Monday, January 6, 2014


About a week ago, one of my eager students posted this on Facebook:

The George Colligan Standards List...LEARN THEM IN ALL 12 KEYS!


1.Stella By Starlight
2.All The Things You Are
3.Autumn Leaves
4.What Is This Thing Called Love
5.There Will Never Be Another You
6.Tune Up
8.Beautiful Love
9.Alone Together
10.Body and Soul
12.Someday My Prince Will Come
14.Bye Bye Blackbird
15.On Green Dolphin Street
16.There Is No Greater Love
17.I Love You
18.How High The Moon
19.Just Friends
20.If I Were A Bell
21.Night and Day
22.Au Privave
23.Moose The Mooche

I remembered back to last term of my Advanced Jazz Improv class. We had spent the Fall working on basics: scales and the chords they relate to, simple patterns, and the beginnings of jazz vocabulary. I sensed that, while there was still a long way to go fro most of the students, I felt as though there was a collective push towards application of this information to actual MUSIC. However, I posed the question: " How many of you can tell me the chord changes to "Stella By Starlight?" Only one student, the same eager student who posted this list, raised his hand. " If you can't tell me what the chord changes are in their most basic form, how can we apply these concepts to the chords?"

The class and I  then set about creating a manageable list of jazz tunes that I felt were basic enough that were essential; by this, I mean that I would be remiss if a student graduated with a degree in jazz performance and couldn't play these tunes at a least a basic level. Mind you, I am not expecting everyone to know all of Wayne Shorter's obscure tunes, or any Kenny Wheeler tunes, or Tin Pan Alley songs by George M. Cohan, or any obscure Ornette Coleman tunes, or what have you. I just want our jazz students to know THE BASIC jazz tunes. Keeping in mind that great jazz musicians know hundreds if not thousands of tunes, I don't think it's too much to ask for 20 tunes by the time you graduate. I would love to ask for 200 tunes. But for now, at least for the improv class, I think we will work with 20. So let's just change this list a slight bit. We can say that you should know blues form and rhythm changes form, and you should know at least a handful of heads for F or Bb blues and Bb rhythm changes, if not at least ONE good one. But for standard tunes, here's 20 , yes, 20 tunes that please lord I want you to learn them:

1.Stella By Starlight
2.All The Things You Are
3.Autumn Leaves
4.What Is This Thing Called Love
5.There Will Never Be Another You
6.Tune Up
8.Beautiful Love
9.Alone Together
10.Body and Soul
12.Someday My Prince Will Come
14.Bye Bye Blackbird
15.On Green Dolphin Street
16.There Is No Greater Love
17.I Love You
18.How High The Moon
19.Just Friends
20. Solar

I don't think this is asking too much. Also, there might be some debate, but I'm guessing your list could be very very similar to this. Indeed, we could probably spend the rest of the year on these tunes. In once sense, there is the belief that if you really learn a handful of things in jazz, you can apply it to everything you play and learn in the future. I believe this is true. But we need to make sure, if we are concentrating on these smaller areas, then we have to do it correctly. My this, I mean 
memorizing the melody, memorizing the changes, knowing the root movement, knowing all the chord qualities and chord scales, and being able to play it in time. I can even overlook the whole "playing it in all keys" thing. ( Actually, the only one of these I would be challenged by in all keys would be "Confirmation," not the changes so much as the melody. I haven't practiced it enough. I can play " Donna Lee" in all keys, sort of. Actually, my hat is off to trumpeter Bryan Lynch, who floored me with his warm up of Donna Lee in all keys. It's not easy on piano, but it's REALLY not easy on trumpet.)

Anyway, this whole idea of a list of tunes sparked an interesting debate:

David Jernigan:
The people who are going to be successful as versatile jazz players are going to need the ability to learn lots of tunes (standards and others). Some EXTREMELY gifted players get by without learning a vocabulary, but those people don't need no improv class. And probably couldn't hang on any of the gigs I played this week.

Dave Allen:
 I'm finding that a lot of players are now using ireal book on their ipads and not memorizing as many tunes. Not good.

David Weiss:

I saw a kid looking at his phone for changes to a tune we were playing at a jam session. I asked to see it and the changes were wrong. I told the kid the changes were wrong but he didn't seem to believe me. Who are you going to believe, your phone or the human being next to you.....

Luke Gillespie:

 Nice list, George. For those who want a rhythm tune (instead of or in addition to Moose the Mooche), how about Anthropology and Oleo? In addition, how about Afternoon in Paris, Take the "A" Train, Have You Met Miss Jones, Blue Bossa, and In A Sentimental Mood (and you still keep the list of 30)?I suspect the list can also depend on where one lives. Various cities and regions tend to include or emphasize more tunes by local or regional composers. For example, here in Indiana, we might play Hoagy Carmichael (Star Dust, The Nearness of You, Georgia On My Mind, Skylark) and Cole Porter tunes more readily, though Cole Porter is represented nicely with three tunes in your list.

