The Great American Songbook is to jazz what the complete works of Shakespeare are to English literature: an indispensable foundation that has been crucial in shaping the development of a unique and influential art form. Composers such as George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers with Lorenz Hart created a formidable repertoire of songs written for Broadway stage musicals and Hollywood movies that became the bedrock of singers and instrumentalists in jazz’s golden age. Though mainly written between the 1920s and 50s, the songs were so well-crafted in terms of their lyrics and melodies that their appeal has crossed generations and musical genres. In this countdown of the 20 best jazz songs, expect eloquent break-up ballads, wistful reveries and exultant celebrations of love and romance.
Best Jazz Songs: 20 Timeless Great American Songbook Classics
20: ’S Wonderful
Premiered in the Broadway musical Funny Face in 1927, this George and Ira Gershwin song failed to register on Frank Sinatra’s radar, but that didn’t stop it becoming a much-loved staple of the standard repertoire. Though female singers from Ella Fitzgerald in the 50s through to Diana Krall in the 2000s recorded it, one of the most spellbinding performances of ’S Wonderful came from the Brazilian bossa nova maven João Gilberto, who recorded it in 1976 on his album Amoroso, with noted German conductor Claus Ogerman arranging. One of the best instrumental interpretations of the song was by saxophonist Eddie Harris, who reconfigured the tune as a breezy Brazilian samba on his 1965 album The In Sound.