What is a "jazz standard?"; What types of compositions become jazz standards?; What makes a good jazz standard?; How are the jazz standards identified and ranked?; What data set was used for the Jazz Standards ranking?; How many jazz standards are there?
The terms "standard" and "jazz standard" are often used when one is referring to popular and jazz music compositions. A quick search of the internet reveals, however, that the definitions of these terms can vary widely. So what is a standard? Comparing definitions from a number of dictionaries and music scholars and basing a definition on the points on which they are in agreement, it is reasonable to state: A "standard" is a composition that is held in continuing esteem and is commonly used in musical repertoires.
And, A "jazz standard" is a composition that is held in continuing esteem and is commonly used as the basis of jazz arrangements and improvisations.
Sometimes the term "jazz standard" is used to imply a jazz composition that has become a standard. Words and phrases often have multiple valid meanings and this term is no exception. Let us use the definition having the more general acceptance, one that allows compositions from any origin. What Types of Compositions Become Jazz Standards?
The most common categories of origin are:
Tin Pan Alley
Broadway musicals and Hollywood movies
In the broadest sense of the definition one might also include:
Traditional (folk, church, Christmas)
Rock and roll
International popular and folk music What Makes a Good Jazz Standard?
the types of compositions that become "good" jazz standards are simply those that the jazz performers esteem, play and record the most. To better understand why performers pick certain compositions, consider some comments by musicians and musicologists: “Prelude to a Kiss”:
The melody has a lot of beautiful chromatic movement, and there are enough key centers and resolutions to keep things interesting when soloing. "Yesterdays”:
The melody is strong and easily played or sung, and the tune works at any tempo. "Body and Soul":
The unusual changes in key and tempo are highly attractive and provide a large degree of improvisational freedom ... it is attractive to jazz musicians because of its challenging chord progressions. Many jazz musicians like to improvise on compositions with familiar chord progressions and others take advantage of relatively flat melodies. Repeated notes, for example, are said to build melodic tension while emphasizing rhythm and holding the door open for harmonic ingenuity. If you then surmise that jazz performers like both flat and interesting melodies, both familiar and unusual harmonies, and both easy to play and challenging compositions, you''re right. The types of compositions that are interesting to jazz performers are as varied as the performers'' interests, their backgrounds, and their moods. So, the answer to the question, "What makes a good jazz standard?" is simply a composition that jazz vocalists and musicians often choose to play, perform, and record. The reasons they choose compositions are varied and sometimes contradictory. How Are the Jazz Standards Identified and Ranked?
In many cases, the JazzStandards ranking system is based on conservative definitions and merely reflects the compositions jazz artists choose to include on their CD recordings. There is no editorial judgment. Simply put, a composition is ranked highest because it has been included most often on currently issued CDs by the greatest number of jazz artists. This premise is based on the following definition, A "jazz standard" is a composition that is held in continuing esteem and is commonly used as the basis of jarrangements or improvisations. CD performances have been chosen as the yardstick because the compact disc is currently the most popular medium for the demonstration of a musician’s repertoire, style, and performing ability. The compact disc is also an indispensable medium for the listener as few jazz fans are able to attend live performances on a regular basis.
No value is placed upon CD sales figures. The phrase “commonly used as the basis of jazz arrangements or improvisations"
implies the jazz artist’s choice of composition is what is important, not popularity amongst consumers.
The number one ranked song, "Body and Soul," was found on CDs by well over 100 different jazz artists. Compositions having a rank of 750 or higher were found on CDs by at least 10 different jazz artists. The number 1000 ranked composition was found on CDs by 6 different artists. What Data Set Was Used for the Jazz Standards Ranking?
Over 1000 jazz artists were identified using various respected jazz music guides. Only the artists who appeared in all of the guides were retained and only artists whose main body of work is jazz -- not pop artists who have dabbled in jazz. This restriction reduced the number of artists to 700. Next, all of the currently available CDs by the 700 artists were identified. Hundreds of thousands of tracks were then tabulated and sorted using extensive rules-based algorithms to normalize the names for programmatic matching purposes. For example, "little" may also be spelled several ways including "li''l" and "lil''". And "in" "in''" and "ing" may be equivalent as long as "in''" isn''t part of "ain''t". "Old" may be spelled "Ol''" or "Ol" or "Ole". "Ghost of a Chance" may be titled "(I Don''t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance (With You)" with or without the parenthesis and with or without either of the parenthetical phrases. Many compositions have two seemingly unrelated titles and different compositions may share the same title. The list of rules goes on and on. How Many Jazz Standards Are There?
The top 750 compositions on JazzStandards are routinely found in jazz standard collections and are often referred to as jazz standards in liner notes and reviews.