And of course, David Berkman weighed in with THIS:


All Blues
All of Me
All of You
All the Things You Are
Almost Like Being in Love
Along Came Betty
Angel Eyes (vc)
Alone Together
Anthropology (rhythm)
Ask Me Now
Au Privave (blues)
Autumn in New York
Autumn Leaves
Bags Groove (blues)
Beautiful Love Beatrice
Bemsha Swing
Bessie’s Blues (blues)
Billie’s Bounce
Black Nile
Black Orpheus
Blame it on My Youth Blue Bossa
Blue in Green
Blue Monk (blues) Blues for Alice (bird blues)
Body and Soul
But Beautiful
But Not For Me
Bye Bye Blackbird Caravan
Chelsea Bridge
Cheryl (blues)
Child is Born
Come Rain or Come or
Come Shine
Con Alma Confirmation
Darn That Dream
Days of Wine and Roses
Do Nothin Til You Hear from Me (vc)
Dolphin Dance
Donna Lee
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (vc)
Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing Doxy
Easy to Love (vc)
Embraceable You
End of a Love Affair
Eternal Triangle (rhythm)
Everything Happens to Me
Falling In Love with Love
Fee Fie Fo Fum
Fly Me to the Moon (vc)
A Foggy Day (vc)
Gentle Rain
Georgia on my Mind Getting Sentimental Over Y ou
Giant Steps
Girl From Ipanema
Gone with the Wind
Good Bait (rhythm— variation)
Green Dolphin Street
Grooving High
Have You Met Miss
Here’s that Rainy Day Hi-fly
Honeysuckle Rose/Scrapple From the Apple
How Deep is the Ocean How High the Moon/ Ornithology
How Insensitive
How Long has this Been Goin On
I Can’t Get Started
I Didn’t Know What Time it was
I Fall in Love too Easily
I Got Rhythm
I Hear a Rhapsody
I Love You
I Mean You
I Remember You
I Should Care
I Thought About You
I’ll Remember April
If I Should Lose You IfIWereABell
If You Could See me Now
I’m Old Fashioned
In a Mellow T one
In a Sentimental Mood In Walked Bud
In Your Own Sweet Way Inner Urge
It’s All Right With Me
It Could Happen to You
It Never Entered My Mind
It’s You or No One
I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face
Jitterbug Waltz
Joy Spring
Just Friends
Just in Time
Just the Way you Look Tonight
Lady Bird
Let’s Fall in Love (vc)
Like Someone in Love
Long Ago and Far Away
Love for Sale
Lover Man
Lullabye of Birdland (vc)
Lush Life (vc)
Maiden Voyage
The Masquerade is Over
Milestones (old)
Milestones (new)
Misty (vc)
Moment’s Notice
Monk’s Mood
Moonlight in Vermont
Moose the Mooch (rhythm)
The More I See You
Mr. PC
My Foolish Heart
My Funny Valentine
My Ideal
My One and Only Love
My Romance
My Shining Hour
Nearness of You
Never Let Me Go
Nica’s Dream
Night and Day
Night in Tunisia
Now is the Time (blues)
Old Devil Moon
Old Folks
Oleo (rhythm)
One Finger Snap
One Note Samba (vc)
Our Love is Here to Stay (vc)
Out of Nowhere
Prelude to a Kiss
Polka Dots and Moonbeams
 Rhythm-ning (rhythm)
 Round Midnight (Monk’s changes, Miles’ changes)
St. Thomas
Sandu (blues)
Satin Doll
Secret Love
Seven Steps to Heaven
 Shadow of Your Smile
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Someone to Watch Over Me
Speak Low
Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Someday my Prince will Come
Soul Eyes
Sophisticated Lady
Star Dust
Straight No Chaser
Sunny Side of the Street
Stars Fell on Alabama
Stella By Starlight
Stomping at the Savoy
Someday my Prince will Come
The Song is You
Star Eyes
Sweet and Lovely
Sweet Georgia Brown
Take the A Trane
Take the Coltrane
Teach Me Tonight
There is No Greater Love
There Will Never Be Another You
That’s All
Twisted (vc, blues)
Turn Out the Stars
 Up Jumped Spring
Well You Needn’t
What a Difference a Day Makes (vc)
What is this Thing Called Love
What’s New
When I Fall in Love (vc)
 Whisper Not
Will You Still Be Mine
Willow Weep for Me
Without A Song
Woody’n You
Yardbird Suite Yesterdays
You and the Night and the Music
You Don’t Know What Love
You Go to My Head
You Stepped out of a Dream
You’d be So Nice to Come Home To

David continues:

I wrote that a few years ago and added a couple of the suggestions people added when I posted it before. It's not exhaustive, it's just a starting place. Anyone interested is welcome to it.

