Recent jazz standards?
July 21, 2007 1:41 AM   Subscribe

What are the recent jazz standards? Prototypically, jazz standards are from the '40s—let's guess the median is somewhere around 1945 and the standard deviation is 15 years—but the canon is certainly not closed, as shown by, say, 'Birdland' (1977). What else has become really widely known and played, in that time frame or since? Please cite a few performers to justify your claim. Bonus points if they're in different styles or decades.
posted by eritain to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't know if this is recent enough, but a bunch of Chick Corea pieces have become standards. The main example is "Spain" (1971). Wikipedia has a list of people who've covered it. Another contender is "Armando's Rhumba" (1976). Here's a list of recordings of it from Allmusic. "La Fiesta" (1972) is huge too, though I can't find links for it right now.

Another more recent standard is Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon" (1973).
posted by epimorph at 3:41 AM on July 21, 2007

Best answer: Antonio Carlos Jobim has several tunes that have been widely recorded, including "Wave," "Black Orpheus," "The Girl From Ipanema," and "Waters of March." From 1965, " O Cantador (Like A Lover)" by Dori Caymmi, Nelson Motta and Alan & Marilyn Bergman has been widely recorded. Many of the compositions of '50s, '60s and 70s recording artists like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, and many, many others are notably standards. Into this bucket could go things like "Naima," "Waltz for Debby," "Freedom Jazz Dance," "Footprints," "Kind of Blue," "A Night in Tunisia" and the 200 other tunes from that fertile 20 year period from the end of WWII to the advent of The Beatles, that every kid with a horn has listened to and played, coming up.

But if you're looking for things that are compositions from the '80s or '90s, that are truly recognized as "standards," the list of tunes and the artists who made them "standards" necessarily thins out, simply because it takes time for tunes to be re-interpreted and recorded by enough people to become broadly recognized as classics, let alone become standards. And then there is the ever greater issue of musical cross-fertilization, so that I think things like Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" from 1963 might be getting to a point of being considered a standard, but others would argue that the tune was co-opted by a rock band who made it famous, and that it wouldn't even be recognized as a jazz tune by most people. In the same way, Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" certainly has enough versions, by enough heavy hitters (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, etc.) to be a standard, but it has been around since the 60s.

If you stick more closely within the jazz idiom, tunes like Toots Thieleman's "Bluesette" from 1961 certainly deserve to be called a standard, but even something as well known as "Bluesette" has become a standard on the basis of less than 30 recordings out of the 100+ versions you can find with a good search engine. The "long tail" for jazz standards since the 60s, in truth, isn't very long.

A few Burt Bacharach/Hal David tunes, such as "A House Is Not a Home" got recorded several times in the late '70s and early 80s by such notable personages as Bill Evans and Ella Fitzgerald, but whether that was enough to make them "jazz" standards, I think is arguable. In the same vein, things like Chuck Mangione's 1978 "Feels So Good," which at one point in the early 80s was the most popular instrumental tune in the world, could be called jazz by some, and argued as being a pop tune by others. The whole "smooth jazz" idiom brings up another set of inclusion/exclusion criteria, if you classify things like George Benson's "Breezin'" or "On Broadway" or "This Masquerade" as jazz, and consider their imitators as votes for making those tunes, borrowed from the pop world, "jazz standards."

Still, there are some things, like "Suicide is Painless (Theme from MASH)" that have been recorded, mostly by jazz people, and then re-recorded enough that it might legitimately be called a standard. Also, from 1985 "Rio de Janiero Blue" by John Haeny & Richard Torrance has been recorded a lot.

Another thing that cuts down on the emergence of new standards these days, is the success artists like Diana Krall, Diane Schuur, and Cassandra Wilson have had with retro-jazz, meaning interpretations of older standard tunes. In a way, I was as glad as anyone to listen to Ray Brown playing behind Diana Krall, when she first got broadly popular in the early '90s, but the success she had in that vein may have kept her from moving into more contemporary material, or composing her own material as soon as she otherwise might have, as it has others. Musicians, even those dedicated to the jazz idiom (like Krall's collaborators Christian McBride and John Clayton), have a strong economic incentive to make records that people buy, and like it or not, the broadest audience for jazz tends to the familiar these days, far more than the new or avant garde.

