In my experience, most guitarists spend their whole life playing just simple three-tone chords and stick to simple major/minor and pentatonic scales. Still, there is also a fine number of us who want to learn something more than just simple pop/rock melodies. Every decent guitar player will get bored from playing the same thing over and over, and jazz music is a perfect way to escape from such a repetitive way of playing.
Everyone knows that jazz is a pretty complex music genre. All those fancy chords, modes and odd times are some of the main reasons why many players instantly give up from learning this gorgeous music style.
In the past, a teacher was a must if you wanted to learn to play jazz guitar. These days, things are much easier, thanks to the internet. You can find all kinds of lessons and instructional videos on the network.
In most cases, we start playing jazz by learning songs we like. Unfortunately, that is usually some quite complex song that requires a great knowledge of chords and music theory in general.
My suggestion would be to leave your favorite song(s) for another time and start with something easier because, believe it or not, even jazz songs could be quite simple.
Here are some of the easiest jazz songs you can learn to play on a guitar:
Fly Me to the Moon – Frank Sinatra
This Sinatra’s famous tune is definitely one of those that come to mind when someone mentioned easy jazz songs. Moreover, it and it is pretty much a perfect piece for jazz beginners in so many ways. First of all, it features so typical progression, which is common not just in jazz, but in more popular genres as well. So, you definitely won’t have any trouble to memorize chord changes. Speaking of the chords, a great thing about this tune is that it can be played with simple major and minor chords, so you can gradually improve your skills by adding more and more complex chords.
This tune is very simple, but also has a beautiful melody line, so you won’t get bored even after hours of constant playing. If you’re also a good singer, then this is your perfect song.
Summertime – George Gershwin
George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist of Russian-Jewish ancestry. He was probably the first composer that incorporated popular music genres like blues into classical music. Most of his work is related with the Broadway Theatre and this is of his best-known tunes. Summertime belongs to the group of most essential jazz standards.
This tune also has a pretty simple chord progression, which leaves a lot of room for further upgrades. More importantly, it features one of the catchiest melodies in the history of jazz. This line is simple and easy to memorize, but also so strong that you will whistle it for a whole day once you hear it. With such qualities, it seems like a perfect tune for all those players who are getting into jazz soloing.
All Of Me – Belle Baker
Here is another quintessential jazz standard that is perfect for guitar playing. Written and composed by Seymour Simons and Gerald Marks, this tune is one of the most recorded jazz pieces of all time. Practically, every major jazz singer recorded it. Moreover, it is frequently played as an instrumental piece, especially among gypsy jazz guitar players. These versions are usually much faster, so the catchy melody line becomes even better. Also, the chord progression is very simple, which makes it perfect for improvisations.
This instrumental version sounds very engaging and will definitely inspire many players to practice on it.
Autumn Leaves – Joseph Kosma
We are still among the most famous jazz standards, but this piece is a little bit different than the previous three. While songs like “All of Me” or “Fly me to the Moon” comes with chord progressions that are common in various music genres, this tune also has something that is strictly reserved for Jazz.
A common ii-V-I chord progression is here as well, but this peace features these chord changes in both major and minor keys. This could be a little bit challenging for beginners, especially for those who want to improvise over it. Therefore, you will have to study this piece more carefully than previous ones from the list, but once you get comfortable with it, you will realize that this is actually one of the simplest challenges you’ll have to deal with, in a process of learning a jazz guitar. This particularly refers to soloing, as you have to combine different modes in your phrasing.
Minor Swing – Django Reinhardt
Gypsy jazz is probably the best style of jazz to start with if your playing is mostly about the solo guitar. Unlike other jazz styles, which include various kinds of lead instruments, this one is pretty much all about the guitar. Therefore, the number of amazing players and virtuosos is very big.
Django Reinhardt sits above all these great musicians, as the man who established not just gypsy jazz as a music genre, but guitar as a lead instrument as well. One of his best-known tunes is called “Minor Swing”.
Chord progressions in gypsy jazz are usually simple. In most cases, guitarists predominately use 6th chords, as well as dominant and diminished chords. On the other side, melodies and improvisations are so blistering, on a completely next level compared to a typical jazz guitar. The “Minor Swing” is a perfect example and one of the essential standards of this sub-genre.
Blue Bossa – Kenny Dorham
The heritage of Afro-Brazilian jazz is huge, but one of the most famous Latin jazz standards was actually written by the American musician Kenny Dorham. Inspired by Dorham’s visit to Rio de Janeiro Jazz Festival in 1961, this tune delivers a perfect Latin American vibe. You will hardly find a jazz guitarist who didn’t record or, at least, performed this piece on the stage.
Of course, the core of this piece is a relaxing bossa nova rhythm, but the melody is very catchy as well. A great thing about it is a quite simple chord progression. Once you get used on it, playing and improvising shouldn’t be complicated.
Sunny – Bobby Hebb
This song is interesting in many ways and one of them is that this song is equally loved by both jazz and pop musicians. The catchy melodic line is combined with a nice chord progression, which features some jazz postulates, but remains relatively simple to attract the attention of an average listener of popular music genres. There is just one tricky part. which is in minor ii-V-I progression. The rest of the song comes in a common major ii-V-I chord progression.
As you can see, many jazz standards are actually quite simple tunes, which will definitely have a very engaging effect on everyone who is getting into jazz music. Guitar players will highly appreciate the fact that these tunes can be played over and over, as their potential is amazing. After all, there are tons of videos on Youtube where you can see that these pieces are played both by beginners and expert guitarists.
Once you learn the basics of these tunes, you can start to build them up and one day, you may even create your own masterpiece version of these popular jazz songs. You will realize pretty quickly that these songs leave a lot of space for your own expression and that is by far the best thing about jazz music.
Keep in mind that these are just my recommendations. There are many more famous jazz songs that are quite easy to learn to play.