List of pre-1920 jazz standards
|1950s and later|
Jazz standards are musical compositions that are widely known, performed and recorded by jazz artists as part of the genre's musical repertoire. This list includes compositions written before 1920 that are considered standards by at least one major fake book publication or reference work. Some of the tunes listed were instant hits and quickly became well-known standards, while others were popularized later. The time of the most influential recordings of a song, where appropriate, is indicated on the list.
From its conception at the change of the twentieth century, jazz was music intended for dancing. This influenced the choice of material played by early jazz groups: King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, New Orleans Rhythm Kings and others included a large number of Tin Pan Alley popular songs in their repertoire, and record companies often used their power to dictate which songs were to be recorded by their artists. Certain songs were pushed by recording executives and therefore quickly achieved standard status; this started with the first jazz recordings in 1917, when the Original Dixieland Jass Band recorded "Darktown Strutters' Ball" and "Indiana". Originally simply called "jazz", the music of early jazz bands is today often referred to as "Dixieland" or "New Orleans jazz", to distinguish it from more recent subgenres.
The origins of jazz are in the musical traditions of early twentieth century New Orleans, including brass band music, the blues, ragtime and spirituals, and some of the most popular early standards come from these influences. Ragtime songs "Twelfth Street Rag" and "Tiger Rag" have become popular numbers for jazz artists, as have blues tunes "St. Louis Blues" and "St. James Infirmary". Tin Pan Alley songwriters contributed several songs to the jazz standard repertoire, including "Indiana" and "After You've Gone". Others, such as "Some of These Days" and "Darktown Strutters' Ball", were introduced by vaudeville performers. The most often recorded standards of this period are W. C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues", Turner Layton and Henry Creamer's "After You've Gone" and James Hanley and Ballard MacDonald's "Indiana".
- "Careless Love". Traditional song of unknown origin, copyrighted by W. C. Handy in 1921. Handy published his version with modified lyrics titled "Loveless Love".
- "When the Saints Go Marching In". Traditional gospel hymn possibly originating in 19th century New Orleans as a funeral march. The song was popularized in 1938 by Louis Armstrong, who recorded the song over 40 times during his career. The song is often called "The Saints". It is requested notoriously often in performances of Dixieland bands, and sometimes requests for it even have a higher price than normal requests.
- 1901 – "High Society". Composition by Porter Steele. Originally written as a march and published as a rag, the song soon became one of the most popular tunes of the early New Orleans jazz repertoire. A counterpoint to the melody was arranged by Robert Recker for the piccolo in 1901 and made famous by clarinetist Alphonse Picou. The complex countermelody was often used in auditions for brass band clarinet players. King Oliver's Jazz Band popularized the tune in 1923, and other influential recordings were made by Abe Lyman and His Orchestra in 1932 and by Jelly Roll Morton's New Orleans Jazzmen in 1939.
- 1902 – "Bill Bailey". Ragtime song written by Hughie Cannon. It continued the story of an earlier coon song, "Ain't Dat a Shame" by Walter Wilson and John Queen. The song was introduced by Queen in vaudeville and first recorded by Arthur Collins in 1902. Its popularity inspired a host of "Bill Bailey" songs, including Cannon's own "He Done Me Wrong", which used a variation of the melody from "Frankie and Johnny". Originally titled "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home?", the song is also known as "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey".
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- 1910 – "Chinatown, My Chinatown". Popular song with Chinese influences, composed by Jean Schwartz with lyrics by William Jerome. The song was included in the 1910 musical revue Up and Down Broadway and became popular among vaudeville performers in the 1910s. Many Chinese American performers sang the song in both English and Cantonese. Hit recordings were made by the American Quartet in 1915 and by Louis Armstrong in 1932.
- 1910 – "Some of These Days". Popular song by Shelton Brooks. It was popularized by vaudeville performer Sophie Tucker, who used it as her theme song. Tucker recorded the song six times, and sang it in the films Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937) and Follow the Boys (1944). Brooks's distinctively modern composition was not derived from any of the popular song elements of the time, and the song is considered one of the earliest American pop standards.
- 1911 – "Alexander's Ragtime Band". Popular song by Irving Berlin. Introduced by vaudeville performer Emma Carus in Chicago, it was Berlin's first international hit and the biggest Tin Pan Alley hit of the time. Although the music contained few ragtime elements, it started a ragtime craze and introduced the vernacular as a valid form of expression in song lyrics. The melody was allegedly copied from a Scott Joplin composition.
- 1912 – "The Memphis Blues". Blues composition by W. C. Handy with lyrics by George A. Norton. It is one of the earliest printed blues compositions, and two of its three sections are in the twelve-bar blues form. The song possibly originated from a campaign tune for Memphis politician Edward Crump titled "Mr. Crump". Handy claimed composer credit for "Mr. Crump", but some Memphis musicians claimed it was actually written by Handy's clarinetist, Paul Wyer.