Finally, and perhaps in counter-point to the people making a living out of retro-jazz, I think that in these times of a dwindling marketplace for jazz, many young jazz musicians tend to be, necessarily, highly creative and dedicated people, who want to showcase their own creativity, if they do write. And since it is now easier and far more lucrative to self-publish, and since the royalty rights for self-publishers are so much better, there are, increasingly, significant business reasons why jazz musicians are not cutting covers of tunes at a great enough rate to anoint very many new tunes as genuine standards.
posted by paulsc at 5:20 AM on July 21, 2007 [8 favorites]

Best answer: When I think of "jazz standards," I actually think more of *pop* songs (show tunes, especially from the Tin Pan Alley era) that jazz players picked up, dusted off and improvised around. On John Coltrane's masterful album "My Favorite Things," all four songs are "standards" of this type: the title track, "Every Time We Say Goodbye," "But Not For Me," and "Summertime."

Young jazz players today still play and improvise around the older pop standards, but have adopted both original jazz works from recent history and pop/rock songs as a basis for improvisation. Joshua Redman, for one, has played songs that were bebop originals (Dizzy Gillespie's sublime, silly "Salt Peanuts") as well as lifting from the Lennon/McCartney catalog for material.
posted by enrevanche at 5:24 AM on July 21, 2007

I think that there is still a fair amount of experimentation by jazz artists though only time will tell if they ever become standards. As enrevanche mentions, many of the jazz vocal tunes that we think of as standards began life as broadway show tunes or pop tunes. Since I'm more familiar with jazz vocalists, I can offer up Holly Cole's album, Temptation, as an interesting exercise. It is a whole album of Tom Waits tune reinterpreted as jazz.
posted by jeanmari at 7:06 AM on July 21, 2007

I'd argue that the idea of the "standard" doesn't really exist anymore. Stanley Crouch and Wynton Marsalis have, to some degree, focused the attention of young players on jazz of previous eras rather than encouraging them to explore and create truly new music.

As for current players pushing the envelope, I'd point to William Parker (perhaps my favorite active musician). He's done some interesting work with merengue musicians, and his performances of "There is a Balm in Gilead" are incredibly moving.

But even Parker draws directly from the previous traditions of Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. As such, I don't think any of his work amounts to what we think of as a "standard". It's great stuff, but none of it will be seen in the same light as Giant Steps, Salt Peanuts or 'Round Midnight.

So I'm going to go out on a limb here (and hopefully foster some interesting discussion) and claim that there are no recent standards. And because the very concept of the standard is dead, there will never be such a thing as a "new" standard.

It's all very post-modern, I know . . .
posted by aladfar at 9:42 AM on July 21, 2007

Herbie Hancock did an album called The New Standard in which he basically speculated about what pop songs would eventually become standards, or at least what jazz versions of those songs might be like if they were standards. His choices included Peter Gabriel, Nirvana, the Beatles, and Paul Simon. So there are still some artists out there thinking about that, even if it's not quite widespread.

One of the problems, I think, is that songcraft has changed a lot since the Beatles. Now songs are expected to be performed by the artist who wrote them; there aren't very many artists who primarily write songs for other people. There is no artist-approved definitive version of a Burt Bacharach song, but there definitely is such a version of a Lennon/McCartney song or a Kurt Cobain song.
posted by kindall at 9:50 AM on July 21, 2007

What about Dave Brubeck's "Take Five"? Anything that's played by Lisa Simpson must qualify as a standard, no?
posted by scratch at 1:07 PM on July 21, 2007

2nd Tom Jobim. Corcovado and Girl from Ipanema are near ubiquitous. As an instrumental, I've heard Chega de Saudade plenty as well.
posted by ctmf at 1:54 PM on July 21, 2007

Response by poster: paulsc, you have lucidly explained exactly why I'm asking this. Maybe I ought to have made the centerpoint a little later and the distribution a little wider; I certainly know that there are plenty of standards that emerged in the '60s—but thereafter, the base of shared tunes among jazz musicians seems to break down, for reasons you discussed (including the Beatles and retro-jazz).

