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Knowing hundreds of standards?

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  1. jazzacast55
    Member

    I've always felt this pressure that you have to know hundreds of standards in order to be a 'real" jazz musician. I remember being told this in university and though I have learnt a lot of standards and listen to jazz and can read well enough from real books and play well over what I have down from memory, I would only know close 20 really well, like REALLY know them from memory, I feel like I have no desire to learn hundreds.
    I write music and would much rather spend time focusing on this and learning a tune every now and then, one that really grabs me.
    I've noticed all the greats seem to have a select amount that they always seem to play, Kurt's often playing darn that dream or inner urge plus more (you know what I mean), Adam rogers plays long ago and far away, I Hear A Rhapsody live ect.. but they seem to have a bag of tunes.
    Does anyone here know hundreds of tunes? I'm coming to the conclusion that I don't have the memory or the desire to do this, I mean sure like if you know 30 tunes that seems plenty, 30 GOOD tunes mix of blues ,bop, ballad ,bossa etc..
    I wanted to write this as I constantly feel like your not a real jazz musician unless you know hundreds of tunes with all the alterations and that version that Train did on that live bootleg etc..
    Don't get me wrong I love jazz and standards and as much as I can I consider myself a jazz guitarist, just wondering if anyone else feels the same, or am I just going crazy??

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  2. I know hundreds of standards---but I'm 37. Kurt probably knows 1,000 or so?(just a guess). My teacher Jack Peterson knew several thousand (he was 65 when I studied with him). My guess is that you are in your early maybe mid 20's? You will learn tunes as you play and get older. If you are my age and only knew 20 tunes that might be a problem (if you had been doing this a while) but I think a mistake students and teachers make is expecting someone college age to know a lot of tunes. I think everyone has the memory for the tunes---- the desire is different. When I am writing tunes I tend to put standards on the backburner for a while. Just some thoughts

  3. Sandemose
    Member

    I used to feel like you before, but now I dont really give a damn if I dont know a tune or not. I learn tunes that I really love and play them with people I like. If you go to school you will learn tunes just from jaming with people, but dont get depressed over not knowing enaugh tunes. Instead you should be excited over all stuff you can look forward to learn.

    Best, Sandemose

  4. david6strings
    Member

    i don't care about the number of standards but here, in Spain, musicians knows a lot of them and seems surprised when you sing them with the lyrics. i say this because it tells me that if they don't know the lyrics, maybe is because they didn't heard the songs, and i think that's a problem. When you study a music that you have not heard, it is curious. just saying...you are playing jazz but you have not heard Ella, Hollyday, dinah nat king cole etc, so what jazz are you playing, gilad and mark turner...lol. i'm talking about some of my friends, not about you. but you don't care about the number of tunes you got. how well i know each of them should be the question, am i right, just thinking out loud, and if you are studying rhythm changes, learn i got rhythm, it seems to make sense, it is what i say myself.
    Anyway, David Baker have writen about how to memorize tunes, check his books

  5. jorgemg1984
    Member

    I know a lot of harmonies (more than 100 for sure) but the melodies is much harder... But i guess even melodies I know more than 100 and I am 27. With time I will learn much more. Oh and I learn much faster these days, just learned "Weaver of Dreams" and "I Hear a Rhapsody" in about 10 minutes last week. Knowying the lyrics is my next step.

    PS - Playing without sheet music on gigs is one of the best ways of memorizing tunes.

  6. kutu
    Member

    hey jazzacast55,

    exactly the same thoughts and feelings here, hence the same pressure. i always end up comforting myself by thinking music is, eventually, an "intense hobby" for me. but i guess you are/will be a professional musician and the problem begins here.

    if you use the term "real jazz musician", yes you have to learn as many standards as you can, cause that's the primary definition for a jazz musician, "a guy who can comp or improvise on as many standards as he can" :) you can always jam and play other good music with your friends but you need taboo cards to play taboo.

    basic steps of a successful jazz career:

