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20 Easy Jazz Standards You Need To Know To Start Learning Jazz

If you want to learn how to play jazz, you will need to learn jazz standards. Period.

The jazz language is built around the harmonies, melodies, and rhythms of jazz standards. So, to truly get the hang of jazz, you’ll need to get comfortable with the common chord progressions found throughout jazz tunes.

I know what you might be thinking—there are so many jazz songs out there, and many of them sound pretty difficult. What are the best jazz songs to learn for beginners?

Luckily, that’s exactly what we will cover in this post. By the end, you’ll know 20 easy jazz standards that you can use to learn jazz and accelerate your jazz playing.

We’ve picked these jazz songs because they are harmonically, rhythmically, and melodically simple and contain many important progressions shaping jazz music. As a result, the following tunes are perfect for beginner improvisers who want to start learning the language of jazz, build their jazz repertoire, and learn the music theory behind jazz.

And, if you are committed to becoming the best jazz musician you can be and enjoy learning jazz standards, then you need to check out the Learn Jazz Standards Inner Circle.

Together, we learn a new jazz standard in detail every month. Plus, you’ll have access to over 100 courses taught by professional jazz musicians and designed to help you become the best jazz player you can be.

Come see what the Inner Circle is all about.

Table of Contents

20 Easy Jazz Standards for Beginner Jazz Musicians

As mentioned above, jazz standards contain all the information–all the chords, phrases, and important progressions—you need to become fluent in jazz music. If you want a comprehensive breakdown detailing which classic jazz songs you need to know as a jazz beginner, check out our blog post on how to get into jazz.

The following jazz standards are great jazz songs to play, no matter where you are on your jazz journey. The list will include many different sub-genres of jazz, including modern jazz, soul jazz, bossa nova, swing, funk, Latin, modal jazz, and jazz blues, as well as great listening recommendations.

Be sure to follow the link included under each entry to check out additional resources and extensive playlists for each of the jazz songs!

By learning the following famous jazz songs, you’ll develop the skills to analyze standards on the spot and open the gateway to play more complicated standards.

1. “All Blues” by Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (1959)

If you haven’t already, Miles Davis is a jazz artist you need to check out.

His tune All Blues is a 12-bar blues in 6/4 (and can also be felt in 3/4) time signature. This classic jazz song has a medium tempo, and the original recording has a laid-back feel typical of cool jazz. It is a contender for one of the best jazz songs of all time.

It’s a great beginner jazz song because it is a unique take on the blues form that allows improvisers to develop ideas over long stretches of dominant chords (this tune blurs the line between blues and modal jazz, where songs sit on a single chord for a while).

In jazz, a modal tune refers to a composition or improvisation centered around a musical mode rather than following a traditional chord progression. Modes are scales derived from the major scale, providing a different tonal color and harmonic framework for improvisation and composition.

The Miles Davis solo is also great for beginner improvisers to learn.

2. “Autumn Leaves” or “Les Feuilles Mortes” by Joeseph Kosma

Autumn Leaves is one of the most famous jazz songs of all time and one of the first standards jazz students learn. Autumn Leaves has a 32-bar AABC form with a simple harmonic progression based on the circle of fourths in the relative major and minor keys.

Autumn Leaves is excellent for learning about major and minor ii-V-I progressions, voice leading, and practicing improvisation over changing chords. This classic jazz song has a longer form than most tunes on this list, making it one of the best jazz songs to memorize early on.

One of the classic versions of Autumn Leaves can be found on Cannonball Adderley’s 1958 record Somethin’ Else (1958), which also features a solo by Miles Davis. It was originally written as a French song, so be sure to check that version out.

3. “Blue Monk” by Thelonious Monk – Thelonious Monk Trio (1954)

Blue Monk is a great blues written by Thelonious Monk, one of the most unique and innovative piano-playing jazz artists in the history of jazz (and someone you need to know about).

Blue Monk has a fairly simple melody compared to other jazz songs. However, the melody’s rhythm is syncopated and complex, which is typical of Monk’s unique compositional style. This Monk tune is a great introduction to Thelonius Monk and will get you thinking in new, rhythmically complex ways.

4. “Blue Bossa” by Kenny Dorham – Page One (1963)

Blue Bossa is a 16-bar jazz bossa nova by Kenny Dorham that first appeared on the Joe Henderson album Page One (1963). Joe Henderson is one of the jazz greats and someone you should check out if you haven’t already.

There are many great versions of Blue Bossa, but the original recording of Blue Bossa is one of the great reference versions. Blue Bossa is a great introduction to playing jazz with a Latin feel. Also, Blue Bossa is a great practice vehicle for major and minor ii-V-Is.