'Take Five' certainly counts as a standard, but Time Out dates to 1959, which is still within the range where I expect to see standards. Black Orpheus was '59, too. What a year that was. 'Bluesette' is '61, and 'Ipanema' dates to '63. All still within the expected range.

'Waters of March' is almost a perfect example—the only reason I didn't include it because I thought it dated back further than it does (definitive recording, 1974). Those Chick Corea songs that epimorph listed look good, too, although I haven't heard them personally: If 'Spain' got itself played by Corea, by BS&T, and by Béla Fleck, I reckon it's widely enough known.

I suspect Lennon/McCartney is a pretty good place to look for widely-known, jazzable songs: 'In My Life' comes to mind immediately, and I've heard a fair number of jazz treatments of 'Blackbird', too. Other pop-borrowings?

I deliberately omitted to say what does and does not qualify as real jazz, because, well, jazz is like pornography: I know it when I see it. I'll give the benefit of the doubt to 'Suicide is Painless', on account of Bill's fondness for it, and because I'm pretty sure you could call it at a jam session and everyone would have a fair idea how it goes. Not sure about 'A House is Not a Home'. 'Feels So Good': jazz, sure. Smooth jazz: please, no. Made popular by a rock band or a jam band or <insert genre here>? Not a problem, so long as it can be (and is) played as jazz.

Keep 'em coming: Pop borrowings, new compositions, old tunes that weren't prominent before retro-jazz, whatever. I've got to run now, but I'll return and mark some more answers.
posted by eritain at 4:22 PM on July 21, 2007

Response by poster: My dad suggests "Bein' Green," and I have to say I think that qualifies. The extant recordings by Ray Charles, Van Morrison, and Frank Sinatra would almost be enough to triangulate it into jazz (yes, I am aware that none of these are 'core' jazz artists), but throw in the vocal jazz arrangement by Dave Barduhn, and it's a solid go.
posted by eritain at 6:31 PM on July 21, 2007

Best answer: Some tunes from Jimmy Webb's catalog would probably make your list then, eritain. "By The Time I Get to Phoenix" and maybe "Witchita Lineman" (the latter recorded again by Cassandra Wilson in 2002). As for Bacharach/David, "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" got recorded by more jazz folks than like to admit it these days. A few things by Rod McKuen got on a lot of vinyl, particularly "Jean" from "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie." More music of Stevie Wonder (a.k.a. "Eivets Rednow" in jazz circles) has probably crossed over into jazz recordings than that of The Beatles; his tunes are generally richer, and take more harmonization. "For Once In My Life," "Isn't She Lovely?," and "I Wish," for starters.

I'm not going to enumerate all the tunes jazz people have borrowed from pop, soul and rock acts in the last 30 years. I'd wear out my keyboard just listing covers of tunes by the Bee Gees, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles and Elton John. Personally, I think these borrowings are necessary for commercial survival, and I don't begrudge anybody an honest buck, but it's hard for me to think of something like Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" as a jazz tune, whereas Grover Washington, Jr.'s "Just The Two of Us" and "Winelight" from the early 80's have kind of found a home in many jazz player's cover bags.

I will say that the musical dross foisted upon the ticket buying audience for Broadway musicals by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Stephen Sondheim in the last 20 years have killed off American musical theatre as a serious source of inspiration for jazz artists. That's a point I didn't make well previously, and I think we're all poorer that Webber's success has crowded out anyone of greater musical talent, as surely as Gresham's Law. But, I exit this thread, leaving aside Keith Jarrett's views on what constitutes a "standard," and Pat Metheny's idea of whether or not Kenny G. can be called a jazz musician.
posted by paulsc at 7:51 PM on July 21, 2007

Response by poster: This suggests a diagnostic question: Will jazzers still be playing it after market forces stop pushing it? Speculative question, of course, but in some cases I think you can be more confident of your answer, and those are, after all, the cases I'm interested in....
posted by eritain at 10:36 PM on July 23, 2007

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