This article features the “Top 10 Jazz Tunes” (Part 1) that pianists should know. Of course, all jazz musicians should learn these tunes, regardless of what instrument they play, but we’ll occasionally throw in some piano specific tips. Learning a tune for a pianist means being able to comp through the chords, play the melody (in a solo piano context and with left hand comping), and improvise a little bit over the chord changes. Remember that this list is obviously not comprehensive. Professional musicians know many, many tunes by memory. This list is simply ten of the most commonly encountered jazz tunes that pianists should know and is meant to be an excellent reference and starting point for building your repertoire.
One last point – don’t forget to check out some of the classic recordings of the pro. Listening to these classic professional recordings (and practicing some transcription) is an excellent education and an essential part of really mastering the jazz vocabulary.
Top 10 Jazz Tunes #10: The Days of Wine and Roses
The Days of Wine and Roses is a tune that is commonly called on jam sessions and is solidly in the “jazz standards” category. It is usually played in the key of F major, although it’s also quite common in some of the more advanced jam sessions to play the 2nd half of the tune up a minor 3rd (in the key of Ab major). Check out Bill Evans playing with that minor 3rd modulation.
Top 10 Jazz Tunes #9: Someday My Prince Will Come
Someday My Prince Will Come is another tune that is often thought of as a hallmark of Bill Evans’ repertoire. To be honest, part of the reason it’s included in this list – aside from the fact that it is a classic jazz standard – is to make sure that we have a tune in 3/4 time represented here, known as a jazz waltz.
Top 10 Jazz Tunes #8: On Green Dolphin Street
On Green Dolphin Street is another tune that is frequently called on jam sessions. A little tip on this one: many fakebooks have this tune written in the key of C major, but it is just as frequently played in Eb major, so be ready. This version by Chick Corea is pretty awesome.
Top 10 Jazz Tunes #7: Impressions/So What
Impressions and So What (by John Coltrane and Miles Davis, respectively) are basically the same tune harmonically (meaning the same chords and the same form). These are examples of modal jazz, so be sure to really master those dorian scales.
Top 10 Jazz Tunes #6: Blue Bossa
Blue Bossa is another VERY common jam session tune. For piano players playing in a solo context, you’ll have to work to maintain that bossa bassline which is based on the root and 5th of the chord, using the bossa rhythm. Check out Joe Henderson’s recording of this tune.