300 Tunes to Know: Prioritized, Categorized, and Organized

Posted by on Jan 16, 2015 in Improvisation, Practice Tips

Tune TrackerTunes are our shared language. One of the most beautiful and unifying aspects of jazz is this common musical familiarity that enables any group of seasoned musicians to get together and immediately start making music. I’ll cover the pros and cons of learning tunes as well as the right approach to building a solid base of tunes in your arsenal. At the end I give a list of tunes to learn, separated out by their importance based on the frequency with which they get called at sessions/gigs.

Note: If you’re just looking for a tune list, scroll to the bottom.

 

Why Learn Tunes?

A few of the many reasons:

  1. Part of being a jazz musician is being able to play over at least a handful of tunes. Some guys like Lee Konitz prefer to use the same set of a dozen tunes and explore improvisational approaches, others know thousands of tunes off the top of their head. It’s up to you and your goals.
  2. Some gigs require tune knowledge. Why limit your pool of gigs?
  3. Different tunes require different tools. Learning to navigate myriad harmonic, rhythmic, and structural intricacies of various tunes makes you a more well rounded improviser and better musician.
  4. Your compositional foundation comes from the tunes you have studied. You will use the melodies, forms, and harmonic standards should you choose to start composing (highly recommended!).
  5. Put your listening into context. Once you know a tune, listening to a recording/show of somebody playing that tune becomes far more meaningful. You will be an engaged, active listener, and you will begin to understand the choices the improviser is making

 


Interested in jazz saxophone lessons in the Los Angles area or remotely? The Woodshed author Mike is now accepting students! Learn More >>

 

 

The Dark Side of Tunes

Knowing a shared set of tunes can be a crutch. An unrehearsed group of guys gets on the bandstand, takes 10 minutes between songs trying to figure out a tune to play next, then eventually agrees on something everybody knows and doesn’t consider too lame. We’re all guilty of this from time to time. Not only does this come across as extremely unprofessional, but also consider that the portion of your audience that’s not musicians is probably already a bit confused by jazz in the first place. Why further alienate them? Check out some of the veteran guys on the scene to learn how to play a pure tunes gig while still putting on a good show.

 

The Right Way to Learn a Tune

First, let’s cover the wrong way: open a real book, read the tune down, memorize the names of the chords and the melody, and repeat/revisit until you remember it.

Here’s a better approach: I’ll try to do this in steps, but the sequence is less important than the exploratory spirit of the process:

  1. Find a few seminal versions of the tune played by the masters and listen to them until you can sing along to the melody.
  2. What key is it in? If you notice different versions are in different keys, find more recordings and figure out the most common key. Start with that one, then after you’ve learned the tune, go back and learn it in other common keys.
  3. Learn the melody. It’s helpful to have a few reference recordings to figure out what’s the true melody and what’s embellishment. Learning the lyrics (when they exist) is extremely valuable.
  4. Figure out the form: is there a bridge? Are the phrases 8 bars long? Is there a tag?  Refer to the melody for help.
  5. Determine the harmony. When you get stuck, go to the piano and try to figure out the changes. Start with the bass note, then figure out the quality of the chord (major/minor/etc.), then fill in the colors (is it a C7 or really C7#11?).Map it out functionally using roman numerals (2 bars on I, then it’s a ii-V to the IV, etc.).
  6. If you’re still stuck or not 100% sure of your findings, you can find a lead sheet in a real book or online to try to get a second opinion. Note that most of these sources have errors (except for Jamey Aebersold’s lead sheets which are very high quality), so if you disagree about a change, you may be more correct than your source lead sheet.
  7. Play the tune along with the recording, then a backing track if you have one), and finally with just a metronome.

Using this approach, you will find that you’ll actually remember the tune, your ear will improve, and your freedom to improvise over the changes and remember the form will improve. Later you can try to learn the tune in all 12 keys if you’re feeling ambitious.