    1) learn and play standards to find acceptance/recognition (this also allows benchmarking with other players)
    2) play/record originals (supported with a few standards) or just continue with the standards

    but jazzacast55, maybe, you just don't want to play the same old songs over and over again. maybe, you want to play Radiohead, Beatles or even Nirvana just like R.Glasper or B.Mehldau. maybe, we all need to build a modern "real book" of modern standards.

    or maybe your problem is different. maybe, you just don't want to be the "typical jazz musician". maybe, you want to be an ECM musician or even a free jazz musician. as far as i know, derek bailey didn't have an urge to record a standards album (if it counts) until 2007. was he too lazy?

    i hope no one gets mad at me because of my slightly cynical viewpoint, no offence. just being aggressive as i am too lazy to practice :)

  7. jorgemg1984
    Member

    I agree you don't have to know 1000 standards in 12 tones to be a jazz musician but I think its important to at least know some in order to play in jams. Knowing how to improvise for a few chorus on a blues or a rhythm changes I also think its important.

    There are tons of people that dedicate themselves to blowing changes on standards and develop no originality. But I also think there are lots of people that want to play in odd meters, free jazz, outside the changes, pop music etc... too soon. Its important to have a good knowledge of jazz history even if you don't want to learn a lot of standards (Dewey Redman, one of the most important free jazz players knew a lot of Parker solos for example).

    In my case I love standards, not an obligation to play and learn them. All my favorite players know and play standards a lot. If you don't love it don't do it just because you are supposed to.

    PS - Playing pop music in jazz is something that annoys me a little sometimes. I clearly remember jazz snobbery against pop music before Mehldau. And know everyone loves Radiohead... (and odd meters)

  8. Matt
    Member

    maybe i oversimply, but i can often times remember many tunes' harmony and melody just after listening a lot. again, i am no kurt nor do i claim that i can blow over aany tune and sound amazing, or that this method works for really complex tunes, but i feel fairly confident in that. once you've listened to pannonica, zhivago, etc enough, they become a part of you. it's like you know what you're doing even though you don't know how.

  9. cruxtable
    Member

    Yeah, I think if you want to be a "real" jazz musician you've got to work on tunes...I think for people who know hundreds (or 1000), eventually you get to the point where you know your instrument and harmony etc so well that when you learn a tune, get the melody in your head so that you know it pretty well, when you someday play it you will be able to recall the tune's changes just by knowing how the melody goes. I know some older guys that can do this, and then you can hear the changes just by listening as well. Plus you have to learn a lot of tunes to learn the vocabulary of melody, harmony, and to really make a career in performing you have to make a good sideman, which will probably mean knowing any of the tunes your leader wants to play. I don't think you have to practice every tune in every key and transcribe every solo, etc...but the more you learn the easier it will get to learn and remember them...I have a problem where I learn a tune but will not play it for a long time and then forget it....playing a good variety of tunes at sessions will help review tunes... I'm in my early 20s and know over 100 tunes and I feel that pressure all the time, especially at a jam when an older guy calls three tunes in a row that I don't know. I have been keeping it part of my routine to really get tunes down and review them a lot.... slow and steady wins the race

  10. wilmore
    Member

    i played a duo gig with Dave Binney 10 years ago for new years at a small restaurant. it was a 2 hour set, all tunes out of the real book. he was reading every tune we played off my C book(and by reading, he didnt seem to have them memorized). i sucked BAD!! no wrong notes just probably boring for him. anyway, when i was in school and learning standards i knew most of them but as you branch out i think you remember the ones that hit you deep. the others you might need some sheet music to remind you. and if you dont know the full tune....you always got your ear. as far as every key is concerned, transposing on the spot gets easier with practice. playing with a singer is good practice for this. just a couple cents to throw in. BTW, it was hard to comp for him, he sounded so damn good. i kept wanting to listen and forgot i was the accompaniment.
    cheers!

