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 30 best jazz songs, expect eloquent break-up ballads, wistful reveries and exultant celebrations of love and romance.
Best Jazz Songs: 30 Timeless Great American Songbook Classics
30: I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)
Widely considered one of the world’s greatest ever composers, Duke Ellington (1899-1974) copyrighted over 3,000 songs during his 75 years on Earth – many of which demand consideration for inclusion among the best jazz songs. One of his most popular and enduring tunes is I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), with lyrics by Paul Webster, which was first recorded by Ellington’s orchestra in 1941 and went on to spawn almost 500 different versions. Many interpretations came from the jazz world (versions have been made by everyone from Louis Armstrong to John Coltrane), but there were also notable covers from soul singer Jackie Wilson, disco diva Donna Summer and Carly Simon, who cut a pop version for her 1981 album, Torch.