15 Jazz Ballads You Need To Know (And Why Learning Jazz Ballads Is Important)

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Learning jazz ballads is an essential part of learning the language of jazz.

There are many reasons why you should focus some of your practice time on learning the art of the jazz ballad. Not only do jazz ballads make for beautiful and passionate musical experiences, but they are way more challenging to play than you might realize.

Why?

When you slow things down, the more challenging swing feel and proper phrasing becomes. Your playing is laid bare over the barline, and there is all the space in the world for you to play over.

But fear not—practice makes perfect!

We’ll go over 15 jazz ballads you’ll want to know for the next jam session or jazz gig. By the end of this post, you’ll have added some of the most famous and renowned ballads to your tune list.

If you want to learn jazz standards, get better at playing jazz, and understand music theory, then you need to check out the Learn Jazz Standards Inner Circle. When you join the Inner Circle, you’ll access a treasure trove of incredible jazz education resources, including:

  • In-depth monthly Jazz Standard studies
  • Jazz Playing and Practicing Advice
  • Courses on Theory, Improv, and Instrument-Specific Courses As Well!

Come discover the benefits of the Inner Circle!

What Makes A Jazz Ballad?

  • Slow Tempo: Jazz ballads are naturally slow, especially compared to other jazz styles. The slower tempo allows musicians to explore the space, stretch out, and emphasize phrasing and articulation.
  • Emotional Depth: Jazz ballads carry more emotional weight than the average medium swing tune or a blazing Rhythm Changes. Usually written about themes of love, longing, nostalgia, or introspection, jazz ballads tend to go places other jazz tunes don’t.
  • Melodic Emphasis: Where some jazz tunes are about the changes or the groove, Jazz ballads are all about the melody. Jazz musicians take great care to play the melodies expressively and lyrically.
  • Rich Harmonic Language: While all jazz is known for its harmonic complexity, ballads tend to have even richer harmonies. The slower tempos allow for a faster harmonic rhythm, where players can move through many chord changes in a single bar.
  • Expressive Phrasing and Lyrical Playing: Musicians often take liberties with phrasing when playing ballads, stretching or compressing rhythms to add expression and lyricism to their performances.
  • Dynamics: Jazz ballads often employ various dynamics, from soft, whisper-like passages to powerful climaxes. This dynamic range aids in conveying the emotional narrative of the piece.

For more on how to play jazz ballads, check out our post on how to play jazz ballads like a pro.

Jazz Ballads You Need To Know

1. Body and Soul

Body and Soul, written in 1930 by Johnny Green, is a classic jazz standard. This is a harmonically rich ballad that everyone needs to know!

Check out:

  • Frank Sinatra on Frankly Sentimental (1949)
  • Stan Kenton on 7.5 on the Richter Scale (1973)
  • Nat King Cole on The King Cole Trio (1944)
  • Charles Mingus on Jazz Composers Workshop (1956)
Jazz Ballads: Changes for Body and Soul

Check out our backing track for Body and Soul.

2. Darn That Dream

This is a beautiful ballad written by Jimmy Van Heusen. It was introduced by the Broadway musical Swingin’ The Dream and is another example of a harmonically rich ballad that travels through many tonal centers.

Check out:

  • Miles Davis on Vol. 1: The Complete Birth Of The Cool (1972)
  • Ahmad Jamal on Ahmad Jamal Plays (1955)
  • Thelonious Monk on The Unique Thelonious Monk (1956)
Changes to Darn That Dream

Check out our backing track for Darn That Dream.

3. Misty

This ballad was originally written in 1954 by Errol Garner and was instrumental. However, this tune quickly became a hit with singers when Johnny Mathis debuted a version with lyrics in 1959.

Check out:

  • Aretha Franklin on the album Yeah!!! (1965)
  • Ella Fitzgerald on Pure Ella: The Very Best of Ella Fitzgerald (1998)
  • Frank Sinatra on Sinatra, With Love (2014)
Changes for Misty

Check out our backing track for Misty.

4. My One and Only Love

This tune was originally composed by Guy Warren in 1947 with lyrics by Jack Lawrence. This one has an incredibly beautiful melody and travels through various tonal centers.

  • John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman on the album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (1963)
  • Wes Montgomery on Bumpin’ (1965)
  • Joe Henderson & Chick Corea on Relaxin’ At Camarillo (1981)
Changes for My One And Only Love

Check out our play-along for My One and Only Love.