- 1913 – "Ballin' the Jack". Popular song composed by Chris Smith with lyrics by Jim Burris. It was introduced in the Harlem play The Darktown Follies and included in Jerome Kern's 1914 musical The Girl from Utah. The song introduced a dance of the same name, which can be seen in the 1942 film For Me and My Gal with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. The dance was later blended with the Lindy Hop.
- 1914 – "St. Louis Blues". Blues composition by W. C. Handy. It is the most widely performed blues song and the most popular jazz standard written before the 1920s. It was the most recorded jazz standard for over 20 years. The song was initially only moderately successful, but later became a big hit when vaudeville and revue performers started singing it in their shows. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded the first jazz version in 1921; other notable jazz recordings include Louis Armstrong with blues singer Bessie Smith in 1925 and virtuoso pianist Art Tatum in 1933. The composition combines the traditional twelve-bar blues form with sections in tango rhythm, and its success earned Handy the title "Father of the Blues". Called the "jazzman's Hamlet", it has inspired the Foxtrot dance step and the name of the St. Louis hockey team.
- 1914 – "That's a Plenty". Song composed by Lew Pollack with lyrics by Ray Gilbert. It started out as a rag, and is now included in Dixieland jazz repertoire. The first recording was in 1917 by Prince's Band, and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings recorded their rendition in 1923. Television comedian Jackie Gleason used it in his shows in the 1950s.
- 1914 – "Twelfth Street Rag". Ragtime composition by Euday L. Bowman. There are three versions of the lyrics, written by Jack S. Sumner in 1916, Spencer Williams in 1929 and Andy Razaf in 1942. The earliest jazz recording is from 1927 by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven. Lester Young played an influential solo on Count Basie Orchestra's 1939 recording. Pee Wee Hunt's 1948 recording sold over three million copies, making the tune the best-selling rag in history.
- 1915 – "I Ain't Got Nobody". Song composed by Spencer Williams with lyrics by Roger Graham. Charles Warfield, composer of "Baby Won't You Please Come Home", has disputed the song's authorship, asserting that he had composed it. Warfield copyrighted the song as "I Ain't Got Nobody and Nobody Cares for Me" with David Young and Marie Lucas in 1914. It was introduced by Bert Williams in vaudeville, where it was also a popular number for Sophie Tucker. The first of many hit records was by Marion Harris in 1917; Harris recorded the song several times afterwards. The 1939 film Paris Honeymoon with Bing Crosby revived the song's success, and Louis Prima recorded an influential arrangement of it in 1944, paired with "Just a Gigolo".
- 1915 – "Weary Blues". Ragtime number by Artie Matthews; the published lyrics by George Cates and Mort Greene are almost never performed. It was written for a competition publisher John Stark organized to compete with the success of W. C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues", and quickly became a hit. The first recording was by the Louisiana Five in 1919, and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings recorded their version in 1923. It was the first jazz number to be played in the White House. Originally titled "The Pastime Rag #8", the song is also known as "Shake It and Break It".
- 1916 – "Beale Street Blues". Blues song by W. C. Handy. Written about the lively black neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee, the Beale Street, it was first recorded by Prince's Band in 1917. Earl Fuller's 1917 hit recording started Handy's commercial success as a composer, earning him more money in royalties than he had ever seen in one place. Gilda Gray's performance in the Broadway musical Gaieties of 1919 caused a sensation in Broadway circles previously unexposed to blues music. The song later became a signature tune of trombonist Jack Teagarden.
- 1916 – "Li'l Liza Jane". Song composed by Countess Ada de Lachau. It was recorded by Earl Fuller's Famous Jazz Band in 1917. It was based on earlier minstrel songs, and contains similarities with Stephen Foster's 1850 song "Camptown Races". Alison Krauss & Union Station's 1997 recording won a Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance. The song is also known as "Little Liza Jane" or "Liza Jane".
- 1917 – "Darktown Strutters' Ball". Popular song by Shelton Brooks. It was introduced by the vaudeville trio of Benny Fields, Benny Davis and Jack Salisbury. The Original Dixieland Jass Band's instrumental recording from 1917 (coupled with "Indiana" from the same session) is one of the earliest recorded jazz performances. It became an instant hit, selling over a million copies. Sheet music sales for the song exceeded three million. The song is also known as "At the Darktown Strutters' Ball" or "Strutters' Ball".
- 1917 – "Indiana". Popular song composed by James F. Hanley with lyrics by Ballard MacDonald. It was heavily influenced by the state song of Indiana, "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away", published by Paul Dresser in 1913. The Original Dixieland Jass Band's 1917 recording (with "Darktown Strutters' Ball") is one of the earliest recorded jazz performances. The song has been used as part of the Indianapolis 500 pre-race ceremonies since 1946, with the alternative title "Back Home Again in Indiana". The tradition is most closely associated with Jim Nabors, who has performed the song almost every year since 1973. The song is one of the most popular pre-1920s standards, and its chord progression has been used in numerous jazz compositions, including Miles Davis's 1947 tune "Donna Lee".
