The Jazz Standards – A Guide To The Repertoire

New edition of Gioia's opinionated, provocative and informative commentary adds 15 items and hundreds of recommended tracks


The first edition of The Jazz Standards (2012) received unanimous praise from such critics and performers as Will Friedwald, Gerald Early, Dave Brubeck and Sonny Rollins. This revised and expanded edition with 15 additional selections and hundreds of additional recommended tracks covering over 2,000 recordings – many suggested by his readers – should deservedly receive more plaudits.

Gioia is an academic, pianist and author of several excellent books on jazz, including The Imperfect Art: Reflections On Jazz And Modern Culture (1988), West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz In California 1945-1960 (1992) and The History Of Jazz (1997). He writes with a grace, wit and authority that conveys his sheer enthusiasm for and involvement in the music. This is his response to Parker’s 1946 recording (with Miles Davis) of Night In Tunisia: “Bird’s execution of the break, not just the blistering speed but his masterful placement of rhythmic accents in the midst of the maelstrom, thrilled me the first time I heard it as a teenager and still does today.”

All the song titles (defined as “standards”) are assessed for their “creative interpretation” by male and female artists, and are arranged alphabetically, placed in their historical (or current) contexts, with composer and lyricist credits, and often accompanied by personal anecdotes.

Perhaps the best way to review this compilation is to take samplings of some of its entries (ranging from After You’ve Gone to You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To) with particular appeal to this reviewer. After You’ve Gone has a capsule biography of its composer Turner Layton, an African-American who attended Howard University’s dental school in the 1920s, but switched to a musical career, composing songs for Broadway shows. Layton’s considerable legacy included royalties from his estate that continue to fund the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. As a related example of jazz philanthropy Gioia notes that Paul Desmond donated the royalties from Take Five and other compositions to the American Red Cross, which has received over $6 million from the bequest.

Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s All The Things You Are, which first appeared in a 1935 musical Very Warm For May, initially made little impression, but resurfaced as a favourite of early boppers Bird and Diz. My suggested additions to Gioia’s “authorised versions” would be those by Serge Chaloff on his seminal album Blue Serge (1956), and Booker Ervin’s impassioned interpretation from The Song Book (1963). Vernon Duke and Yip Harburg’s April In Paris notably received the Basie band’s “One more time/One more once” exhortations on several of its recordings, and a visual insertion into Blazing Saddles, but Gioia also flags a Charlie Parker “chardonnay-and-brie rendition with icky string backing”, Frank Sinatra’s upbeat reading of the lyrics on the LP Come Fly With Me, and Wynton Marsalis’s insertions of “some brisk polyrhythms” into his 1986 version from the first volume of Marsalis Standard Time.

Other Gioia aperçus include the assertions that You’d Be So Easy To Love “is a song that is easy to play but hard to play well” and that Sinatra (who receives multiple recommendations) “established that this song works just as well in 4/4 as in the original waltz time envisioned by the composer” (Bart Howard). Again, Coltrane adapted some of the chords from the Rodgers and Hart composition Have You Met Miss Jones? in “various other settings” – most notably as the framework for his composition Giant Steps. Gioia does not mention that in her Songbook version, a prudish Ella Fitzgerald asks “Have You Met Sir Jones.” Not quite what Rodgers and Hart had in mind.

At greater length, Gioia commends Garner’s performance (on Concert By The Sea) of I’ll Remember April, as displaying “many of his trademarks, esoteric and almost mystical introductions that disguise the song, radical dynamic shifts at unexpected junctures, left-hand chords employed as percussive licks, and a quirky way of swinging his phrases that comes across as so much happier and light hearted than what normally passes for modern jazz As my aunt might say, ‘What’s not to like?’”.He adds that Lee Konitz “has given us recordings in six different decades.”

Elsewhere, we are reminded that the lyrics of Cole Porter’s Love For Sale were banned from the airwaves for decades after its debut in a 1930 Broadway musical. One reviewer said it was “in the worst possible taste” and another called it “filthy”. Porter is quoted to good effect: “I can’t understand it. You can write a novel about a harlot, paint a picture of a harlot, but you can’t write a song about a harlot.” Gioia nominates Billie Holiday’s 1952 recording as “a definitive version”. Regarding Mack The Knife, he confesses (with a supporting story) that “I often cringe when I hear this song,” but both commends and condemns Polka Dots And Moon beams: “I adore the music but the lyrics make me cringe.” Concerning The Lady Is A Tramp (Rodgers and Hart) Gioia remarks: “Quips that hit the mark in the midst of the Great Depression are unlikely to get laughs in the Internet age.”

In the final entry, You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, Gioia suggests (mock pedantically) that Cole Porter “never learned that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition. And ‘you’d’ is no doubt the most inelegant of contractions” but applauds his knack of “invigorating poetic sentiments with colloquial English”.

This is an enlightening and indispensable reference work, yet it should perhaps carry a health warning: “The ingredients of this book, even if merely sampled, can quickly become addictive.”

The Jazz Standards – A Guide To The Repertoire, second edition, by Ted Gioia. Oxford University Press, pp580. ISBN 978019008

Editor’s footnote regarding the source of Coltrane’s Giant Steps

In the July 2014 issue of Jazz Journal the editor wrote:

Recent receipt of Retrospective’s Carmen Miranda collection revealed to me that Chica Chica Boom Chic, written by Harry Warren for Miranda to sing in the 1941 film That Night In Rio, has a tag section that prefigures Giant Steps many years before Coltrane put out his famous stack of perfect cadences. The moral: avoid getting over-excited about innovation and check precedents before forming those incautious words “original”, “unique” etc … given Coltrane’s later remaps of My Favorite Things and Chim Chim Cheree, could we wonder if he filched also from Warren’s marvellous rumba?

Pianist Jan Lundgren responded in the JJ letters page of October 2014:

I read your remark concerning the origin of Giant Steps (From The Editor, 0714). Unbelievable news. I double-checked with the original sheet music and it is without doubt a “steal” from Harry Warren. The very first use of this kind of chord sequence in a standard ever is probably in the bridge of Have You Met Miss Jones? (Rodgers & Hart, 1937). However, it is obvious in the case of Giant Steps that Coltrane used Harry Warren’s idea. And partly for that Coltrane became known as an innovator. Everything is not always what it seems to be.

I am pretty sure that moving key centres in major thirds, as Giant Steps does, must have been used in classical music before 1900. However, the way Warren used this harmonic idea in his ending of Chica Chica Boom Chic (1941) is more or less exactly the way Coltrane later used it in the first important three bars of Giant Steps. That’s why it’s such a sensational discovery.

Harry who? – as he sometimes was referred to – is by the way, in my opinion, one of the top five neglected songwriters from that golden era. Others included in that group could very well be Victor Young, James Van Heusen, Jule Styne and Ralph Rainger. Arthur Schwartz, Walter Donaldson, Jimmy McHugh and Richard Whiting are some other examples of not so much talked about songwriters from this era.
Jan Lundgren, Ystad, Sweden

Nobody responded to this possibly unique primary research, perhaps because not enough of the right people ever saw the printed edition of Jazz Journal, and so the idea that Giant Steps came from Miss Jones persists.