5. Polka Dots and Moonbeams

Another great tune composed by Jimmy Van Heusen. This one was specifically composed for the Tommy Dorsey Band.

  • Wes Montgomery on The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (1960)
  • Chet Baker on Polka Dots and Moonbeams (1958)
  • Sarah Vaughan on Swingin’ Easy (1957)
Changes for Polka Dots and Moonbeams

Check out our backing track for Polka Dots and Moonbeams.

6. Peace

This is a fantastic ballad written by Horace Silver. This one can be challenging because it moves through many tonal centers.

Check out:

  • Horace Silver on Blowin’ The Blues Away (1959)
  • Chet Baker on the album Peace (1982)
  • Tommy Flanagan on Something Borrowed, Something Blue (1978)
Changes for Peace

Check out our backing track for Peace.

7. Blue In Green

This ballad has a circular form and ambiguous tonality. Composed by Miles Davis and Bill Evans, this tune has a wandering and restless feeling that adds to the emotional weight of the music.

Check out:

  • John McLaughlin on My Goal’s Beyond (1971)
  • Miles Davis and Bill Evans on Kind of Blue (1959)
  • Jonathan Kreisberg on Night Songs (2009)
Chord changes for Blue In Green

Check out our backing track for Blue In Green.

BEFORE YOU CONTINUE...

If you struggle to learn jazz standards by ear, memorize them, and not get lost in the song form, then our free guide will completely change the way you learn tunes forever.

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8. Prelude to a Kiss

This ballad was composed by the Duke Ellington and Irving Mills in 1938. It has an incredibly beautiful melody, and the change to E major in the bridge is captivating.

  • Oscar Peterson on Oscar Peterson for Lovers (1959)
  • June Christy and Stan Kenton on Duet (1955)
  • Dee Dee Bridgewater on Prelude to a Kiss: The Duke Ellington Album (1996)
Chord changes to Prelude to a Kiss

Check out our backing track for Prelude to a Kiss.

9. In a Sentimental Mood

This is another Duke Ellington jazz standard and one you need to know! The opening section makes use of the “wandering 7th” compositional technique, where the root moves to the major 7th, then the minor 7th, and then the major 6th.

This also happens in the tune Cry Me A River (not on this list, but also worth checking out!).

Check out:

  • McCoy Tyner on Atlantis (1974)
  • Michael Brecker and Steps Ahead on the album Magnetic (1986)
  • Sarah Vaughan on After Hours (1961)
Chord changes to In a Sentimental Mood

Check out our backing track for In a Sentimental Mood.

10. Skylark

Skylark is a tune written by the great Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. This ballad has a gorgeous melody, incredible harmony, and many great renditions. With its various twists and turns, this one can be a little more challenging, but it is worth learning.

Check out:

  • Art Blakey and Freddie Hubbard on the album Caravan (1962)
  • Dexter Gordon on Biting the Apple (1977)
  • Jimmy Rowles and Stan Getz on The Peacocks (1977)
Chord changes to Skylark

Check out our play-along for Skylark.

11. My Funny Valentine

This classic jazz ballad was composed by Richard Rodgers with lyrics by Lorenz Hart. Popularized by various artists, its melancholic tune and heartfelt lyrics about a loved one’s quirks have made it a jazz standard.

Check out:

  • The Frank Sinatra version on the album My Funny Valentine (1964)
  • The Chet Baker version from Chet Baker Sings (1954)
  • A Miles Davis live recorded version from Jazz At The Plaza Vol. 1 (1973), featuring John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley.
Chord changes to My Funny Valentine

Check out our backing track for My Funny Valentine.

12. ‘Round Midnight

This quintessential ballad was composed by Thelonious Monk in the early 1940s (when he was a teenager), with lyrics added later by Bernie Hanighen. Thelonius Monk has contributed many great compositions to the long list of jazz standards, with this ballad being one of the most popular.

  • The famous Miles Davis version from the album ‘Round About Midnight (1957)
  • Kenny Burrell’s performance on the album ‘Round Midnight (1972)
  • Ella Fitzgerald and Lou Levy’s version on Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! (1962)
Changes to Around Midnight

Check out our backing track for ‘Round Midnight.