  11. Anny Mouse
    Member

    As many of the previous posters said, I think it just depends on what you want to do. I can remember when I started playing the guitar at age 12, all I wanted to do was learn as many Nirvana and Metallica songs as I could. I loved the music and couldn't get enough. This eventually branched out into learning 100's of songs by many rock bands. Then I got into jazz band in high school and started listening to jazz a lot more while still loving all forms and genre's of rock music. I found though that I REALLY didn't love a lot of jazz that I heard, nor a lot of standards. For example, I've NEVER liked Satin Doll and I remember working up a chord solo version of it in college and just despising it.

    In the end I think that's perfectly fine. I now know about 30 standards really well that I play regular gigs with every week. The best part is, I actually LOVE the songs. They resonate with me. And I'm sure that's why Kurt still plays Darn That Dream all the time because he still loves it and finds new things to play over it. The same way Jim Hall plays My Funny Valentine and the way Metheny plays All The Things You Are.

    If I was going to a lot of jams or working as a sideman then yes, I think it would be smart to learn a lot of tunes to save yourself the embarrassment of sucking at a jam or letting the leader of a group down. If you're someone like me though who just likes to enjoy what he's doing as much as possible then learning a bunch of tunes that you don't really like just for the sake of knowing them probably isn't the best way to spend your time. Just learn what you like. Otherwise you won't be saying anything meaningful over the tune anyways. You HAVE to love it. The audience can tell when you could care less. You should play a standard almost as if you composed it, you're super proud of it, and you can't wait to share it with everyone. Even if you're not the greatest player, at least you're being true to yourself and will come across as genuine.

    I think a lot of people need to get real with themselves and pay more attention to the music that really grabs them and follow that. While some may fascinate themselves by learning to play Giant Steps in 5/4 time in the key of Db, deep down they might actually be more moved by something far simpler. This makes me think about what Kurt said in his facebook/twitter rant. We need to make OUR music not suck. Care about it deeply. It's not doing anybody any favors if you're playing music that seems hip, intellectually complicated, modern, or whatever if you're doing it for any other reason than you would not feel complete without playing it. There ARE people who feel that way that play that stuff, and there are people who don't, and you can hear and feel the difference.

    Getting a little off topic here but in the similar vain of do I NEED to learn 100's of standards....

    I think there's this misconception that (and I'm speaking for guitar players here) that we need to be able to do soooo much. A lot of that has to do with the internet, particularly youtube. I think it's important to keep in mind that a lot of the professionals we watch focus on what they do really really well and ignore their weaknesses and that's the side we see of them 99% of the time. If you watch 10 different great guitar players in a row you'll see they all play completely different and their strengths and weaknesses is what defines them. If you say to yourself "well man, I need to be able to do ALL of that to be great" that's very unrealistic. Focus on what you think you do really well and leave the rest and accept it. Then you'll have a "thing" that you do really well that you've cultivated and allows you to stand apart from others. Sure at the same time you'll be lacking in other areas and you may have to protect yourself and not put yourself in situations where you don't think you'll shine (maybe fast tempo's aren't your thing, or you can't alternate pick for shit) but if what you do is true, honest, and from the heart you'll be okay.

  12. jazzacast55
    Member

    WOW! Thanks so much guys this has really helped a lot! I am 26 and I guess I constantly feel like I should know more and I am going to give it a very serious go to learn more. I do play a lot of standards but I often find my self thinking that I like to just have a few of each that I really know as I often run into guys/friends that are so in to modern jazz and want to or are playing stuff that is really modern but when it comes to playing a blues or just making something swing they come short. I realized a while ago that I didn't want to be like that so I always have the mind set that if you can't sound good over body and soul, blue monk or there will never be another you then I wouldn't feel comfortable playing some of Kurt's harder tunes just to seem hip.
    @Anny Mouse - I thank you for your words, I do need to focus on my strengths more and develop them as I often get stuck on my weaknesses which is usually knowing more tunes and I often watch guys on youtube and think wow I don't know where to begin, so much to do! Got to remember that everyone has weaknesses and that they are almost what helps a player stand out, an example comes to mind of that Sco video on Improvisation where he talks about he couldn't alternate pick but what he could do is legato (or his thing, you know), could you imagine what Sco would sound like if he picked every note! haha
    Again thanks for your words, the advice really does help, I find a lot of people don't talk about these kind of things enough!

