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This has been a question on my mind for a long time and I hope I can put it to words clearly. I am trying to work my way chronologically through Coltrane albums and have gotten through a dozen or so of them. I recognize very few songs he plays (I do recognize some, like Good Bait in Soultrane). Are most songs here standards, or songs that have since become standards, or are they originals? Part of my confusion is wondering if I should learn how to play these songs or just appreciate listening to them.

My confusion was only exacerbated when I went to a jam session on Monday and heard Monk's Bolivar Blues and Miles David's Theme and Four called. I think those are originals and not considered standards, but the random musicians on stage were able to play them. Is everything or most things a jazz legend played a standard? I am confused.
 

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If you made a Venn diagram, there would be a lot of overlap between "originals" and "standards" as many of the former are considered standards today. The simplest way to look at it is if it's made it into a mainstream fake book, it's probably a standard.

But this leads to a larger question. Can a jazz player today really make a living playing standards? Not really. The audience for jazz today is very small, and the appetite for standards is even smaller. Those days are pretty much over. So yes, learn all the standards you can for the sake of your own musical development. But don't learn them because you think you might make a living playing them on stage. You won't.
 

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The audience for jazz today is very small, and the appetite for standards is even smaller.
I don't think this is true. In fact, I think that the appetite for "standards" is probably quite a bit larger than that for "jazz", which is why Sinatra remains very popular, for example, and why pop artists like Rod Stewart, Lady Gaga, etc. perennially release (very popular) albums of standards.
 

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I don't think this is true. In fact, I think that the appetite for "standards" is probably quite a bit larger than that for "jazz", which is why Sinatra remains very popular, for example, and why pop artists like Rod Stewart, Lady Gaga, etc. perennially release (very popular) albums of standards.
A big name artist can certainly put out a successful album of standards, but that's really only because they achieved fame first. If Rod Stewart or Lady Gaga came out of the gate with a standards album before they were famous, they'd still be unknowns.

I should have said jazz standards, as in what a sax player in a cocktail bar would play, not classic recordings on Spotify or Youtube that public continues to enjoy and listen to. The general public is not listening to the likes of Chad LB shredding on standards. Only other musicians are. One of the few remaining jazz venues in NYC today is in a tiny, damp basement (Small's). That doesn't bode well for the novice sax player trying to make a living playing standards these days.

In the 70s, 80s and even early 90s, I had a pretty steady stream of gigs playing standards in my own jazz combo. These days, I'm lucky to get a couple of gigs like that per year. Competition is fierce, and there's just no demand for it like there used to be. I can feel the audience losing interest when I play a standard they've heard a million times, no matter how much of a modern spin I try to put on it. They want more contemporary tunes and originals.
 

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Again, I doubt this is true. Jazz listeners, despite what we may tell ourselves, are like most other listeners, and listeners like familiarity. Most listeners at a pop concert or rock concert, for example, want to hear "the hits".

I've performed a lot of jazz in public (in many different forms), and my experience has been that people like what is familiar. For example, I play with a big band and what audiences like most (even in a general-public/bar environment) is the hokey, tired hits.

Besides which, there are lots of jazz standards (many of which most audience members won't know) and most jazz musicians are mediocre songwriters (at best), so that originals tend to sound pretty crappy anyway.
 

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Standards...like Jazz standards or the American Songbook? I consider them to be a little different. They overlap a bunch, but all the tunes people know, love, and re-record a la Rod and Lady Gaga are the vocal songs. The instrumentals that the musicians hold onto and play at sessions tend to be the obvious calls from the vocal repertoire and whatever the local school systems and college programs leaned on and who's gigging in the area, so very instructor driven and changes regionally. I move a lot and toured a bunch and used to find sessions and groups to sit in with on off days, the tunes that get called in the PNW vary quite a bit from those on the New England and NY scenes where I grew up. The trick is to get off stage if you don't know a tune...or take the physical challenge if the scene is right. The current, now legal 'The Real Book Vol 1' sixth edition is sort of 'the book' to call from these days most places.

Also to consider now is that the most recent tunes in the books of standards are about 50 years old...that includes the fusion years where few dare to dabble. Jazz hasn't died, just most of the fans of it (players too!) stopped paying attention over 5 decades ago and don't respect anything newer because it doesn't fit the old mold.
 

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Again, I doubt this is true. Jazz listeners, despite what we may tell ourselves, are like most other listeners, and listeners like familiarity. Most listeners at a pop concert or rock concert, for example, want to hear "the hits".