Keep a heads up for the chromatic key change, and don’t forget to check out the Joe Henderson album Page One (1963)!

5. “Bag’s Groove” by Milt Jackson – Wizard of the Vibes (1952)

Here is another jazz song that demands your attention!

Bag’s Groove is a 12-bar blues with a catchy, syncopated melody. It’s perfect for learning swing feel, phrasing, and blues harmony. The most notable version can be found on Miles Davis’s 1957 album called Bag’s Groove.

6. “C-Jam Blues” by Duke Ellington (1942)

C-Jam Blues has one of the easiest melodies of any of the jazz standards in the jazz world. The melody only has two notes alternating between C and G. A definitive version comes from Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra on the album Black, Brown, and Beige (1944), but this tune has other notable versions, too.

7. “Cold Duck Time” by Eddie Harris – Swiss Movement (1969)

Cold Duck Time is a funky, straight-eighth 12-bar groove with a simple chord progression. This tune is great for learning how to play over a straight-eighth track. The harmony is simple and mostly consists of a I-IV chord progression.

You’ll want to use the blues scale for the F7 and the Bb7 chords, and you can use the major scale when you come across the parallel major 7th chords at the end of the form.

8. “Doxy” by Sonny Rollins – Miles Davis with Sonny Rollins (1954)

Doxy is a simple song in Bb. Though Sonny Rollins wrote the melody, the chords were originally written for Bob Carleton’s 16-bar song “Ja-Da,” making this tune a contrafact.

This jazz tune is made up entirely of dominant chords and is a great vehicle to practice using the blues scale, the minor pentatonic scale, the Mixolydian scale, and various other jazz scales.

Here are 6 licks you can practice over dominant chords.

A Night at the Village Vanguard (1957) has another version jazz fans should check out!

9. “Fly Me to the Moon” or “In Other Words” by Bart Howard (1954)

Another contender for one of the best jazz songs of all time is “Fly Me To The Moon.”

The original version of “Fly Me to the Moon” was called “In Other Words” and was first recorded by singer Kaye Ballard and released as a single in 1954. However, Frank Sinatra made the tune a bonafide jazz standard. Check out Frank Sinatra’s Album It Might as Well Be Swing (1964) to hear his version.

This 32-bar AABA tune is excellent for practicing longer song form tunes. It features all the chords in the key of C major, with a few non-diatonic surprises, making it an excellent tune to practice jazz improvisation.

You can get away with the C major scale when soloing for most of the tune. That’s why this is one of the first standards students learn.

To learn more about diatonic chords, check out our ultimate guide to 7th chords.

10. “Mack the Knife” by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht – The Threepenny Opera (1928)

Mack the Knife is an old jazz song from the 1920s. Like many jazz standards, it started as a show tunes composition but has since been recorded by many artists, including Louie Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

Despite being a 32-bar form, this jazz standard only has four chords and is in the key of Bb. However, the Bobby Darin version, which appeared on That’s All (1959), transposes up a half-step every chorus, making this a great workout for players who want to start improvising.

Other great reference versions include Sonny Rollins’s version from Saxophone Colossus (1957). Frank Sinatra also recorded a version on his album L.A. Is My Lady (1984) that is worth checking out.

11. “Lester Leaps In” by Lester Young – Lester Leaps In (1939)

Lester Leaps In is a rhythm changes tune written by Lester Young and recorded by Count Basie’s Kansas City Seven in 1939.

Knowing how to play over rhythm changes is essential for surviving any jam session in the jazz scene.

There are so many classic songs written over the rhythm changes chords. By learning the harmony of rhythm changes, you are learning the harmony of many jazz songs. “Lester Leaps In” is a fairly simplified version of rhythm changes, has a simple melody, and is a great place to start for those looking to learn jazz.

Additionally, rhythm changes tunes are great for musicians who need to train AABA forms, which can get tricky to keep track of after several choruses.

Check out this video for a comprehensive list of jazz heads written over rhythm changes.

12. “Mr. P.C.” by John Coltrane – Giant Steps (1960)

Mr. P.C. is the first minor blues tune on the list. The original John Coltrane version is fairly fast, but you can take the tempo down when practicing this tune. The catchy melody is fairly simple, and, as you’d probably expect, John Coltrane’s solo is awe-inspiring.

Check out this video for minor blues solo ideas.

13. “My Little Suede Shoes” by Charlie Parker – Swedish Schnapps (1951)

My Little Suede Shoes is another AABA song form built entirely from ii-V-Is. It is a great introduction to learning Charlie Parker’s tunes. The whole song is nearly diatonic in the key of Eb (in the b section, there is a brief dominant VI7 chord).

