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Standards? Determining Curricular Repertoire

Jazzed Magazine • Lessons LearnedSeptember 2011 • September 20, 2011

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by Dr. Mark Watkins

Given the extensive repertoire available to jazz musicians, it is sometimes daunting to know where to start, especially for the young player. Yet the responsibility remains for the university jazz program to prepare their students for the professional world in a sequential and timely manner covering appropriate styles and tune types. This is compounded when one considers that students may eventually reside in other geographical regions due to family, work opportunity, or graduate studies.

Curricular Repertoire

The third part of the study requires the categorization of repertoire into style and tune types. Titles that match the survey are referenced in bold if found on List 1 and italics if on List 2. Note that there are more melodies in the Ballad category from List 2 than List 1. This may be due to ballads being more personal and, consequently, diverse. Mention of Blues and Rhythm tunes as essential is common amongst respondents but as stated above, most opted not to include many on their lists.

In order to make the Categorical Listing more valuable to students unfamiliar with the plethora of choices, all references by survey contributors (adding those with four or less inclusions) have augmented the Blues and Rhythm columns. Other selections in normal type are from cross-referencing three select texts and seven or more Web sites (major universities or significant performers) adding at least ten references. Text choices reflect diversity in author residence, primary performance medium, and intent:

  • David Baker. How to Learn Tunes: A Jazz Musician’s Survival Guide. New Albany, IN: Aebersold, 1997.
  • Hal Crook. Ready, Aim, Improvise! Exploring the Basics of Improvisation. Rottenburg: Advance, 1999.
  • Mark Levine. The Jazz Piano Book. Petaluma, CA: Sher Music, 1990.

Web publications have similar diversity. Some emphasize jazz blues or rhythm tunes, some are general, and some are curricular.


Numbers to the left indicate totals of the survey and additional references. Numbers in parenthesis to the right show first the survey then the additional sources. Tunes with the same number are listed alphabetically. There appears to be agreement between the source groups. The additional sources seem to confirm the survey.

Whereas survey respondents emphasized Blues and Rhythm (albeit without many titles), they cited fewer Fusion and Avant Garde/Free Jazz compositions. Numbers to the left are referrals from the survey, no additional sources.

One might ask, “Why does it matter”? Four points can be considered:

A standard repertoire represents music that generations of performers have either deemed of high quality or enjoy playing.

Standards can help one’s learning of the art form. They are especially significant for young musicians to use as a foundation. From here they can grow in any of several directions. Standards are a great teacher.

They constitute a body of knowledge that is transferable from one location to another, thus allowing musicians from various locales to perform with each other.

In today’s environment, tradition has established expectations. Jazz musicians without a fundamental internalization of at least a certain number of standards will find themselves unable to participate in many settings.

Some have asked, “Will emphasizing such lists not cause the jazz art to stagnate”? Consider this:

  1. If only a limited number of standards were propagated, yes. But there are so many. Considering regional favorites, the learning of standards is not so stagnant. Six hundred and eleven tunes are on only 37 contributor lists.
  2. Amidst the learning of standards, jazz musicians are constantly writing their own tunes. The composer/performer persona á la Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Liszt, et al is alive and well in jazz.
  3. Various regions have their own distinct “standard” repertoire (along with one that is more universal), which is important for such a creative art to thrive.
  4. What is considered a standard changes over time. There are compositions common in the 1920s or ’30s that are virtually never played today. Some of the tunes expected of every true jazz musician in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s have fallen into disfavor while others have risen. More will become popular while others fade as the years progress.

Bottom line: note what is called at various gigs, jam sessions, what is played at local clubs, in the area universities, by members of regional jazz societies, etc.., Learn the repertoire of residence. In addition, a foundation of music universal to the jazz idiom should be studied allowing regional flexibility while providing a means for exploration into other avenues of jazz. Knowing tunes that are common across a broad geographical spectrum, understanding difficulty and accessibility by educational year, and a means to balance style and tune types via categorical listing should help teachers and students navigate the 1000+ possibilities.