I've performed a lot of jazz in public (in many different forms), and my experience has been that people like what is familiar. For example, I play with a big band and what audiences like most (even in a general-public/bar environment) is the hokey, tired hits.

Besides which, there are lots of jazz standards (many of which most audience members won't know) and most jazz musicians are mediocre songwriters (at best), so that originals tend to sound pretty crappy anyway.
Good point. My big band will play some killer Buddy Rich or Maynard charts and get very little response. But the crowd goes wild for "In The Mood". Even so, how popular is your big band? Ours only gets a handful of gigs with audiences mostly over the age of 60 and makes little to no money. We do it mostly for our own enjoyment.

I'm not making my point very well though. So I'll leave it at, in my opinion, standards played by a sax player in a jazz combo are relatively unpopular compared to other kinds of music today.
 

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Jazz listeners, despite what we may tell ourselves, are like most other listeners, and listeners like familiarity.
Each day there are fewer "jazz listeners". Thus, the classic standards appeal to less and less of an older audience.

Most listeners at a pop concert or rock concert, for example, want to hear "the hits".
"Hits" are relative to each and every genre and I suppose older standards are the hits for the jazz audience you envision given your remark in regard to familiarity. However, you may wish to consider why Miles covered a Cindy Lauper tune.

If you truly desire to keep jazz palatable and expand its audience, then you might want to consider learning tunes that are recognizable by folks who are actually alive. Otherwise jazz becomes solely a study of history.
 

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Each day there are fewer "jazz listeners". Thus, the classic standards appeal to less and less of an older audience.
[...]
If you truly desire to keep jazz palatable and expand its audience, then you might want to consider learning tunes that are recognizable by folks who are actually alive. Otherwise jazz becomes solely a study of history.
Sure, but note that this doesn't conflict with anything I said above. It's true that it's hard to make a living as a jazz musician. What I'm suggesting is that it's not the "standards" or "familiarity" part that makes it that way. Many musicians make a good living playing covers of well-known pop songs, for example. I'm arguing that this is because, rather than despite, the fact that these songs are familiar.
 

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I don't think this is true. In fact, I think that the appetite for "standards" is probably quite a bit larger than that for "jazz", which is why Sinatra remains very popular, for example, and why pop artists like Rod Stewart, Lady Gaga, etc. perennially release (very popular) albums of standards.
Yes and a little bit of No.

"The Audience for Jazz Today is Very Small"

This is True. Compare it to Rock, Folk, Blues, Pop, R&B, Funk, Soul...it's absolutely so. Most people who listen to music regularly....(gasp)... "don't like jazz"...or are quite lukewarm to it. Take or leave it and given the opportunity they'll leave it...

I DO agree with you on your Followup comment regarding Standards (this is something it took me 40+ years of playing Jazz, live, finally to realize).

~ First off, a loose definition - "Standards" oftentimes, in common parlance, is more taken to mean to "Great American Songbook" tunes from a particular period.
Piano lounge players, torch singers, not necessarily considered Jazz musicians, really....they also cover these tunes in addition to Jazzers.

~Then the term "Jazz Standards" becomes more specific...referring to original compositions by Jazz artists which became standard fakebook/realbook/covered fare.

Back to your point, a good one - A Jazz band will be more well-received/popular playing Gershwin, Cole Porter, Ellington, etc. than it will be playing Monk, Mingus, Coltrane, etc.
Go ahead, folks, flame away, but that's a fact.
The reality is non-jazz people have some familiarity with Pennies From Heaven or All of Me or Misty...notsomuch with Solar, Four, Giant Steps, Peggie's Blue Skylight, etc....

...so Great American Songbook type tunes are more recognizable to most, thus a Jazz group can achieve some popularity and local success playing those tunes (that likelihood jumps tenfold if they have a half decent singer).

(There was another thread on this maybe a year ago, what is a definition of a "standard"....matter of fact there was a thread here and over at the nice sax forum too, the Cafe. The above statement was generally the conclusion based upon responses).

Back to OP comment...I think THERE is where your bit of bafflement comes in.

SOME musicians call anything in a Real Book a "Standard"...this means Stella and You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To are as much a Standard as is Freedom Jazz Dance or Ceora.

OTHER musicians make a distinction....between a "Jazz Standard" and a "Standard"....

So I can see where a player, if called into a session where the organizer says "we are just playing standards"...can be a little surprised when the material actually called out at the session is Monk, Trane, Miles, Mobley, Clifford Brown, Bill Evans, etc...
 