- 1917 – "Rose Room". Jazz song composed by Art Hickman with lyrics by Harry Williams. Also known as "In Sunny Roseland", the tune is usually played as an instrumental because of its flowery lyrics. It was popularized by Duke Ellington in 1932; Ellington later used the tune's chord progression for his 1939 composition "In a Mellow Tone". Charlie Christian used the song as his "audition" piece for the Benny Goodman Sextet in 1939, appearing uninvited at a gig and playing a 45-minute rendition of the song with the band.
- 1917 – "Tiger Rag". Ragtime composition first recorded by the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917. The music was credited to band members Eddie Edwards, Nick La Rocca, Henry Ragas, Tony Sbarbaro and Larry Shields, and lyrics to Harry Da Costa; however, several New Orleans musicians claimed that the tune had already existed for years before the ODJB's recording. Jelly Roll Morton claimed in an interview that he had composed it. The music was possibly based on an old French quadrille. Louis Armstrong recorded the tune in 1930, and based his 1927 composition "Hotter Than That" on its chord progression. Art Tatum made an influential piano recording of the tune in 1932. Immediately popular after its initial release, the tune fell out of fashion during the swing era, and is rarely performed by jazz musicians today.
- 1918 – "After You've Gone". Popular song composed by Turner Layton with lyrics by Henry Creamer. Originally included in the musical So Long, Letty, it was introduced in vaudeville by Al Jolson. Marion Harris's recording reached number one in 1919. The song was popularized by the 1927 recordings of Bessie Smith and Sophie Tucker, and Roy Eldridge recorded a famous solo with the Gene Krupa Orchestra in 1941. The song is the third most recorded pre-1920s standard, after St. Louis Blues and Indiana.
- 1918 – "Clarinet Marmalade"'. Dixieland composition by Larry Shields of the Original Dixieland Jass Band. It is described as a "small-combo ensemble piece with strong links to the march tradition". It was influential on a number of jazz musicians in the 1920s, later popularized by Fletcher Henderson in 1926 and Frankie Trumbauer in 1927 and introduced to many white groups in the late 1920s. The original is dominated by Larry Shields's solo on clarinet, accompanied by Henry Ragas. In 1919, the song became a staple of the touring James Reese Europe band.
- 1918 – "Ja-Da". Popular song by Bob Carleton. It was written for singer Cliff Edwards, who became a big name in vaudeville due to the song's popularity. Arthur Fields made a hit recording in of it in 1918. The song was written as a parody of popular Asian-influenced songs of the early twentieth century. Thelonious Monk's unreleased 1952 composition "Sixteen" was based on the song's chord progression, also similar to Sonny Rollins's 1954 tune "Doxy". The song is also known as "Ja Da, Ja Da, Jing Jing Jing!".
- 1919 – "Baby Won't You Please Come Home". Blues song written by Charles Warfield and co-credited to publisher Clarence Williams. Williams published the sheet music in 1923, and the same year Bessie Smith recorded the first hit version. The song is often played as a ballad, although the sheet music indicates "medium bounce tempo". Williams himself recorded the song in 1928 with his Blue Five. Jo Stafford and Nat King Cole sang it in the 1945 film That's the Spirit.
- 1919 – "Royal Garden Blues". Blues song written by Spencer Williams and co-credited to publisher Clarence Williams. It is considered one of the first riff-based popular songs. The song was introduced by the George Morrison Jazz Orchestra in 1920 and popularized by the 1921 recordings of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and Mamie Smith. Smith's recording with her Jazz Hounds has been called the earliest genuine jazz recording by a black ensemble. Bix Beiderbecke recorded an influential version in 1927. Darius Milhaud used the song in his ballet La création du monde.
- 1919 – "Someday Sweetheart". Jazz song credited to John Spikes. Publisher Spikes's brother and associate Reb Spikes was added to the credits when the song was copyrighted in 1924. Jelly Roll Morton, who recorded the song in 1923 and again in 1926, has claimed that the song was actually his idea. Alberta Hunter was the first to record the song in 1921, and Gene Austin had a best-selling record with the song in 1927.
- 1919 – "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise". Popular ballad composed by Ernest Seitz with lyrics by Gene Lockhart. It was the first hit of Isham Jones and His Orchestra in 1922. Other popular versions were the Benson Orchestra's 1922 recording with an arrangement by Roy Bargy and Frank Banta's 1928 piano solo. The Firehouse Five Plus Two revived it in their 1950 recording, and Les Paul and Mary Ford made it a million-selling pop hit in 1951.
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- Wilder, Alec; Maher, James T. (1972). American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900–1950. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0-19-501445-6.
- The New Real Book, Volume II. Sher Music. 1991. ISBN 0-9614701-7-8.
- The Real Book, Volume I (6th ed.). Hal Leonard. 2004. ISBN 0-634-06038-4.
- The Real Book, Volume II (2nd ed.). Hal Leonard. 2007. ISBN 1-4234-2452-2.
- The Real Book, Volume III (2nd ed.). Hal Leonard. 2006. ISBN 0-634-06136-4.
- The Real Jazz Book. Warner Bros. ISBN 978-91-85041-36-7.
- The Real Vocal Book, Volume I. Hal Leonard. 2006. ISBN 0-634-06080-5.