Often, a jazz player is measured not by how many Metheny/Scofield licks you can cop, how many C7(#11,b13) voicings you know, or by how fast you can play "Donna Lee", but by how many songs you have under your belt.
Here are 12 tunes that everybody should know, in (basically) the order of difficulty. The key the song is most commonly played in follows the title.
- Blues (in F and Bb)
- Rhythm Changes (Bb)
- Just Friends (F)
- Satin Doll (C)
- Autumn Leaves (Gm or Em)
- How High the Moon (G)
- Honeysuckle Rose (F)
- Cherokee (Bb)
- There is no Greater Love (Bb)
- There Will Never be Another You (Eb)
- Take the A-train (C) (has a famous intro)
- All the Things You Are (Ab) (has a famous intro)
the keys are keys you will find them in in various real books-depending on whether you have the "legal" or "illegal" book, the keys and chord progressions will differ slightly. Check out Chuck Sher's "The New Real Book"-you can likely find this at a decent music store-it is in 3 volumes-volume one has the most standard tunes in it, although all 3 are useful in various situations. To find the illegal realbooks (which are useful)-hang around jazz musicians and ask where they got their's...
Why should you know these tunes?
Find recordings of these tunes-look for versions done in a standard way by the "classic" artists: Miles Davis, Sinatra,
Charlie Parker, etc. While it is always cool to hear -say-Scofield's take on "All the Things You Are", I think he would agree that you still need the more traditional frame of reference.
These are songs that are likely to be "called" at jam sessions.
These are classic jazz tunes, recorded many times by many different people.
If you understand these, it will be much easier for you to understand other more complicated songs.
You will gain insight into what makes a "good" tune....that which has staying power.