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I second much of what @mmichel has already contributed. They're "standards" because the melodies are so strong that they've endured for 100+ years in some cases AND, harmonically, they are excellent vehicles for improvisation. I swear, jazz musicians are the only group that will actively eschew the songs that made the once-great genre great while simultaneously bemoaning how small the audience is for jazz. It would be like the Cleveland Orchestra never playing a Beethoven symphony again because they are too banal.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'd wager my (admittedly now smaller) retirement portfolio that the average jazz-adjacent person (say, a guest at a wine bar) would rather hear Scott Hamilton play "Tea for Two" (1924) than whatever was on Chris Potter's latest album. Kenny G is still the best-selling jazz musician in the world, and he ain't exactly "at the edge," if you know what I mean....
 

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Sure, but note that this doesn't conflict with anything I said above.
Well, you did write this:
I don't think this is true. In fact, I think that the appetite for "standards" is probably quite a bit larger than that for "jazz", which is why Sinatra remains very popular, for example, and why pop artists like Rod Stewart, Lady Gaga, etc. perennially release (very popular) albums of standards.
As for Rod and Lady Gaga, I'd have to figure they were vanity projects for which any popularity was due to the star not the standards. And Frank is better known as The Voice... not The Standard.
 

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Well, you did write this:

I don't think this is true. In fact, I think that the appetite for "standards" is probably quite a bit larger than that for "jazz", which is why Sinatra remains very popular, for example, and why pop artists like Rod Stewart, Lady Gaga, etc. perennially release (very popular) albums of standards.
As for Rod and Lady Gaga, I'd have to figure they were vanity projects for which any popularity was due to the star not the standards. And Frank is better known as The Voice... not The Standard.
Again, my argument was just that the audience for "Standards" (here, meaning songs from the Great American Songbook) is probably larger than that for jazz. I say nothing whatsoever in that quoted statement about modern pop tunes. I don't disagree that expanding the set of standard jazz tunes to include more familiar songs (i.e., by incorporating more modern pop tunes into the repertoire) would lead to increased popularity or audience response.

Rather, I was just making the narrow point that that playing familiar tunes (i.e., "standards") isn't what makes jazz unpopular.
 

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In the case of Gaga: she wants validation of her training and ability. I don't like her own music, but I do like her collaboration with Tony Bennett. I think that Rod Stewart and others of his genre may feel similarly, not for their training but for their self-perceived sophistication. Think of Boz Scaggs' "I Saw the Harborlights".

I don't think that anyone ages 30-40 would recognize "Sophisticated Lady" or "Satin Doll". How they might perceive it largely depends upon the context. In a jazz club, they might dig it. At a wedding reception, as soon as the blue hairs stand up to dance, they'll gag.

I enjoy the divergent comments here, and strangely enough, I agree with most of them to some degree.

Ain't music fun?
 

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I think a lot of it is exposure. I am thankful I was exposed to jazz growing up and music was a big deal at my highschool although tiny and rural. We had 180 students 9-12 and our concert band had 100 kids strong in it and our jazz band was about 25 strong. They literally shut down the school when the band had to travel to a function.

I'm 40 by the way so not exceedingly old yet.

A lot of people aren't exposed to great jazz music growing up so they lack that connection.

Thankfully over in the Denver area where I live now we have a great radio station that you can hear those standards on still as well as a couple good venues in the area.
 

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A big name artist can certainly put out a successful album of standards, but that's really only because they achieved fame first. If Rod Stewart or Lady Gaga came out of the gate with a standards album before they were famous, they'd still be unknowns.

I should have said jazz standards, as in what a sax player in a cocktail bar would play, not classic recordings on Spotify or Youtube that public continues to enjoy and listen to. The general public is not listening to the likes of Chad LB shredding on standards. Only other musicians are. One of the few remaining jazz venues in NYC today is in a tiny, damp basement (Small's). That doesn't bode well for the novice sax player trying to make a living playing standards these days.

In the 70s, 80s and even early 90s, I had a pretty steady stream of gigs playing standards in my own jazz combo. These days, I'm lucky to get a couple of gigs like that per year. Competition is fierce, and there's just no demand for it like there used to be. I can feel the audience losing interest when I play a standard they've heard a million times, no matter how much of a modern spin I try to put on it. They want more contemporary tunes and originals.
Thats been exactly my experience. If Im playing a retirement home and they are in their 80s they like the "standards". Out in the general public its motown or hits from the 60s /70s/80s are what they want/will pay for > K
 
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