Book Review: The Jazz Standards

A few months ago I stumbled across a review for a book that provided background information to a wealth of jazz standards. Written by Ted Gioia and published by Oxford University Press – I had high hopes for this book and I’ve not been disappointed.

Finding out information behind jazz compositions can be hard sometimes. There is often confusion over who wrote a piece e.g. Miles Davis’ claim to have written ‘Donna Lee’ and ‘Caravan’ being mistaken as a Duke Ellington composition. The book looks at this type of background information for 250 jazz standards. Background is often linked to the songs meaning, key versions and how the song developed through performance and recording. My main  reason for buying it was to look at gaps in my own repertoire and to have more knowledge about the tunes that I perform. Little facts that Ted has included will certainly prove useful when talking to audiences at gigs! A good example is the background to ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’. The song about a dance-hall in New York that was so popular they had to replace the floor every three years.

So far I’ve found the book to be a good starting point when learning a new song. The recommended listening is very helpful and good way to familiarize yourself with the changes. The only improvement I would make is perhaps having the changes and melody for reference. This isn’t a book you will pick up and read in one go, but more of a reference book. There is very little harmonic analysis, which is a shame, as this book is more like a biography of each tune. Gioia shows the reader how a song has developed, with the original composer having no control over how their tune is re-worked. I think musicians and fans alike would appreciate this book, it’s well researched and I’m sure it will be a regular point of reference for me.