  13. Anny Mouse
    Member

    You bet man :))

  14. guitarmo
    Member

    Know everything....

  15. monk
    Member

    laruenickelson - what would knowing a standard mean?

  16. mrzzajjazz
    Member

    that's the question, monk!

  17. Knowing the melody and chords without the sheet music in front of me. Being able to sing the melody and the chords(sing the roots,3rd's etc). Being able to improvise a chord melody. Having heard some (or at least 1 ) version of it and learned different variations of the melody and harmony(an idea i got from my teacher that I read that Kurt also does is to listen to versions by singers and listening to the arrangement to learn moving -lines etc). Going back to the original and figuring out the composer's intent(doing that is pretty new to me).
    Playing it for a couple of hours a day for a couple of weeks. Doing it in different keys,time signatures, reharmonizing it.
    I have 2 long lists that I work from--1 is a list of things from a tune I will sing and the 2nd is a list of other ideas to run a tune through it's paces. Also--- a Lee Konitz sheet i downloaded from the interweb about improvising from the melody using 10 steps I find useful.
    I spend a couple of weeks on a tune usually ---i'm not that bright really so i take my time. I just did "It never entered my mind" and I feel I know it pretty well. Spotify is great for the listening aspect---I found 20 versions that I liked. Everything from Julie London(with some great comping by Barney Kessell) to Keith.

  18. also--- the last tune i learned was "Fairies wear boots" so you should learn tunes that you really like or else you doing it for nothing i think.

  19. guitar1025
    Member

    I'm really big on finding recordings of tunes with singers, ESPECIALLY ballads. I feel like you can only play something meaningful on a tune if you know what the song is about. I guarantee you that your ideas for solos and even interpretation of the melody will change significantly if you've internalized the meaning of a tune.

    Also, laruenickelson, where might I be able to get a copy of this Lee Konitz thing? Also, I'm glad to hear someone else out there is doing the exact same thing I am. Whenever I want to learn a new tune now, I use Spotify to check out as many different versions of it as I can.

  20. guitar1025
    Member

    Thank you!

  21. moontrane
    Member

    30 tunes is pathetic, even 50 is too few. i'd say that 300 is even too few. come on, dont be the jive guy at the jam who knows blue bossa and body and soul only. if you want to be good at this you need hundreds.

  22. silverwater
    Member

    "My teacher Jack Peterson knew several thousand (he was 65 when I studied with him)."

    I call bullshit on this. "several thousand" would be, at minimum, 3,000 songs. That would mean he could recall instantly the changes/melody to enough tunes to fill roughly 8 Real Books. For this to be possible it would require a photographic memory or some other kind of ability not bestowed on the majority of people.

    Even if you've memorized 3,000 different songs throughout your life, how many of those have you played in the last 5 years? The last 10 years? Let's say you've been playing from memory 2,000 songs during the last ten years of your life, which is A LOT of tunes. That would mean you have 1,000 songs that you can bust out without looking at a chart, even though they haven't crossed your mind for 10 years. That would be a rare talent indeed.

    Anyways, here's my input on memorizing tunes:

    When you go to a jam session or play a gig with people that you don't rehearse with or play with consistently, there are some core tunes that people will expect you to have memorized. I've heard some people (professionals) put the number as low as 50, some put it at a couple hundred. Personally, I think about 100 is fine.

    Like moontrane said, you certainly don't want to be "that guy" at a jam session who only knows blue bossa and body and soul. But if someone calls something a bit obscure or with, there's not a damn thing wrong with glancing at a book to refresh your memory, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

  23. jorgemg1984
    Member

    Its not bullshit - a guy here in Lisbon knows around 5000 standards by memory and he is 35 or something like that... I had classes with him and I have seen him in a lot of jams and he KNOWS any standard / bebop / hard bop song you can ask. Melody and harmony on the spot... I don't think he has photographic memory - he is incredibly smart and he plays jam sessions 3 / 4 times a week (for the last 15 years maybe). Oh and he also has the biggest ears I have ever seen... that might help him memorizing too.