As a result, “My Little Suede Shoes” is a great vehicle for practicing improvisation and a great tune to train AABA forms on.

14. “Song for My Father” Horace Silver – Song for My Father (1964)

Song for My Father is a modal jazz tune in F- written by Horace Silver. This tune has an infectious Latin feel and a minor tonality. Like the minor blues, it uses a bVI7-V7 chord progression. It also has a V7sus chord, opening up many possibilities for new improvisers to play lines using quartal structures.

Check out Dee Dee Bridgewater’s vocal version by checking out the link above!

15. “St. Thomas” by Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus (1956)

St. Thomas is a fun, energetic 16-bar Latin tune written by Sonny Rollins and based on several folk tunes from the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands, and England. The chord progressions in this tune are fairly repetitive, and the jazz harmony is fairly repetitive, making it easy to memorize.

Plus, you need to check out Sonny Rollin’s solo on the original recording. There are so many great examples of jazz language in that solo. This is definitely one to pick apart and study!

16. “Summertime” by George Gershwin – Porgy and Bess (1936)

Summertime is another song originally composed for theater when jazz was popular music. It has since become a contender for the most recorded jazz standard of all time.

Everyone from Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and Billie Holiday to Oscar Peterson, Jonathan Kreisberg, and Kurt Rosenwinkle recorded a version of it (that list is by no means exhaustive—rather, it has some great versions performed by artists you need to check out).

Though mostly in the key of A minor, this 16-bar tune briefly visits the relative major key of C at the end.

17. “There Is No Greater Love” by Isham Jones – Isham Jones and His Orchestra (1936)

There Is No Greater Love is another AABA 32-bar form. The A section is in the key of Bb, and the B section is in the relative minor key of G-. Like Autumn Leaves and Fly Me To The Moon, this tune is longer than most other tunes on this list and is typical of other longer songs in this art form.

This is a great standard to practice playing over dominant II chords, which is a great place to use the Lydian Dominant scale.

For more information on the Lydian Dominant scale, check out our blog post on the 16 Most Important Jazz Scales You Need To Know.

18. “Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock – Takin’ Off (1962)

Watermelon Man is definitely one of the songs you’ll want to know. Herbie Hancock has several notable recorded versions of this straight-8th 16-bar tune over his long career (which is still continuing as of the publish date of this post).

This jazz song has been sampled numerous times by hip-hop and rap artists and has been recorded by other jazz artists over 200 times. As a result, it’s one of the more popular tunes on this list outside of the jazz world.

Like the other 16-bar bluesy songs on this list, Watermelon Man doesn’t have complicated harmony, allowing players to get comfortable playing ideas in one tonality before changing to the next chord.

Definitely try to play this tune in all the various styles Herbie recorded it in. The most famous version is off of Head Hunters (1973).

19. “Work Song” by Nat Adderley – Work Song (1960)

Work Song is a bluesy 16-bar modal tune by Nat Adderley that mostly sits on a single F- chord for the whole thing and doesn’t hit many more chords. As one of the modal jazz tunes on this list, it’s a great tune to stretch out on and develop ideas over. Also, the occasional dominant chords scattered throughout the tune present opportunities for you to try different dominant ideas.

Check out our blog post on the 3 Different Types of Dominant Chords All Jazz Musicians Encounter to learn more about how to approach different dominant chords.

20. “What Is This Thing Called Love” by Cole Porter – Wake Up and Dream (1929)

Learning What Is This Thing Called Love is a necessity. For jazz players, this jazz song is a must-know.

Like Autumn Leaves, this tune gets called often, and you’ll want to know it. What Is This Thing Called Love is another AABA 32-bar form made up of both major and minor ii-V-Is.

However, this tune is notable because one minor ii-V in the A section resolves to a major 7th chord instead of a minor 7th chord. This presents interesting improvisational opportunities, like using the harmonic major scale. Be sure to check out the Dave Brubeck quartet version.

And that wraps up our list of the 20 best jazz songs for beginners to learn.

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When you join the Inner Circle, you’ll gain access to everything you need to learn jazz standards (and remember them for good).

Whether you want to start learning jazz or learn music theory to understand more complicated standards, the Inner Circle has everything you need to memorize, analyze, and improvise over jazz songs.

See What The Inner Circle Is All About. Hint… it’s jazz.

If you are not sure which one of these jazz standards to start with, then here’s a video with three we recommend for getting started.

James Melton
James Melton
James Melton is a jazz musician, writer, producer, and educator who operates out of the greater Philadelphia area.

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