Tim Ferguson:
Really important! We can discuss the details of the list all day, (more tunes, fewer tunes, more American songbook, more jazz composers, etc.), but the fact remains that if you want to be able to go out and communicate with other musicians in the language of jazz you need to be familiar with the vehicles used by jazz players.

Mike Lee:

Excellent list. We've got to insist on these bare minimums for students. I would add I Can't Get Started. These lists often under emphasize Ballads.

Michael Pope:

I don't really even get the whole thing with learning tunes. I can't remember a time when I was coming up where I had to actually sit down and learn anything in terms of a run-of-the-mill jazz standard. If I didn't know a tune, we would play it on the gig, usually with no chart and a piano player just leading me through it so I learned it by ear, and by the time the tune was over I knew it. Done deal. Sometimes I'd learn five or 10 tunes a night when I was 15 years old. This is the way most of the people that I knew learned music. Why is it a big process now? I guess if you're a horn player learning bebop heads it's a little bit of a different story, but it seems to me that just about anybody should be able to find their way through the melody to Cherokee after hearing it once or twice. Too much talking, not enough playing. That's what I think, anyway.

Damien Erskine:

Indeed, this is something I've struggled with in the past. I am a bassist who plays a lot of jazz gigs and I don't have a single standard memorized (and never really cared to). I realized one important thing..... I don't self-identify as a jazz musician. Rather, I'm a very good bassist (maybe even an improvising musician) who has used Jazz as a tool for development in the shed enough that I can certainly take a lot of Jazz gigs. While I agree that any serious student who aspires to be a true "jazz musician" should certainly have the vernacular together (if you learn enough tunes, you know them all) but those tunes to necessarily relate to what's happening in the more aggressive and original versions of jazz out there today. I don't need to know Stella to play George's fusion gig but, the truth is that I would better interact with the music in a way that may be more in line with George's intentions, if I did. Not sure about that but I do feel that if I knew a few dozen tunes, I would likely relate more personally (on a musical) level with certain musicians. My trio gigs with Peter Erskine and Vardan Ovsepian are a case in point. The band sounds great, I love their playing and they seem to love mine. But, I also feel like I'm not approaching the music from the same place that they are and I get a bit self conscious about that at times. Maybe any tension created by my "non-jazz-guy" musical preferences is a small part of what makes that group sound the way it does? (I actually told them that they should get an upright player when I joined the band because I was hearing it as "super jazz guys piano trio". That was not what they heard and the results have been pretty great). Anyway, long story short. I decided at one point that, being an electric player, listening to the music that I do and loving to play ALL kinds of music, it was ok for me NOT to self-identify as a 'Jazz musician' even if I do play a fair amount of jazz. I agree with George, tho. Any self-identified JAZZ MUSICIAN should know the language of jazz and that requires some serious time spent with a real book, going to jam sessions and learning those tunes in a much deeper way than my "I'm going to practice scaler patterns over Nefertiti because it just makes me a better musician", use of the idiom.

David Berkman:

It all depends on what you are going to do. The reason why these tunes need to be memorized is because if you are reading out of your iPhone you aren't thinking ahead or listening for the substitutions that are part of the tradition of playing standards. Different Players play different changes or vary them chorus to chorus and reading Stella out of a book doesn't prepare you to open it up much. Having said that, there are a lot of different types of jazz out there and I wouldn't say that a knowledge of standards is essential for every "jazz" player. Also there's more to this than memorizing some changes from your iPhone. There are players that have a deep knowledge of the song , it's structure, ways to navigate the changes that they've discovered or learned from other players--the idea is that spending time with all the things you are or bird blues teaches you something about how chords work.

I think a lot of valid points were made. Indeed, Mr. Erskine came in a nailed my difficult fusion music when we played at Jimmy Mak's with guitarist Tom Guarna. It wasn't a standards gig. And to further that point, I've heard that Pat Metheny will admit to not knowing very many standards. Be that as it may, I don't think it could hurt! David makes a great case for why it helps to "know" it rather than "read" it.

It's interesting that  D.C. based bassist David Jernigan posted because my early gigs with him were one of the things that motivated me to learn a lot of tunes. I could never stump him; he seemed to know everything in every key! I recently was going through emails and I found my old list of tunes from the 90's that I used to work from. I need to edit it but I may post that in the future. I have to admit that I've forgotten many of the tunes, which kind of adds to the debate the idea that it's hard to remember these tunes if you aren't playing GIGS which require you to play a ton of standards. Anyway, I'm going to get back to work with my Improv class and see if we can't at least get 20 together by the end of the year.

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