Jazz, with its immense scope of history and diversity, is arguably one of America's greatest musical contributions. Because of this diversity, searching for guitar chords and lyrics for jazz songs can quickly become overwhelming. Collected here are some of the best jazz vocal standards by true jazz masters, organized by time period for easy browsing. Combined, they offer hundreds of song sheets from every style and era of jazz.
Early Jazz Songs
Early jazz artists from the 20s to the 40s kick-started the new genre of American music. You can find the songs below at The Guitar Guy, which arranges the songs by the last name of each artist in an alphabetical list. To find each song shown below, search for the last name of the artist and look for the song title under the name. The site features such classics as:
- Basin Street Blues (Louis Armstrong)
- When You're Smiling (Louis Armstrong)
- C'est Si Bon (Louis Armstrong)
- The Very Thought of You (Billie Holiday)
- Ain't Misbehavin' (Billie Holiday)
- I Can't Believe You're In Love With Me (Billie Holiday)
- Moonlight Serenade (Glenn Miller)
- I've Got a Girl in Kalamazoo (Glenn Miller)
- In the Mood (Glenn Miller)
The Guitar Guy is an excellent resource that has songs from every jazz artist under the sun, not just those from the early years.
Chords and Lyrics from the Golden Age
As America emerged from the smoke of WWII and moved from the late 40s and into the 50s, jazz vocal standards began to take the world by storm. Some of the best songs of this golden age are listed below. You can access them by going to the home page of Jazz Standards, scrolling down until you see the alphabetical list of blue song titles, and finding the song:
- Come Fly with Me (Frank Sinatra)
- I've Got You Under My Skin (Frank Sinatra)
- Let's Face the Music and Dance (Nat King Cole)
- You Stepped Out of a Dream (Nat King Cole)
- April in Paris (Ella Fitzgerald)
- Take the A Train (Ella Fitzgerald)
- Gone Fishin' (Louis Armstrong with Bing Crosby)
During these years, the greatest icons of the genre hit their prime and made jazz a household name at every level of society, even among those who were more conservative in their musical preferences.
The Latin Jazz Revolution
America wasn't the only hotbed of jazz. As the United States pumped out standard hits in the 50s, South America, especially Brazil, was busy launching the Latin Jazz revolution. The genre has its own site at BossaNovaGuitar devoted exclusively to guitar tabs and lyrics for Latin Jazz classics such as:
- Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars) (Joao & Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz with Antonio Carlos Jobim)
- The Girl from Ipanema (Joao & Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz with Antonio Carlos Jobim)
- Desafinado (Antonio Carlos Jobim)
- Insensetaz (Antonio Carlos Jobim)
- Desde Que O Samba E Samba (Gilberto Gil)
To find each song at BossaNovaGuitar, find the artist name you want in the list on the left side of page. Once you click on the artist, a list of his or her albums will appear. Select the album that has the song or browse the albums to explore what is available.
Modern Jazz Lyrics and Guitar Chords
Despite the advent of a dizzying variety of new genres sprouting up since the 1950s, jazz vocal music has not missed a beat or lost its footing. It continues to influence both old and young generations as new artists carry the torch with hit songs like:
- Cry Me a River (Diana Krall)
- Temptation (Diana Krall)
- Wink and a Smile (Harry Connick, Jr.)
- Don't Know Why (Norah Jones)
- Come Away with Me (Norah Jones)
- I Get a Kick Out of You (Jamie Cullum)
- Everything (Michael Buble)
To find these songs and many others, you can search Ultimate Guitar. Once you reach the homepage, type the name of the artist in the search box and all songs with chords and lyrics for that artist will appear.
Going Unplugged and Offline
If you crave something solid in your hands with pages and ink, the following books are classic resources for musicians who want to play their favorite jazz songs:
- Hal Leonard's Jazz Standards: With over 100 jazz standards including a nice variety of classics like Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars, Autumn in New York, and I've Got You Under My Skin, this book displays the melody in clear music notation with the chords and lyrics added above and below the melody line. Each song is easy to follow, and it has one of the largest selections available in print.
- The Best Jazz Standards Ever: Although it has fewer songs than the previous book, the 77 selections feature some lesser known classics that aren't often seen in print, such as the Billie Holiday tune The Very Thought of You and other hits like Tangerine and Georgia On My Mind.
- The Jazz Real Book: Though a little more expensive at about $30, this book is the jazz bible for serious musicians who need a good resource for gigs. It has 228 jazz vocal standards and non-vocal jazz hits -- virtually every significant jazz hit known to popular culture. Its compact lead sheet format -- usually one page per song -- allows you to zip through songs without having to turn pages in the middle of a song.
Keep in mind that the Real Book, a standard-issue necessity for any aspiring or professional jazz musician, tends to focus on the chords and melody without lyrics. This allows the song sheets to be short and sweet and easy to whip out and play. The Real Book is ideal for non-vocal instrumentalists or singers who know the words by heart. If you need both lyrics and chords, however, the first two books listed are great resources.
Jazz Chords and You
The fun thing about playing jazz is that individual experimentation is a virtue. The heart and soul of jazz is improvisation and adaptability. This relieves some of the pressure for guitarists just learning the genre. Don't be afraid to try new sounds or chords as you explore jazz. And, if you're not ready to play some of the harder chords, there's room in jazz to tweak the song and use simpler fingerings instead.