Why are "Jazz Standards"..."Standards" ??
I know this may sound like a silly question, but what makes a "Jazz Standard" a standard? --- This is a question that keeps nagging at me. I'm an intermediate player with minimal theory under my belt, but i'm very eager to learn as much as can. I've recently begun studying standards. thanks
Jazz standards are those compositions that have been interpreted by jazz musicians over the years. There are no hard and fast rules for how many interpretations confer "Standard" status to a composition. Rather, it's like a pretty flower; you know one when you see one.
Many standards are from the 20s-40s Broadway repertoire (e.g., There Will Never be Another You; My Foolish Heart, et alia), while others are those compositions by jazz musicians that gained foothold in the genre (e.g., Nardis, Doxy, et alia).
It's a good question, but I think there's an answer. As FM said, a lot of these tunes are from the '20s to the '40s, from Broadway, even if they weren't hits there. And there are more from the '50s including from the movies, plus some jazz-based tunes of the '60s. And I think the writers of the songs had kind of a common vocabulary.
The tunes have some things in common. A strong melody, but changes that involve a lot of flatted fifths and other situations that lend themselves to chord substitutions, like in "All the Things You Are" or "Stella by Starlight." Also chromatic changes, like in "I Thought About You."
So, basically, you can hum along or you can play very complex stuff, or both. All great bass tunes.
In thinking about this a bit more, "Standards" are those compositions that you wouldn't be surprised to hear on a jazz recording. Movie-based tunes from the 50s-60s also make it into the genre, but how many jazz players have played My Favorite Things? I'd argue that this tune is owned by Coltrane, yet it makes the list of "Standards" because it's so well-known in the jazz literature that it warrants the moniker of "Standard."
So, there's no real definition of "Standard;" once again, it is if you immerse yourself in the genre and think it is.
My personal view is at a certain time in history 'professional' songwriters wrote music that took melody and harmonization / chord progressions to a particular, let's call it refinement.
there are certain conventions of structure things like 32 bars, A B A and all that
plus enough chords changes to give a lot of music theorists something to analyze, teach and write about
And big bands and smaller jazz bands played a lot of popular music in earlier eras. Jazz players, as they will do, started messing with the harmonies and extending the melodies in their solos and just like bar bands of every era have certain expected repertoire, there you go. Then it was a challenge to take that repertoire and reinterpret and make it your own.
I think there's something to be said for having the audience familiar enough with a song to appreciate what an innovative creative player does with that song. For example, I love listening to T Monk play standards. Pieces like 'Devil and the Deep Blue Sea', 'April in Paris' it seems like he could go on forever and never run out of ideas.
What sort of amazes me is how exactly did I get familiar with these songs. What in our culture allowed me to assimilate much of this basic material without ever making an effort?
I think there's considerable overlap with the nebulous 'great American songbook' and jazz standards, the only distinction may be the great American songbook has the option of a vocalist (or Chet Baker) and some jazz standards esp from bebop era are just instrumentals
I think what makes them standards is their popularity. Same as modern day 'pop' standards like many Motown, pop or disco songs. They are timeless and popular and they are 'favored' by musicians and listeners alike. At least that's my take on it.
I define a Standard as a song musos want to play and the audience want to hear.
Standards lend themselves easily to many different interpretations over the decades, mainly because the strong melody and harmonic structure.
I think of "standards" as a culturally-defined job description, of the basic knowledge expected from jazz musicians to be able to fill their role.
Just like chefs are expected to know certain basic recipes, filmmakers are expected to know basic camera/editing techniques, architects know basic forms/structures, etc.
I see a lot of musicians who think they are "learning jazz" by memorizing the scales, chords, modes, etc. but have no interest in learning the standard repertoire. Doesn't make sense to me but maybe this is just what getting old feels like...
Yes, most of the instrumental jazz tunes started with vocalist & lyrics.
Weather or not a song is a standard is simple a function of how many famous Jazz singers or musicians have recorded it.
If you can find 10 or more recordings by recognized Jazz performers then it's probably safe to call it a Standard.
But this pins Jazz to a bygone era, with a repertoire that gains dust each year, sadly.
(I know 'new' Jazz gets composed all the time, but those won't realistically become standards)
In the first half of the 20th century they were just the top 40 pop , radio and Broadway hits of the era. Tunes everyone knew.
These days, in the post-post rock diaspora of genres, that knowledge is less common.
In my generation, you had to 'look up' all but the most ubiquitous 'standards.'
This is a reason why Jazz has withered in popularity: the 'standards' have become less relevant to younger audiences.
It's hard to impress with Jazz if the audience doesn't know the melody you're improvising over.
These days people generally learn standards because they are learning , researching, studying 'old' jazz.
I think this kind of pushes understanding of Jazz into a form of elitism that only rarefies the audience.
Not necessarily a bad thing, people enjoy being in-the-know with their exclusive artsy niches.
Back in the 90s I used to go see a Jazz quartet that would drop Nirvana tunes into their set.
"get lucky" might lend itself better to Jazzing, melodically and harmonically speaking :)
Actually , "get lucky" is the first song in loooong time that I am aware achieving the kind of general recognition that those old standards must have had.
Perhaps Stephen Colbert will be the future arbiter of what becomes a standard.
The Bad Plus
There certain jazz/chord progressions that have received a lot of use over the years......in many jazz compositions...
These can be referred to as "standards".
Jabba the Hut decreed a list of Standards when he entombed Han Solo in carbonite.
And it has been so from that day to this.
IMO, standards are the ones you'd expect to be called while on a jazz gig.
EDIT: That takes into consideration of regional differences in what tunes are played and temporal differences (e.g. a tune that was a standard in the 70s may no longer be so).
Of the 500 tunes in the book, I'd say about 20-30 are standards around here. If I were playing more and serious, I'd be able to do a gig without a book. A guy should be able to learn 30 tunes.
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