  • All of You
  • Alone Together
  • Along Came Betty
  • Anthropology
  • Au Privave
  • Back Home Again in Indiana
  • Beautiful Love
  • Blues for Alice
  • Body & Soul
  • But Beautiful
  • Caravan
  • Ceora
  • Cherokee
  • Come Rain or Come Shine
  • Confirmation
  • Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)
  • Desafinado
  • Embraceable You
  • Giant Steps
  • Girl from Ipanema
  • Half Nelson
  • Have You Met Miss Jones?
  • Here’s that Rainy Day
  • Hot House
  • How Deep is the Ocean?
  • I Love You
  • I Mean You
  • I Remember You
  • I Should Care
  • I Thought About You
  • I’ll Remember April
  • If I were a Bell
  • In a Sentimental Mood
  • Inner Urge
  • Invitation
  • It Could Happen to You
  • It Don’t Mean a Thing
  • It Had to Be You
  • It Might as Well Be Spring
  • It’s You or No One
  • Joy Spring
  • Just Friends
  • Laura
  • Lazy Bird
  • Like Someone in Love
  • Love for Sale
  • Milestones (new)
  • Moment’s Notice
  • Moonlight in Vermont
  • My Favorite Things
  • My Foolish Heart
  • Nardis
  • Nica’s Dream
  • Night and Day
  • Night in Tunisia, A
  • Oleo
  • One Note Samba
  • Ornithology
  • Our Love is Here to Stay Out of Nowhere
  • Over the Rainbow
  • Polka Dots and Moonbeams
  • Round Midnight
  • Scrapple from the Apple
  • Seven Steps to Heaven
  • Shadow of Your Smile, The
  • Skylark
  • So What
  • Solar
  • Someone To Watch Over Me
  • Song is You, The
  • Speak Low
  • Speak No Evil
  • Star Eyes
  • Stella by Starlight
  • Sweet Georgia Brown
  • Take 5
  • Tenderly
  • Triste
  • Waltz for Debbie
  • Way You Look Tonight, The
  • Well You Needn’t
  • What is This Thing Called Love?
  • Whisper Not
  • Willow Weep for Me
  • Witch Hunt
  • Witchcraft
  • Yes or No
  • Yesterdays
  • You Don’t Know What Love Is
  • You Stepped Out of a Dream
  • You’d be so Nice to Come Home To


  • Airegin
  • Angel Eyes
  • Beatrice
  • Cherokee
  • Con Alma
  • Confirmation
  • Countdown
  • Dolphin Dance
  • Donna Lee
  • E.S.P.
  • Emily
  • Fee Fi Fo Fum
  • Four in One
  • Giant Steps
  • I Hear a Rhapsody
  • In Your Own Sweet Way
  • Inner Urge
  • Joy Spring
  • Lush Life
  • Moment’s Notice
  • My Foolish Heart
  • My One and Only Love
  • Nica’s Dream
  • Peace
  • Prelude to a Kiss
  • ‘Round Midnight
  • Sophisticated Lady
  • Stablemates
  • Take 5
  • What’s New?


Dr. Mark Watkins has performed and lectured throughout the U.S., England, Wales, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Canada, Chile, Thailand, Singapore, and The Philippines with upcoming visits to Puerto Rico and Scotland in 2012. Comments regarding his latest CD, FOUR: On a Warm Summer’s Evenin’ include: “I need my Mark Watkins bop-fix!  This is great jazz from start to finish – beautiful, intelligent, soulful, swinging and all done with the highest caliber of performance.” (Noah Peterson, Portland), and “…Watkins’s diversified, fresh, and engaging writing results in new discoveries with every listen.” (Ed Calle, Miami) Watkins received his doctorate in five woodwind instruments from Indiana University and presently serves as Director of Jazz Studies at Brigham Young University–Idaho.

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