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. Autumn Leaves – Joseph Kosma
There are few more popular jazz standards than Autumn Leaves.
Originally composed by Joseph Kosma, the piece has been adapted countless times for multiple instruments, including jazz guitar.
There are multiple levels of difficulty to which you can approach the iconic chord progression, but it remains a beginner favorite.
2. Summertime – George Gershwin
Another legendary standard that naturally found its way to jazz guitar through players is Summertime.
We all know the catchy melody, yet there are layers of complexity and musical brilliance in the chords underneath.
There’s no limit to how much you can push the limits and spice up this standard.
You will encounter a touch of everything Jazz guitar in this classic.
It’s not very challenging to nail the lead.
However, it allows for plenty of improvisation once you understand how the chords modulate.
Learning the piece will open many doors in the jazz guitar world.
This Thelonious Monk composition has seen many guitar heroes try their hands at transmitting its emotion on the guitar.
The dark warm tone Wes could get from his thumb is unique, and the phrasing is even more impressive.
Few are doing more for modern jazz guitar than Julian Lage and his Tele.
His live performance of Nocturne in LA is one of those videos you send to anyone curious about how a soft jazz melody sounds.
It’s not hard to learn the notes, yet the feel and tone control behind those notes could take a lifetime to master.
From day one of playing jazz, you may have heard the legend of how hard it is to play Giant Steps.
This Jazz masterpiece will require a lot of right-hand dexterity and fretboard knowledge to get right.
If a note-per-note transcription seems overwhelming, learning how to improvise over it might be helpful.
7. All The Things You Are – Jerome Kern
No list of jazz guitar songs is complete without a version of All The Things You Are.
The standard is a jazz chords masterclass and easily falls into the category of must-know, whatever your playing level is.
Joe pass can’t appear in a best-of jazz guitar list only once.
Every piece he touches instantly becomes a template all jazz guitarists can learn from.
And any jazz guitarist aiming to be a one-man band like Joe should try to learn it.
9. Chameleon – Herbie Hancock
The great Herbie Hancock is a funk master when he sets his intention to it.
Chameleon translates exceptionally well to guitar.
Jazz-fusion guitarists prove this with groovy fluid improvisation.
It touches a lot in the blues realm, and it shouldn’t be a major challenge to learn.
10. Body & Soul – Johnny Green
Body & Soul is present in every list of jazz ballads, and for good reason.
You can’t miss it, and it’s instantly recognizable.
Martin Taylor does an exceptional job of taking players in, out, and around the melody in his lesson on the tune.
11. Cantaloupe Island – Herbie Hankok
This simple piece from Herbie is perfect for improving your pentatonic improvisation skills while focusing on changing scales.
The simple harmony makes it easy for a beginner to impose yet harder for advanced players if they want to spice up the melody of a fairly simple tune.
12. Satin Doll – Duke Ellington
Chord tone after chord tone, this classic will help you hear jazz chord progression better.
It follows a standard AABA form but includes the signature Ellington bridge.
The chords are easy, making the tune accessible to beginners.
13. Have You Met Miss Jones – Richard Rodger
This funny-named tune was appropriately written for a comedy by Richard Rodger and performed as a solo jazz guitar piece for over half a century.
Most of the song falls into the intermediate level, yet the bridge is full of advanced concepts you may want to master.
14. Polka Dots and Moonbeams – Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery’s solo over this soothing ballad is nothing less than enchanting.
It might be the one song that unlocks the octave playing in the entire fretboard, no matter which key you play it in.
It’s a haunting melody to play for others until you start improvising backed by a piano player.
15. Scrapple From the Apple – Charlie Parker
This is yet another masterpiece from Charlie Parker that translates smoothie to guitar.
It’s the perfect tune if you want to improve your phrasing while playing over a not-so-complex Bebop progression.
16. Very Early – Bill Evans
Very Early is always good to know, especially if you are playing with a band and want to add some flavor to your live performance.
It works well as a solo piece, but you can truly get the best out of it playing with a band.
17. Minute By Minute – Larry Carlton
Arguably the greatest session guitarist in the world, Larry Carlon is one of the best rock, blues, and jazz guitarists.
His intuition as a guitarist is incredible as his bluesy track Minute by Minute meanders around the pentatonic scale.
18. Belleville – Django Reinhardt
Gypsy jazz is a world of its own with its challenges and pleasures.
What’s certain is that Django is the right guitar player to start your Gypsy jazz route, and his 1940 tune Belleville is one of his best.
Plus, it’s good from time to time to leave the world of hollow-body electrics and pick up a nylon string.
19. Kid Charlemagne – Larry Calrton
The ultimate jazz-rock solo naturally comes from the ultimate jazz-rock band, Steely Dan.
Among the many aces that played guitar for them, It was Larry’s turn to get his one-take solo and produce this masterpiece.
The way he uses upper extension triads is worth checking out whether you prefer the rock or jazz world.
20. So What – Jerry Garcia & David Grisman
When bluegrass masters play the Miles Davis staple, you get a must-learn guitar performance.