 

Where Should I Start? 36 Tunes You Can’t Avoid Learning

I get this question a lot. Disclaimer – I don’t know thousands of tunes. But over the years I’ve tried to learn most of the tunes that get called frequently on gigs and sessions, added some that appear across multiple or important recordings, and rounded it out with tunes that I just like. I’ve been overwhelmed by long tune lists in the past, so started to make my own system to prioritize the tunes that are most important to learn. Here are 36 tunes that you just need to know if you want to play jazz. They’re not the 36 easiest, and there’s no significance to 36 other than that it seems like an approachable starting point.

Critical_Tunes

 

300 Tunes – Prioritized

Starting with the 36 critical tunes above, the below tune list and attached Excel workbook are the method I use to track my own progress as well as that of my students of tackling a list of 300 tunes I put together. Yes, I’m a huge Excel geek, but let’s leave that alone for now. I honestly don’t even know every one of these tunes, but I’d like to! I break my list into 4 sub-lists:

  • D-List: Don’t Know –  I don’t know the tune
  • C-List: Familiar – I might be able to get by playing the tune on a gig, but I’ll rely heavily on my ear.
  • B-List: Proficient – I know the tune pretty well, but I have to think a little bit.
  • A-List: Mastered – I know it cold, it’s a part of me.

As I learn a tune, it starts in D, then moves from C to B to A as grow more comfortable. Download the workbook, clear out the “My List” column, and fill it in for yourself to track your own progress.

Excel Workbook: Tune List TrackerTune Tracker

 

Note: Only edit the “Tunes” tab, and use it to keep track of your progress. The “Filter List” tab provides a summarized set of a specific attribute. For example, if you want to find your A and B-list critical and high priority tunes, filter for My List = A, B; Priority = 1 (Critical), 2 (High). Email me if you run into any issues.

Here’s a copy of the list for reference. Happy tune learning!

# Name Type Priority
1 All The Things You Are Standard 1 (Critical)
2 Anthropology Rhythm Changes 1 (Critical)
3 Autumn Leaves Standard 1 (Critical)
4 Billie’s Bounce Blues 1 (Critical)
5 Blue Bossa Latin 1 (Critical)
6 Body and Soul Ballad 1 (Critical)
7 Cherokee Standard 1 (Critical)
8 Donna Lee Jazz Standard 1 (Critical)
9 Four Jazz Standard 1 (Critical)
10 Giant Steps Jazz Standard 1 (Critical)
11 Green Dolphin Street Standard 1 (Critical)
12 Groovin’ High Jazz Standard 1 (Critical)
13 Have You Met Miss Jones Standard 1 (Critical)
14 How High the Moon Standard 1 (Critical)
15 I Hear A Rhapsody Standard 1 (Critical)
16 I Love You Standard 1 (Critical)
17 I’ll Remember April Standard 1 (Critical)
18 Impressions Jazz Standard 1 (Critical)
19 Invitation Jazz Standard 1 (Critical)
20 It Could Happen To You Standard 1 (Critical)
21 Just Friends Standard 1 (Critical)
22 Lady Bird Jazz Standard 1 (Critical)
23 Mr PC Jazz Standard 1 (Critical)
24 Now’s the Time Blues 1 (Critical)
25 Oleo Rhythm Changes 1 (Critical)
26 Out of Nowhere Standard 1 (Critical)
27 Softly as in a Morning Sunrise Standard 1 (Critical)
28 Solar Jazz Standard 1 (Critical)
29 Stablemates Jazz Standard 1 (Critical)
30 Stella by Starlight Standard 1 (Critical)
31 Straight No Chaser Blues 1 (Critical)
32 Summertime Standard 1 (Critical)
33 Tenor Madness Blues 1 (Critical)
34 There is No Greater Love Standard 1 (Critical)
35 There Will Never Be Another You Standard 1 (Critical)
36


 

What is this Thing Called Love


 

Standard


 

1 (Critical)


 

