I believe one of the things that make jazz music unique and different from some other styles of music, is its incredible repertoire of ballads. In my opinion, these are some of the most beautiful songs ever written. Rich melodies and lush harmonies characterize these compositions, leaving us with some incredibly substantive pieces of music to enjoy and play.
But they should not be underestimated. Ballads are hard. Slow tempos are not easy, and learning how to phrase your improvisation over the time can be a challenge. That is why we need to practice them. It’s important to have a good number of jazz ballads in your arsenal so that you can play them on jam sessions and gigs. The added bonus is that the more ballads you learn, the more you will be exposed to different musical elements you need to have control of.
If you are unsure of what jazz ballads you should learn, here’s a great list to either get you started or continue your studies. You can click on any of the titles to find the chord changes and play-alongs to practice with.
Body and Soul is a popular tune written in 1930 by Johnny Green. This is a classic jazz ballad that everyone needs to know. Keep in mind, this one is considered a more challenging jazz standard.
Darn That Dream is a beautiful ballad written by Jimmy Van Heusen. It was introduced by the Broadway musical “Swingin’ The Dream”.
Misty is a tune written in 1954 by Errol Garner. This is definitely one that you should prioritize if you don’t know it already, as it is a frequently called song.
My One And Only Love was originally composed by Guy Warren in 1947 with lyrics by Jack Lawrence. This one has an incredibly beautiful melody.
Another great tune composed by Jimmy Van Heusen. This one was specifically composed for the Tommy Dorsey Band.
This is a fantastic ballad written by Horace Silver. This one can be challenging for some, as it abandons diatonic harmony throughout.
Blue In Green is another tricky ballad, composed by Miles Davis. Although Bill Evans has also claimed that he wrote it.
Prelude To A Kiss is a ballad composed by the great Duke Ellington and Irving Mills in 1938. This is a personal favorite of mine. It has an incredibly beautiful melody and the change to E major in the bridge has a nice sound to it.
This is another one by Duke Ellington. One of my favorite recordings of this is on the album Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. Both of these musicians collaborate marvelously on this album and particularly on this ballad.
Skylark is a tune written by the great Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. This ballad has it all. A gorgeous melody and some incredible harmony to match. This one can also be a little more challenging with its various twists and turns but is certainly worth the time to learn.
There are of course hundreds of more jazz ballads to learn, but these are some good ones to add to your repertoire.