My gf was given this question at Uni and we couldn't find the answer anywhere - so I want to ask you guys.

I've translated the question the best I could...

For better understanding: I need to know how was Jazz standard created over time (decades I guess) or more precisely what were 4 main sources of influence, which gave birth to Jazz standard.

If my description sounds too gibberish, I'll try to clarify...

  • @Rory Alsop Well she was given list of websites (not very helpful if you ask me) and some slides to go trough. Also I've been googling this for some time, but I've really no music insight - so maybe I'm just asking google wrong questions. It's not homework, but possible exam question :). Jan 10, 2016 at 18:58
  • This is a bit of a confusing question, but as I understand it the question is asking for 4 sources/influences of some particular Jazz Standard (like Autumn Leaves) and the year or at best decade of creation. so for my example Autumn Leaves you can look at the wiki page en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autumn_Leaves_(1945_song) and see that it was a song created in 1945 and by decade they show who recorded it.
    – Resber
    Jan 13, 2016 at 17:46
  • Albeit formulated in a rather confusing way, it's an interesting question, as jazz standards are such an important part of music (not just jazz) in the past 50 years. I wonder why it was migrated from music.stackexchange.com as music history is clearly part of that site's scope. Apr 23, 2016 at 22:26

1 Answer 1


Today's jazz standards, also known informally as "The Great American Songbook" are a hybrid of several influences. (Note: the definition of which songs are "standards" varies by which musicologist you ask.)

I know of eight categories, but to answer your question I will group them into the four obvious categories:

1) African American musical styles: Blues and work songs evolved into what is now considered "traditional jazz," which category includes "Dixieland Jazz" (but in the northern towns like Chicago they call their version "traditional jazz"). This era was in it's prime from about the year 1900-1920. Today most of these songs are too archaic to be considered current standards, but they laid the groundwork for later composition.

2) Show Tunes and popular hits: Many great jazz composers got their start in composing popular music, especially in the high-stress music mills known as Tin Pan Alley in New York City. This region had been around for decades, but especially during 1920-1940 these small studios would crank out music for use in Broadway plays and elsewhere. From there they were scouted out by movie studios in Hollywood to create theme songs for films. Later, jazz players would borrow these songs for the basis of improvisations (a respected tradition in jazz).

3) Classical music influences: Jazz harmony, also known as "extended harmonies," were drawn from the innovations of the European "impressionist" composers (like Debussy). Iconic chord progressions were co-opted from the classics, like that from "Autumn Leaves" (Harpsichord Suite in G minor HMW 432, 4th movement). Pianist and bandleader Duke Ellington studied classical piano from an early age, learning all the classics and the "romantic" composers (i.e. Beethoven and Chopin). Both Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker were known to practice melody lines from classical opera arias. These talented players, composers and improvisers were very much aware of music theory and classics.

4) The Latin-American influence: Since the boom Brazilian jazz in the 1950s, the styles of "bossa nova" and "samba" have been embraced in jazz standards. Also other afro-cuban styles and rhythms are commonly used.

Put all this together and you have the influences of The Great American Songbook (it's not actually a book, BTW, it's a concept). The only problem with defining jazz standards is that standards are what the jazz musicians play, and that varies by geographic region.

  • Excellent answer, learned a lot from it. I would just add that jazz musicians themselves, specially from the cool and hard bop periods, also composed a lot of themes that became standards. Although these of course have the influence of the categories you mention I think they are a category on it's own. I don't know where this leaves us regarding the original-question's specified 4 categories, though... Apr 23, 2016 at 22:40
  • @joseem: I agree wholeheartedly that many great standards were created by these cool & hard bop composers. But the question is specifically about the "influences" of the new creations, not about the new compositions themselves. About your comments, I stand by my (simplified) assertion that my favorite artists from that period - Parker, Monk, Mingus, Evans, Brubeck, Davis, et. al.) were heavily steeped in "classical" theory, blues traditions, borrowing from Latin textures, and revolting against traditional/Dixieland jazz. Which still counts as an influence. Apr 25, 2016 at 3:12
  • @joseem: A possible viable 5th influence (IMO), especially during that increasingly experimental period, is definitely "playing off the innovations of the other jazz artists who were their contemporaries." This cross-pollination is also a hallmark of jazz, but arguably also of any emerging musical style. Apr 25, 2016 at 3:15

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