Jerry Garcia’s stream of solos here is just fabulously pure 7 minutes of joy on a rock concert stage with loads of licks to steal.
If you’re especially enterprising, you can get ideas from David Grisman’s mandolin solo as well.
21. Take Five – George Benson
Of course, the classic of all classic blues songs would eventually make its way on this list.
That said, it’s in no way a conventional tune in this guitar arrangement by George Benson.
The core melody is untouched, but this arrangement’s little ear candies make it much more interesting.
22. What Is this thing Called Love – Cole Porter
Played commonly in the key of C major, the chords are all but the ones you’d usually find in the key.
Cole Porter always brings the unexpected into his compositions, adding movements that will sharpen your repertoire once you get the song down.
23. Bright Size Life – Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny continuously evolved during his career and, with him, the Jazz guitar scene.
It all, though, originated from his first records and this tune in particular.
A young Pat Metheny can teach a guitarist a lot about phrasing and melody on this song, which, luckily, is far simpler to execute than his later work.
If you want to push it further, a great idea is also to learn Jacko’s bass line and see how it fits with the solo.
24. All Of Me – Frank Sinatra
This song isn’t too difficult. And with many chords, it’s great for figuring out what works over what when improvising with it. There’s a powerful melody you can always safely fall back to, even if you venture off in scales and arpeggios.
25. On Green Dolphin Street – Joe Pass
You might recall Joe Pass performing this song with the mesmerizing Ella Fitzgerald.
If you’re lucky enough to perform with a singer that can replicate her performance, this song could be the high point of your duo set.
You can take things to the next level by transcribing the vocal melody for the guitar and trying to arrange solo guitar versions.
26. La Manouche – Angelo Debarre
La Manouche is Modern Gypsy Waltz at its best.
The chords underneath the melody are not complicated, leaving space for the improviser to bring the haunting notes in.
26. Deep Song – Kurt Rosenwinkel
There are few Rosenwinkel songs your jazz guitar teacher won’t recommend you learn.
His composing and arranging skills for Jazz guitar justify all the praise he has in the guitar community.
Deep song is the title track from his 2005 album.
And although any song from that record would fit here, I decided to include only his most popular track.
27. Charlie Chan – John Scofield
Scofield brought the concept of sophisticated blues to a new height with every record, sliding in the blues notes where few others would.
Charlie Chan is a particularly challenging tune where technique meets ingenious note choices.
28. Stolen Moments – Stanley Jordan
A pure virtuoso of the instrument, the wonder kid from Chicago turned everyone’s head around.
His tapping skills are mind-blowing, but they are not the only thing you can learn from him.
Even analyzing the individual parts separately without getting into the two-handed tapping will still provide you with valuable jazz guitar knowledge.
29. Elegant Gypsy Suite – Al Di Meola
This tune from the great Al Di Meola blends in the best of gypsy jazz and progressive rock.
His playing inspired a generation of alternate pickers who make every note matter.
This song alone has a mountain of riffs and melodies, from classical to electric guitar, that you can pick up to add to your playing.
30. Go For It – Mike Stern
The master of blending Bepop and rock, Mike Stern deserves a list of songs you should learn from him. Chromazone is one of his many fusion tracks that blend genres and techniques effortlessly and are tricky to master, even for the most seasoned jazz guitarist.
31. Deep In A Dream – Jim Hall
Jim Hall playing this Chet Baker standard is more similar to what a jazz pianist would play.
That’s why it’s so unique and worth learning.
It emphasizes the melody beautifully in its sweetness and power when it falls to a chord tone.
32. Tiger Walk – Robben Ford
The blues-rock master player is a self-taught guitarist who leans toward complex jazz harmonic structures.
The way Robben Ford plays Tiger Walk is how every jazz player would want to add a rock vibe to their playing with a perfect blues phrasing.
33. Meditation – Antônio Carlos Jobim
This is a must-know for Bossa Nova guitarists who are into jazz or vice-versa.
The song is a perfect introduction to the genre that doesn’t require much technique to play as a solo piece.
34. If I Should Lose You – Ralph Rainger
You might have heard this ballad performed by any of the great Jazz singers at a point in your life.
It starts with a cascading run and then slowly picks up its pace again, often landing in the perfect next note in the melody.
35. Four – Miles Davis
This tune, in particular, has in its core a pure diatonic melody with only a few passing notes.
The chords on the other end tell a different story, as they often do not go to where the straightforward melody suggests.
36. 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.
Starting 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.
37. Midnight Blue by Kenny Burell
Midnight Blue by Kenny Burell is a pretty simple jazz standard.
Sure, if you’re just starting 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.
38. 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.
39. 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!
40. 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.
41. 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.
42. 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.
43. 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.
44. 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.
45. 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.
46. 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.
47. 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.
48. 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.
49. 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.
50. 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.
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.
You may also be interested in these jazz articles on our site:
- Guitalele Jazz: How to Approach This Genre on This Instrument
- The Best Jazz Guitars under $2,000
- The Best Jazzmaster for Jazz
Lastly, if you have further questions about this or another guitar topic, let me know in the comments!