37 Airegin Jazz Standard 2 (High)
38 All of Me Standard 2 (High)
39 Alone Together Jazz Standard 2 (High)
40 Along Came Betty Jazz Standard 2 (High)
41 Ask Me Now Jazz Standard 2 (High)
42 Au Privave Jazz Standard 2 (High)
43 Beatrice Jazz Standard 2 (High)
44 Blues for Alice Blues 2 (High)
45 Bolivia Jazz Standard 2 (High)
46 Bye Bye Blackbird Standard 2 (High)
47 C Jam Clues Blues 2 (High)
48 Caravan Jazz Standard 2 (High)
49 Confirmation Jazz Standard 2 (High)
50 Days of Wine and Roses Standard 2 (High)
51 Dolphin Dance Jazz Standard 2 (High)
52 Don’t Get Around Much Anymore Standard 2 (High)
53 East of the Sun Standard 2 (High)
54 In a Sentimental Mood Ballad 2 (High)
55 In Your Own Sweet Way Standard 2 (High)
56 Inner Urge Jazz Standard 2 (High)
57 Isfahan Standard 2 (High)
58 Joy Spring Jazz Standard 2 (High)
59 Lazy Bird Jazz Standard 2 (High)
60 Like Someone in Love Standard 2 (High)
61 Milestones (new) Jazz Standard 2 (High)
62 Minority Jazz Standard 2 (High)
63 Moment’s Notice Jazz Standard 2 (High)
64 Moonlight in Vermont Ballad 2 (High)
65 My One and Only Love Ballad 2 (High)
66 Nardis Jazz Standard 2 (High)
67 Nica’s Dream Latin 2 (High)
68 Night and Day Standard 2 (High)
69 One Finger Snap Jazz Standard 2 (High)
70 Pent-up House Jazz Standard 2 (High)
71 Recordame Latin 2 (High)
72 Rhythm-a-Ning Rhythm Changes 2 (High)
73 Round Midnight Jazz Standard 2 (High)
74 Scrapple from the Apple Jazz Standard 2 (High)
75 Serenity Jazz Standard 2 (High)
76 Seven Steps to Heaven Jazz Standard 2 (High)
77 Soul Eyes Ballad 2 (High)
78 Star Eyes Jazz Standard 2 (High)
79 Take the “A” Train Jazz Standard 2 (High)
80 The Song is You Standard 2 (High)
81 The Theme Rhythm Changes 2 (High)
82 This I Dig of You Jazz Standard 2 (High)
83 Tune-Up Jazz Standard 2 (High)
84 UMMG Jazz Standard 2 (High)
85 Without a Song Standard 2 (High)
86 Yardbird Suite Jazz Standard 2 (High)
87 Yes or No Jazz Standard 2 (High)
88


 

You Stepped Out of a Dream


 

Standard


 

2 (High)


 

