
- Requires a thorough understanding of harmony to comp or solo over the tune
This is certainly not a list of the 20 most challenging tunes; it is simply a list of some advanced tunes that are worth learning.
These tunes are generally just more complicated than the Beginning or Advanced tunes, but they are a lot of fun to play! To skip out on learning these tunes would be to miss out on some great literature. These are extremely gratifying to play. Don’t skip these tunes (when you are ready for them!)
Along Came Betty A tricky tune by Benny Golson, the harmonic movement is a challenge, especially from memory.
Ask Me Now A beautiful but challenging tune by Thelonious Monk.
Airegin A jazz original by Sonny Rollins. “Nigeria” spelled backwards!
Black Nile Wayne Shorter wrote so many classic tunes…and they are usually a fun challenge to play!
Central Park West A great ballad by John Coltrane.
Cherokee A burner…the changes aren’t exactly easy, and the tempo is…upstairs!
Con Alma A great tune by Dizzy Gillespie
Confirmation Classic bebop by Charlie Parker.
Dolphin Dance A classic modal tune by Herbie Hancock. These changes aren’t easy, and they are even harder to remember without music. The originally recording of the tune can be found on Herbie’s “Maiden Voyage” album.
Donna Lee This tune is on the list not so much for the changes as it is for the tempo. The melody isn’t exactly easy either! This is a Charlie Parker contrafact over the changes to the standard “Indiana.”
Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum This classic tune by Wayne Shorter can be found on his acclaimed “Speak No Evil” album. The tune has an AABA form with Coltrane-influenced changes on the A section and a bluesy bridge.
Giant Steps The famous Coltrane classic, the title track from Coltrane’s ground breaking 1960 album. This tune pretty much defines Coltrane changes and is basically the definition of a hard tune in the minds of many jazz musicians. This tune is definitely not impossible, it’s just a ii-V-I in B, G, and Eb. With some serious work, an intermediate jazz musician can basically become an advanced jazz musician by mastering the ability to blow on this tune. Trane recorded the majority of the album 2 weeks after finishing up recording on the multi-platinum “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis! Interestingly, Coltrane actually never performed the tune live.
How Insensitive This Jobim classic in D minor is deceptively challenging harmonically, especially from memory. The chords are based on Frederic Chopin’s Prelude Op. 28 No. 4, and the harmony descends circuitously, resolving to D minor three times, and never in quite the same way twice.
In Your Own Sweet Way A challenging, yet beautiful tune by Dave Brubeck. This tune is mostly a challenge because of the tricky harmonic movement.
Invitation This is a great standard tune with a beautiful melody that every jazz musician should know.
Lazy Bird Although not quite as unpredictable as Giant Steps or Countdown, this is another challenging tune from John Coltrane. This appears on his Gold record, “Blue Train,” along with…
Moment’s Notice Another Coltrane classic, this challenging tune was also released on Trane’s album “Blue Train,” his only album for Blue Note records as a leader.
Speak No Evil The title track of Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil” album.
Sweet and Lovely This is arguably one of the easier tunes on the list, with a medium tempo and a less-than challenging melody. At first listen, it sounds like one of the hundreds of medium-tempo standards in the intermediate category. Still, the harmony moves around with enough unpredictability that it can be a challenge. It starts with a ii-V or (V7sus) going to the IV chord.