Finding the right song is not easy when learning to play jazz guitar. A lot of the guitar parts that you come across are likely complex and intended for advanced guitarists. However, you need to build your repertoire to improve your playing skills.
If you are looking for easy songs to master as a beginner, start with some of the staples of the genre. Here are the top 25 easy jazz guitar songs.
1. George Gershwin – Summertime
“Summertime” is one of the first songs that jazz guitarists learn. Written by George Gershwin, “Summertime” was originally intended for an opera. However, a year after the opera premiered, the song was recorded by Billie Holiday and quickly climbed the jazz charts. The chord progression is simple, providing the perfect song for beginner jazz guitarists.
2. Herbie Hancock – Cantaloupe Island
“Cantaloupe Island” by Herbie Hancock gives beginners a chance to work on their chord changing abilities. The song has a 16-bar form and sticks to a simple tempo, providing a good tune for those wanting to improve their skills.
3. Thelonious Monk – Blue Monk
Written by Thelonious Monk, “Blue Monk” is often the first 12-bar blues tune that jazz guitarists learn.
4. Joseph Kosma – Autumn Leaves
“Autumn Leaves” stands out as one of the most well-known jazz standards. It also allows you to work on your chord progressions. It was composed by Joseph Kosma and was originally released with French lyrics. Johnny Mercer later recorded an English language version, which soon became a hit. “Autumn Leaves” and other Jazz sheet music are available online at FreshSheetMusic.com (link in author bio below).
5. Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage
Composed by Herbie Hancock, “Maiden Voyage” was originally recorded for use in a TV commercial and was called “TV Jingle.” Hancock’s sister later picked the new name. This is another easy song to pick up in an afternoon.
6. Bart Howard – Fly Me to the Moon
The melody for “Fly to the Moon” is easy to learn, making this a fun song for beginners.
7. Kenny Dorham – Blue Bossa
Written by trumpet player Kenny Dorham, “Blue Bossa” is a 16-bar Latin tune. About 75% of the song is the C minor key. Navigating the changes may be a challenge for beginners, but this is a rewarding song to learn.
8. Bobby Hebb – Sunny
“Sunny” contains just two-bar phrases. It is an easy song to play on jazz guitar and has been recorded by several artists over the years. It was first released in 1963 by Bobby Hebb.
9. Miles Davis – So What
“So What” is one of the best-known jazz songs and many beginners cannot wait to learn how to play it.
10. Sonny Rollins – Tenor Madness
“Tenor Madness” is a song and album by Sonny Rollins, released in 1956. The full song lasts 12 minutes, but the guitar part is much shorter.
11. Sonny Rollins – Oleo
Also written by Sonny Rollins, “Oleo” is another popular song with a common chord progression. It lifts the progression used in the song, “I’ve Got Rhythm,” which is featured in an endless list of jazz and blues tunes, making it essential for beginner jazz guitarists to learn.
12. Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons – All of Me
“All of Me” was released in 1931, making it one of the older songs on this list. It has a simple structure and is performed at a medium tempo.
13. Herbie Hancock – Watermelon Man
Written by Herbie Hancock in 1962, “Watermelon Man” is a 16-bar blues song played in a straight-eight groove. The original version features a Latin-rock style and is typically played in the F key.
14. Django Reinhardt – Minor Swing
“Minor Swing” is a gypsy jazz song, composed by Django Reinhardt. This is his most recognizable song. It features a simple chord progression and allows for many improvisations.
15. Kurt Weill – Mack the Knife
“Mack the Knife” was a hit for Bobby Darin in 1958, but it was originally composed for an opera that premiered in 1928 in Berlin. It has become one of the most popular jazz standards.
16. Duke Ellington – C-Jam Blues
While not strictly jazz, “C-Jam Blues” contains jazz elements and was written by the great Duke Ellington. It is one of the easiest blues melodies to master, which may give beginners a boost of confidence in their playing abilities.
17. Charlie Parker – My Little Suede Shoes
Charlie Parker is considered one of the great jazz improvisers, but he also composed many popular songs, including “My Little Suede Shoes.” It is an easy tune to play on guitar and features the same chord progression from “Jeepers Creepers” by Harry Warren.
18. Cole Porter – What Is This Thing Called Love
While “What Is This Thing Called Love” is not the easiest jazz guitar song, it is a fun song to play when learning guitar. It was written by Cole Porter in 1929 for a musical and eventually became a jazz standard.
19. Horace silver – Song for My Father
“Song for My Father” only has a few chords but is surprisingly complex compared to some of the other songs on this list. It is a useful tune to master as you begin learning to navigate changes between chords.
20. Nat Adderley – Work Song
“Work Song” is a 16-bar blues and jazz song by Nat Adderley. Adderley played the cornet while Wes Montgomery played guitar on the original recording.
21. Eddie Harris – Cold Duck Time
“Cold Duck Time” was written by Eddie Harris and released in 1969. It is a rock-influenced jazz song that was originally recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival. It is another fun song to play and a great introduction to jazz for beginner guitarists.
22. John Coltrane – Mr. P.C.
The “P.C.” in the song “Mr. P.C.” refers to bassist Paul Chambers. John Coltrane wrote this easy blues tune in C minor, allowing you to add or subtract guitar chords as you choose.
23. Sonny Rollins – St. Thomas
“St. Thomas” is another song by Sonny Rollins. It was released in 1956 and is considered one of Rollins’ most recognizable instrumentals. It is played in the key of C and provides a nice little tune to learn in an afternoon.
24. Isham Jones – There Is No Greater Love
“There Is No Greater Love” is a 1936 jazz standard. Composed by Isham Jones, the song is often played as a ballad and has been recorded by many notable artists, including Nat King Cole, Bobby Darin, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday.
25. Sonny Rollins – Doxy
“Doxy” is a simple tune written by Sonny Rollins and one of the first songs that many jazz guitarists learn. Rollins wrote this song in 1954 and first recorded it with Miles Davis for the Miles Davis with Sonny Rollins LP.
You now have an extensive list of jazz standards to learn. By the time you finish mastering all 25 tunes, you should be able to move on to more complex jazz arrangements.
About the Author: Sabina K. is a passionate musician and co-founder of FreshSheetMusic.com. Having spent years performing with various musicians across Europe, she sought ways to help other musicians improve their playing skills and FreshSheetMusic was born.
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