  24. silverwater
    Member

    Maybe it's true, but I'm still having trouble buying that someone can instantly recall much data without being some sort of savant... Have you actually seen 5000 him play songs from memory? I doubt it because the sheer amount it would take is crazy.

    If you played 3-4 gigs every week, 10 songs a gig, it would take you roughly 3 years to play 5000 songs.

    You're telling me that there are people out there who could play 3-4 gigs a week for 3 years, and never repeat a tune, and never have to crack open a book?

    Man if that's true I feel like a 2nd grader trying to take AP Calculus.

  25. jorgemg1984
    Member

    Its obvious I have never seen him play 5000 tunes but I have seen him play tons of standards by memory... You can call almost any tune on a jam and he knows it (and in in the tone you want also). And I have no reason to believe he is lying about knowing 5000 tunes - but this guy is really phenomenal, he is not comparable to a "normal" person...

    When he lived in NY he would play jam sessions EVERY night for hours and hours and hours... he must have played thousands of standards there, he lived for 5 years in NY I think... and here in Lisbon he plays several jam sessions a week and I know he always wants to play new songs... he has been doing this for at least 15 years - its not hard ti believe he knows 5000 songs.

    But his ears and memory are far superior to a regular person...

  26. gleepglop
    Member

    While I don't know 5000 tunes, I definitely think it's possible. It's all about how good your ears are. The better your ears, the better your musical memory. At a certain point, you don't remember tunes as "data", to use Silverwater's term, but just as music. If your ears are good enough and you remember the music, then you know the tune.

    I didn't understand this when I was younger, but as I got older and my ears improved it made more sense how some guys could just "know" almost any tune.
    I can easily see how someone with even better ears would basically be able to play any tune they've heard more than a few times.

  27. silverwater---I assure you it wasn't bullshit. Think about this---if you learn only one tune a week every year for 40 years that would be at least 2000 tunes. But Jack didn't just learn 1 tune a week---his practice routine consisted of learning and working on tunes. And Jack had come up in a time when you played at the least 5 gigs a week. First in Boston when he taught at Berklee,then when he taught at North Texas he played constantly, as well as lots of studio work in Texas. And Jack would actively try to remember any tune he played at a gig and anything he recorded---even jingles-- and he knew a lot of Beatles tunes even(back when the beatles were not thought of that highly by most Jazz musicians).Jack's idea was that tune learning gives you a strong melodic resevoir of melodies to draw on. So i think 3000 would be low and it was probably more.

  28. moontrane
    Member

    all it would really take is learning fifty songs really well, that would put your ears and mind into new space. I believe that if you learned fifty songs in all twelve keys it would make it much easier from there. learning tunes off of records helps as well. the idea is just to make everything into ear training so that its not so much a question of memory as it is of intuition.

  29. guitar1025
    Member

    Something else to remember, a lot of times (I'm assuming most, if not all, are guitar players) we are not required to know the melody, us being harmonic instruments; especially at a jam where there are at least 4 or 5 horn players playing on the same tune. I'm saying this as a fact, not an excuse. OF COURSE when we are learning a tune we learn everything about it; melody, harmony, learn it other keys. By the way, someone above echoed this sentiment that working with singers is a great way to learn tunes in other keys. My girlfriend is a singer and she knows a bunch of tunes in (what I would call) weird keys. A lot of times, you stumble on things that you've never realized. For example, play Stella as a ballad in the key of A. It completely opened up a different side of a tune that I had played a million times before.

    I don't know how many tunes I know. I find that when I go to a session, I never really have any tunes in mind, but I can confidently say that about 6 out of every 10 tunes that someone does call I will know. Plus another thing that I notice is that because I know a decent number of tunes, if someone calls one I don't know (and we're talking about "standards"), it will sound similar enough to something I already know and my ear can figure out the differences. Also, I ALWAYS go home after a session and, at the very least, look at any tunes that were called that I didn't know, even if it's 4 or 5 in the morning.

    Anyway, that's enough babbling. Take care guys!!


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