Anatomy of a Standard

What makes a standard a standard? How do the nuts and bolts of songwriting combine to make a jazz composition an enduring work of art? This column will explore these questions through the analysis of elements of great songs that have graduated to "standard" status. Each month I will post an analytical discussion about a selected jazz standard, examining parameters like chord progression, melody, rhyme scheme, phrase structure, text setting and form. Over time, my deconstruction of these songs will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of some timeless works of art, proffering support for why the songs have endured.

ANATOMY OF A STANDARD

"Desafinado" by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Newton Mendonça and Jon Hendricks

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There has been a healthy dose of Latin songs that have made their way into the Great American Songbook--after all--Central America and South America are every bit as “American" as the United States. Among the composers of Latin jazz standards, the inimitable guitarist/composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927-1994), stands tall. Jobim composed a great many enduring songs that jazz musicians have latched onto as essential Great American Songbook gems. Newton Mendonça wrote the original Portuguese lyrics, after which the vocalese master, ...

ANATOMY OF A STANDARD

"Ain't Misbehavin'" by Fats Waller and Andy Razaf

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Legendary pianist and songwriter, Thomas Wright “Fats" Waller (1904-1943), contributed several outstanding gems to what we consider today to be the Great American Songbook. These standards include “Honeysuckle Rose" and “Ain't Misbehavin'" (both from 1929), among others. Waller's all-too-brief career reflected the impressive output of a first-rate musician, and showed him to be a talented radio personality, prolific recording artist, and beloved performer both on live stages and in film. Well-versed in the stride piano style, thanks to his early ...

ANATOMY OF A STANDARD

Prelude to a Kiss by Duke Ellington

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Last month's initial installment of this column opened with an introduction to the concept of analyzing jazz standards for the purpose of adding to our understanding about the structure and elements of great songs having enduring qualities. I did not feel it required mentioning that a song's final structure and the process of songwriting were completely different viewpoints. One purview implies looking back at a final product of art and the other requires looking ahead at a blank page of ...

ANATOMY OF A STANDARD

Here's That Rainy Day by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke

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I am honored to be authoring a new column for All About Jazz revolving around the question, “What makes a song a standard?." Surely there are as many answers to that rhetorical question as there are scholars having opinions about it. My charge, as I accept it, is to provide some analysis of chords, melody, lyrics and overall gestalt of recognized jazz standards. Over time, my deconstruction of these songs will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of some timeless ...


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