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15 of the Best Jazz Guitar Songs to Learn in 2021

If you’re interested in the best jazz guitar songs, you’ve come to the right post!

Jazz is a fascinating genre with a lot to teach guitarists of all different styles.

In fact, even though jazz isn’t my favorite genre, I love learning jazz guitar songs so I can adapt the things I like from this genre to my own style.

So what are some of the best jazz guitar songs that you should learn?

Here’s a list to get started!

1. Minor Swing by Django Reinhardt

If you want to get into jazz, start with Django. Although remembered as a virtuosic player, he’s more than just that. His composing, arranging, and improvisational skills are a huge part of his legacy.

To start off with something simpler, Minor Swing is a great choice. To this day, many consider it one of the most important jazz standards. Many also consider it an obligatory piece to have in your repertoire if you want to get into the genre.

2. Midnight Blue by Kenny Burell

Midnight Blue by Kenny Burell is a pretty simple jazz standard. Sure, if you’re just starting out with jazz, there might be a few odd chords. But it’s not too hard to learn.

Additionally, the piece has some blues elements. It’s really easy to improvise in the minor pentatonic scale over its chord progressions if you feel daring. But you can also experiment with other scales. Try out Dorian or Dorian #4 over this one.

3. Donna Lee by Charlie Parker

Now, I know that this isn’t originally intended as a guitar piece. However, in my opinion, it works really well on guitar.

With that said, Donna Lee is a difficult one. But, at the same time, it’s also a great exercise. First, you have this incredible main theme. But it also has some crazy chord progressions.

I’d suggest this piece to those who are already experienced players. It’s a bit hard to play it at full tempo.

Having good music theory knowledge will also help you learn this song. Plus, music theory knowledge will help you figure out how to solo over the chords.

4. Swing to Bop by Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian is one of the biggest legends of jazz guitar. He’s one of the musicians who helped define swing jazz. Although the world lost him at a young age, his legacy lives on.

A piece like his Swing to Bop can be a great way to get into jazz. It’s a bit tricky in some parts. However, the piece allows you to learn more about the genre. Start by playing it slow and then build up to the full tempo. And if you want to learn more ways to accelerate your ability to learn songs, check out my post about 9 tips to help you learn songs quickly!

5. Last Train Home by Pat Metheny

There aren’t that many guitar players that completely reinvented jazz. But one of them is Pat Metheny. His music and his playing may seem simple at first. However, it’s just the fact that Pat and his band always played effortlessly.

Last Train Home from the 1987 album Still Life (Talking) is worth checking out. Here, Pat shows how expressive he can get. On this album you can see his writing, arranging, and playing skills. It’s also his experimental MIDI guitar tone that adds to the expressiveness.

6. Joe’s Blues by Joe Pass

If you’re getting into jazz, Joe Pass should be on your playlist. Of course, it takes time to get into this music and fully understand it. However, there are a few pieces to try. One of them is his original composition Joe’s Blues.

But there’s one thing to bear in mind when it comes to Joe’s music. He improvised whenever he played. And it’s not just about hitting random notes. He played both the chords and melodies at the same time. All without playing more than 3 or 4 notes at once.

7. Blue Bossa by Kenny Dorham

Again, we have a piece that isn’t originally written for the guitar. However, Kenny Dorham’s legendary Blue Bossa is an easy way to get into jazz. And it sounds really great on guitar.

You’ll stumble upon a lot of key changes in jazz music. And Blue Bossa is a great way to learn to practice this. It has simple changes but it’s still challenging enough for a jazz beginner.

8. Tones for Elvin Jones by John McLaughlin

There’s no guitar player out there like John McLaughlin. His music and playing techniques inspire guitarists of all genres. But from his entire discography, I’d single out Tones for Elvin Jones for this list.

Yes, it’s not the easiest one. But it’s still a great way to get into jazz. The main theme is pretty catchy.

9. Django by Grant Green

Plenty of jazz guitarists have covered Django by Grant Green. In fact, Green is responsible for popularizing electric guitars in jazz. This piece, dedicated to Mr. Reinhardt, is his more popular one.

Django is a slow and melancholic jazz song. This makes it a great choice if you’re just getting into the genre to learn something with a different emotional feel than many songs on this list.

10. No Blues by Wes Montgomery

Of course, Wes Montgomery is another obligatory mention on the list. Most musicians remember him for his unique playing style. He picked the strings with his thumb and he used octaves all the time.

For those getting into jazz, make sure to check out No Blues. You can find these same elements here. Additionally, it’s a blues-filled piece. And it’s relatively simple for a jazz composition.

11. Icons at the Fair by John Scofield

Sure, it’s a bit of a deeper cut. But many consider John Scoffield’s Icons at the Fair a masterpiece. It comes from his 2018 album Combo 66.

Now, it may not be the easiest one to learn. However, it’s great practice for key changes. It’s also a great way to hear how electric guitar can work well with jazz orchestras.

12. For Sephora by Rosenberg Trio

If Django Reinhardt should have a successor, then it’s definitely Stochelo Rosenberg. The Rosenberg Trio does some of the finest guitar-based gypsy jazz. Their music is also fun, catchy, and very accessible even to those who aren’t familiar with jazz.

Their most famous piece is For Sephora. It features a rather simple chord progression. The main theme shouldn’t be that hard to learn either. However, it takes a lot of skill to improvise in Stochelo’s style.

13. Night Rhythms by Lee Ritenour

Lee Ritenour is another jazz musician that fans of all genres love. At first listen, his playing seems rather simple. But just like with Pat Metheny, it’s just because he plays so effortlessly.

I’d suggest his piece Night Rhythms from the 1988 Festival album. It features him playing an acoustic guitar over tasty slap bass lines. It’s kind of like jazz leaning to pop or what some would call smooth jazz. However, the piece is still pretty awesome.

14. This Masquerade by George Benson

Nearing the age of 80, George Benson is still a fully active musician. For this list, I’m adding This Masquerade from the Breezin’ record.

Now, this is originally a song by Leon Russell. But it’s Benson’s version that made the piece so popular. It’s a wonderful blend of jazz and R&B. The guitar parts aren’t super-complicated. However, they require skill to be performed properly. Bonus points if you also sing while you’re playing it.

15. Looking Glass by Allan Holdsworth

Finally, I’d like to put Allan Holdsworth on this list. If you’re looking for virtuosic jazz pieces with a lot of harmonic complexity, then he’s the right guy for you. Looking Glass is his most popular song so I suggest you start there.

It’s incredibly complex. In fact, you’d need highly advanced music theory knowledge and impeccable technical skills to perform it properly. So this one’s for advanced players only.  

Best Jazz Guitar Songs: Conclusion

I hope this list has helped you come up with some jazz guitar songs to try out!

And if you want further help with this genre, check out this book that helps you dive into jazz with a lot of practical tips and practice items.

Lastly, if you have further questions about this or another guitar topic, let me know in the comments!

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