89 26-2 Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
90 A Night in Tunisia Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
91 All Blues Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
92 All of You Standard 3 (Medium)
93 Angel Eyes Standard 3 (Medium)
94 Autumn in New York Standard 3 (Medium)
95 Beautiful Love Standard 3 (Medium)
96 Bemsha Swing Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
97 Black Narcissus Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
98 Black Nile Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
99 Black Orpheus Latin 3 (Medium)
100 Blue Monk Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
101 But Beautiful Standard 3 (Medium)
102 But Not for Me Standard 3 (Medium)
103 Ceora Latin 3 (Medium)
104 Cheryl Blues 3 (Medium)
105 Come Rain or Come Shine Standard 3 (Medium)
106 Con Alma Latin 3 (Medium)
107 Corcovado (Quiet Nights) Latin 3 (Medium)
108 Countdown Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
109 Criss Cross Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
110 Daahound Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
111 Desafinado Latin 3 (Medium)
112 Doxy Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
113 Easy to Love Standard 3 (Medium)
114 Embraceable You Ballad 3 (Medium)
115 Epistrophy Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
116 Equinox Blues 3 (Medium)
117 ESP Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
118 Everything Happens to Me Ballad 3 (Medium)
119 Evidence Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
120 Falling Grace Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
121 Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
122 Footprints Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
123 For All We Know Ballad 3 (Medium)
124 Four In One Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
125 Freddie Freeloader Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
126 Freedom Jazz Dance Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
127 Good Bait Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
128 Goodbye Pork Pie Ballad 3 (Medium)
129 Green Chimneys Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
130 Half Nelson Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
131 Hot House Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
132 How Deep is the Ocean Standard 3 (Medium)
133 I Can’t Get Started Ballad 3 (Medium)
134 I Could Write a Book Standard 3 (Medium)
135 I Got Rhythm Standard 3 (Medium)
136 I Mean You Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
137 I Remember Clifford Ballad 3 (Medium)
138 I Remember You Standard 3 (Medium)
139 I Should Care Standard 3 (Medium)
140 I Thought about You Ballad 3 (Medium)
141 If I Were a Bell Standard 3 (Medium)
142 In Walked Bud Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
143 Indiana Standard 3 (Medium)
144 Infant Eyes Standard 3 (Medium)
145 Isotope Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
146 It I Should Lose You Standard 3 (Medium)
147 It’s You or No One Standard 3 (Medium)
148 Jordu Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
149 Just in Time Standard 3 (Medium)
150 Just One of those Things Standard 3 (Medium)
151 Killer Joe Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
152 Laura Ballad 3 (Medium)
153 Let’s Cool One Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
154 Little Sunflower Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
155 Love for Sale Standard 3 (Medium)
156 Lullaby of Birdland Standard 3 (Medium)
157 Lush Life Ballad 3 (Medium)
158 Maiden Voyage Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
159 Milestones (Miles) Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
160 Misty Ballad 3 (Medium)
161 Monk’s Dream Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
162 Monk’s Mood Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
163 My Foolish Heart Ballad 3 (Medium)
164 My Funny Valentine Ballad 3 (Medium)
165 My Shining Hour Standard 3 (Medium)
166 My Ship Ballad 3 (Medium)
167 Nefertiti Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
168 Night Dreamer Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
169 Old Folks Ballad 3 (Medium)
170 One Note Samba Latin 3 (Medium)
171 Ornithology Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
172 Peace Ballad 3 (Medium)
173 Pensativa Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
174 Perdido Standard 3 (Medium)
175 Polka dots and Moonbeams Ballad 3 (Medium)
176 Prelude to a Kiss Ballad 3 (Medium)
177 Ruby My Dear Ballad 3 (Medium)
178 Salt Peanuts Rhythm Changes 3 (Medium)
179 Sandu Blues 3 (Medium)
180 Satin Doll Standard 3 (Medium)
181 Secret Love Standard 3 (Medium)
182 Skylark Ballad 3 (Medium)
183 So What Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
184 Someday my Prince will Come Standard 3 (Medium)
185 Song For My Father Latin 3 (Medium)
186 Sonnymoon for Two Blues 3 (Medium)
187 Speak Low Standard 3 (Medium)
188 Speak No Evil Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
189 St. Thomas Latin 3 (Medium)
190 Steeplechase Rhythm Changes 3 (Medium)
191 Stompin’ at the Savoy Standard 3 (Medium)
192 Sweet Georgia Brown Standard 3 (Medium)
193 Tenderly Standard 3 (Medium)
194 The Girl From Ipanema Latin 3 (Medium)
195 The Jitterbug Waltz Standard 3 (Medium)
196 The Night Has 1000 Eyes Standard 3 (Medium)
197 The Shadow of your Smile Latin 3 (Medium)
198 The Way you Look Tonight Standard 3 (Medium)
199 These Foolish Things Standard 3 (Medium)
200 Think of One Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
201 Up Jumped Spring Standard 3 (Medium)
202 Walkin’ Blues 3 (Medium)
203 Watermelon Man Funk 3 (Medium)
204 Wave Latin 3 (Medium)
205 Well, you Needn’t Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
206 What’s New? Ballad 3 (Medium)
207 Whisper Not Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
208 Wild Flower Ballad 3 (Medium)
209 Windows Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
210 Witch Hunt Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
211 Witchcraft Standard 3 (Medium)
212 Woody ‘n You Jazz Standard 3 (Medium)
213 Yesterdays Ballad 3 (Medium)
214


 

