Jazz composers wrote hundreds of thousands of tunes in the past hundred years. Many of them quickly fell into obscurity, but some of them became popular and hung around for a while. Some of them achieved such levels of popularity and admiration that they became jazz standards
that have been played decade after decade by professional and amateur jazz musicians alike.
There are many jazz standards, and listed here (in chronological order) are eight such compositions that every music lover, regardless of your favorite musical style, should hear at least once.
Georgia on My Mind
Written in 1930 by Hoagy Carmichael, Georgia on My Mind is now the official song of the State of Georgia. You can find renditions of the song by Jerry Reed, Willie Nelson, Van Morrison, and many others, but none really compares to hearing Ray Charles play and sing his calling-card tune.
One of the most memorable pieces from George Gershwin's American opera Porgy and Bess, Summertime is a bluesy, soulful tune with an infinite shelf life. This long-lived standard has woven a sisterhood among songstresses from Billie Holliday to Fantasia Barrino and beyond.
Sing, Sing, Sing
If you want to do some swing dancing, there's no better catalyst than Sing, Sing, Sing. Written by Louis Prima, Sing, Sing, Sing is a vivacious, high-speed romp through memorable jazz licks and pounding drum solos. A song like this is best enjoyed live (and with room to dance), but as far as recordings go, you can't beat the King of Swing himself, Benny Goodman, who made the song famous.
In the Mood
When you think of big band swing, In the Mood is probably the first piece that comes to mind. This piece was made famous by the Glenn Miller Orchestra as World War II was just beginning. Its immediately recognizable opening measures, featuring the sax section, lead to a toe-tapping, finger-snapping good time that will certainly put you in the mood.
Take the "A" Train
In New York City, the "A" Train is the subway service that'll get you from Brooklyn to Harlem. Written by Billy Strayhorn for the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Take the "A" Train is a big band swing tune with a sophisticated melody. Many people have written lyrics to this song over the years, but the melody — highlighting the sax section with punctuations from the brass — can stand on its own, without any words.
Night in Tunisia
Originally written by John "Dizzy" Gillespie in 1942, Night in Tunisia has multiple personalities, shifting back and forth between driving eighth notes in an exotic be-bop feel and a lanky big band swing. Practically every jazz artist great and small has played this standard, so a recording should be easy to find. To get more of its original flair, choose recordings by jazz orchestras over those by small jazz combos.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet released Take Five, written by the group's saxophonist Paul Desmond, in 1959. With its catchy melody and unusual 5/4 time signature (five beats in every measure instead of the usual two or four), Take Five became the first million-selling jazz single on the Billboard charts and quickly became the band's signature tune. Look for the original recording on their Time Out album.
A relative youngster on this list, Spain was written by fusion pianist Chick Corea and released in 1972 on the album Light as a Feather. Despite its origins in fusion, Spain stands the test of time because it can be bent into many different styles — from big band to be-bop to symphony orchestra — without losing its appeal and its Latin heart.