Jam Session Rep Lists

Virtually immediately after you start playing jazz music you start getting pressure to know "all the standards".  I remember a giant daunting list at the back of a popular jazz theory book (that I don't recommend) that said "Learn all of these before you move to New York!".  Scary stuff.  In reality, being a human jukebox is only one of many vocations out there in the music world.  I know great musicians that have very little common repertoire with me.  This is getting more common just because there is so much out there to learn, and no one can really know all of it. 

On the other side of the argument, I read a Downbeat article by JC Dyas who says that he found that there was a direct correlation between how many tunes you knew and how well you did in an audition, even though they don't know how many tunes you know when they hear you play.  To me this shows that learning repertoire to the point of memory adds to your foundation as a musician, not just on the occasion where you have to actually play any of the tunes.   Classical pianists could tell you this, singers too.  So where do you start?

I have seen dozens of lists based on what town you live in, what school you go/went to, etc.  For my students, I have a list of a handful of very simple tunes, followed by a list of must-know tunes that are a little harder but seem to be fairly universal.  The third list is more an outline for areas you should know something out of, for instance, you should know a few Charlie Parker heads- if you are playing with good musicians they will probably know the ones you want to play.  Similar for composers and performers from other eras.  Building a repertoire list is fun, and it is what differentiates you from everyone else, so once you can play a blues and a standard or two, start learning tunes you like that you will learn quickly so you can play good music.  Not just the music people think you should know how to play.

For the record click here for my repertoire suggestion list.

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