13. Lush Life

Lush Life is an important (and challenging) ballad by Billy Strayhorn. It stands out not only because of its through-composed structure but also due to its introspective lyrics about a failed romance. This ballad is often a favorite choice for singers, but several instrumentalists have also left their mark on it.

Check out:

  • John Coltrane’s version on the album Lush Life (1961)
  • Joe Pass’s Version on Virtuoso No. 4 (1983)
  • Nancy Wilson’s version on Lush Life (1967)
Changes to Lush Life

14. Infant Eyes

Infant Eyes is a beautiful ballad by Wayne Shorter that first appeared on his album Speak No Evil (1966). This tune takes advantage of tonal ambiguity, much like the Miles Davis and Bill Evans tune Blue in Green, and is one you should learn!

Check out:

  • Wayne Shorter’s original version from Speak No Evil (1966), which also features trumpeter Freddie Hubbard
  • Organist Charlie Earland’s version from the album Infant Eyes (1979)
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15. Chelsea Bridge

This is an evocative jazz song written by Billy Strayhorn in 1941. The mood and imagery of the actual bridge in London inspired it.

Changes to Chelsea Bridge

Check out:

  • Ella’s version on the album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Song Book (1957)
  • Sarah Vaughan’s version on the album The Duke Ellington Songbook, Vol. 2 (1979)

If you want to practice these and more ballads, check out our play-along collection.

Learn Jazz Ballads the Right Way! Join the Learn Jazz Standards Inner Circle

Do you have trouble memorizing all the changes in your favorite jazz standards? It could be that the process you are using to learn them is not actually helping you memorize the chord relationships and harmonic movement present in the tunes.

If you want to learn how to memorize jazz standards so they stick, check out the Learn Jazz Standards Inner Circle. With an abundance of jazz education resources and a supportive community of like-minded musicians, you’ll have everything you need to improve your playing, boost your jazz knowledge, and memorize tunes!

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TAKE YOUR JAZZ PLAYING TO THE NEXT LEVEL.

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TAKE YOUR JAZZ PLAYING TO THE NEXT LEVEL.

We help musicians of all instruments start improvising confidently over jazz standards in as little as 30 days without mind-numbing hours of practice or the overwhelm.

“Jazz music is the power of now. There is no script. It’s conversation. The emotion is given to you by musicians as they make split-second decisions to fulfill what they feel the moment requires.”
WYNTON MARSALIS

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For play-alongs and eBooks:

Because these are digital downloads, and not returnable, we have a strict no refund policy. All purchases are final and cannot be reversed. Please be sure that you fully understand the product you are purchasing and what is and what is not included. Of course, if you ever have any questions about a product feel free to contact usor visit our FAQ page.

For 30 Days to Better Jazz Playing eCourse

Please make sure you completely understand the product you are buying before purchasing.

14 Day 100% Money Back Guarantee

  • This guarantee lasts 14 days, which completely covers almost half of the course, enough for you to observe its’ effectiveness.
  • We can’t guarantee you will be Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, or John Coltrane in 2 weeks. We’d be suspicious of anyone who could promise that. Becoming a better jazz musician is a process and it requires work.
  • If you’re not happy with the quality of this program…send us an email and showing you did the work. We’ll refund 100% of your money (We’ll even eat the credit-card processing fees) and we’ll part as friends. We believe in the power of this course and so we’ll take responsibility for it.

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OUR PROVEN PROCESS FOR IMPROVISING JAZZ SOLOS LIKE A PRO

Get our FREE “Jazz Improv Made Easy Fast Track Guide” and follow the 3 simple steps for improvising amazing jazz solos.

Jazz Improv Made Easy Fast Track Guide Ebook Cover

DOWNLOAD THIS CHORD CHART

Get our FREE "15 Jazz Ballads You Need To Know (And Why Learning Jazz Ballads Is Important)" chord chart and our entire library of 200+ jazz standards!

Chord Chart

DOWNLOAD THIS CHORD CHART

Get our FREE "15 Jazz Ballads You Need To Know (And Why Learning Jazz Ballads Is Important)" chord chart and our entire library of 200+ jazz standards!

Chord Chart

DOWNLOAD THIS CHORD CHART

Get our FREE "15 Jazz Ballads You Need To Know (And Why Learning Jazz Ballads Is Important)" chord chart and our entire library of 200+ jazz standards!

Chord Chart