You Don’t Know What Love Is


 

Ballad


 

3 (Medium)


 

215 A Child is Born Standard 4 (Low)
216 A Day in the Life of a Fool Standard 4 (Low)
217 Afternoon in Paris Standard 4 (Low)
218 Ah-Leu-Cha Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
219 Alice in Wonderland Standard 4 (Low)
220 All God’s Chillun Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
221 April in Paris Standard 4 (Low)
222 Bag’s Groove Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
223 Bernie’s Tune Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
224 Bessie’s Blues Blues 4 (Low)
225 Blue in Green Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
226 Bluesette Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
227 Chelsea Bridge Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
228 Conception Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
229 Cousin Mary Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
230 CTA Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
231 Dearly Beloved Ballad 4 (Low)
232 Dig Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
233 Don’t Blame Me Ballad 4 (Low)
234 Easy Living Ballad 4 (Low)
235 El Gaucho Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
236 Emily Ballad 4 (Low)
237 End of a Love Affair Standard 4 (Low)
238 Georgia On My Mind Standard 4 (Low)
239 Gone with the Wind Standard 4 (Low)
240 Hackensack Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
241 Here’s That Rainy Day Standard 4 (Low)
242 Hi-Fly Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
243 How Insensitive Latin 4 (Low)
244 I Didn’t Know What Time it Was Standard 4 (Low)
245 I Fall in Love too Easily Ballad 4 (Low)
246 I Got it Bad and that ain’t Good Standard 4 (Low)
247 I Want to Talk about You Ballad 4 (Low)
248 I’ll Take Romance Standard 4 (Low)
249 I’m Old Fashioned Ballad 4 (Low)
250 I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face Ballad 4 (Low)
251 If You Could See Me Now Ballad 4 (Low)
252 In A Mellowtone Standard 4 (Low)
253 Israel Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
254 It Don’t Mean a Thing Standard 4 (Low)
255 It Might As Well Be Spring Standard 4 (Low)
256 It’s All Right with Me Standard 4 (Low)
257 Joshua Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
258 Juju Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
259 Lament Ballad 4 (Low)
260 Lester Leaps In Rhythm Changes 4 (Low)
261 Litha Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
262 Long Ago and Far Away Standard 4 (Low)
263 Love Walked In Standard 4 (Low)
264 Lover Standard 4 (Low)
265 Lover Come Back to Me Standard 4 (Low)
266 Loverman Ballad 4 (Low)
267 Mack the Knife Standard 4 (Low)
268 Mahjong Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
269 Manteca Latin 4 (Low)
270 Meditation Latin 4 (Low)
271 Misterioso Blues 4 (Low)
272 Monk’s Mood Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
273 Mr Clean Funk 4 (Low)
274 My Romance Standard 4 (Low)
275 Naima Ballad 4 (Low)
276 On the Sunny Side of the Street Standard 4 (Low)
277 Once I Loved Latin 4 (Low)
278 Our Delight Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
279 Our Love is Here to Stay Standard 4 (Low)
280 Over the Rainbow Standard 4 (Low)
281 Passion Dance Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
282 Satellite Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
283 Smoke Gets in your Eyes Ballad 4 (Low)
284 Some Other Blues Blues 4 (Low)
285 Someone to Watch Over Me Ballad 4 (Low)
286 Sophisticated Lady Ballad 4 (Low)
287 Spring Can Really Hang You Up Ballad 4 (Low)
288 Spring is Here Standard 4 (Low)
289 Stardust Standard 4 (Low)
290 Sugar Blues 4 (Low)
291 Tangerine Standard 4 (Low)
292 The Duke Standard 4 (Low)
293 Things ain’t what they used to Be Blues 4 (Low)
294 Triste Latin 4 (Low)
295 Unit Seven Blues 4 (Low)
296 Valse Hot Jazz Standard 4 (Low)
297 When I Fall in Love Ballad 4 (Low)
298 When Lights are Low Ballad 4 (Low)
299 When Sunny Gets Blue Ballad 4 (Low)
300 You’re a Weaver of Dreams Standard 4 (Low)