Songs & Goals for Beginning Combos

Song Selection Criteria 

  • Limited to one or two key centers (or tonalities) within a song 
  • Can be improvised on with major, minor, or blues scales
  • Songs that use common keys
  • Harmonic motion primarily one chord per bar or longer
  • Medium swing, shuffle, blues, bossa nova, funk, R&B, and traditional styles encouraged. Avoid ballads, overly “unique” feels, or fast tunes unless agreed upon by the whole band. 
  • We advise against So What, Impressions, Little Sunflower, and the like, for Level 1 combos
  • We recommend riff blues songs with I, IV, V blues changes


Song Title
Model Recordings
In A Sentimental Mood Ballad Duke Ellington
  • Duke Ellington & John Coltrane - Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
Polka Dots And Moonbeams Ballad Burke & Huesen
  • Wes Montgomery - The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery
  • Lester Young - Verve Jazz Masters 30: Lester Young
  • Bud Powell - The Amazing Bud Powell, Vol 2
  • Chet Baker - Chet Baker in New York
  • Lou Donaldson - Gravy Train
Summertime Ballad George Gershwin
  • Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong - Pure Ella
  • Oscar Peterson - Mellow Mood
Back At The Chicken Shack Blues Jimmy Smith
  • Jimmy Smith - Back At The Chicken Shack
Bags Groove Blues Milt Jackson
  • Miles Davis - Bag's Groove
  • Oscar Peterson - Night Train
Blue 'N' Boogie Blues Charlie Parker
  • Miles Davis All-Stars - Walkin'
Blue Monk Blues Thelonious Monk
  • Thelonious Monk - Thelonious in Action
Blues For Gene Blues Milt Jackson
  • Milt Jackson - Soul Route
Blues Walk Blues Clifford Brown
  • Clifford Brown and Max Roach
C Jam Blues Blues Duke Ellington
  • Duke Ellington - Blues in Orbit
  • Red Garland - Groovy
Centerpiece Blues Edison & Tennyson
  • Milt Jackson & John Coltrane - Bags & Trane
Dejection Blues Blues Milt Jackson
  • Milt Jackson - Soul Route
Freddy Freeloader Blues Miles Davis
  • Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
Groove Blues Blues Steve Turre
  • Steve Turre - Rainbow People
Mr. PC Blues John Coltrane
  • John Coltrane - Giant Steps
Now's The Time Blues Charlie Parker
  • Charlie Parker - Now's the Time
  • Charlie Parker - The Essential Charlie Parker
  • Charlie Parker - Live at Storyville
  • Charlie Parker: Ken Burns Jazz: Definitive Charlie Parker
Sonnymoon For Two Blues Sonny Rollins
  • Sonny Rollins - Lust for Life
  • Sonny Rollins - The Very Best
The Blues Walk Blues Clifford Brown
  • Clifford Brown & Max Roach
Trane's Slow Blues Blues John Coltrane
  • John Coltrane - Traneing In
Black Orpheus Bossa Nova Luiz Bonfa
  • Hank Jones, Mads Vinding & Billy Hart - Standard Collection Vol. 2
Blue Bossa Bossa Nova Kenny Dorham
  • Joe Henderson - Page One
Autumn Leaves Med Swing Johnny Mercer
  • Cannonball Adderly - Somethin' Else
Bye Bye Blackbird Med Swing Ray Henderson
  • Miles Davis - 'Round About Midnight
Honeysuckle Rose Med Swing

Waller & Razaf

  • Ben Webster - King of Tenors
Lullaby Of Birdland Med Swing George Shearing
  • Sarah Vaughan & Clifford Brown - Desert Island Disks: Sarah Vaughan
Satin Doll Med Swing Duke Ellington
  • Dexter Gordon - Dextrose
  • Dexter Gordon - Billie's Bounce
  • Bud Powell - Bud Powell in Paris
  • McCoy Tyner - Nights of Ballads and Blues
  • Ben Webster - The Soul of Ben Webster
Take The "A" Train Med Swing Billy Strayhorn
  • Duke Ellington - A Portrait of Duke Ellington
  • Duke Ellington - Never No Lament
  • Clifford Brown and Max Roach - Study in Brown
  • Oscar Peterson - Plays the Duke Ellington Songbook
  • Joe Henderson - Lush Life
Work Song Med Swing Nat Adderly
  • Cannonball Adderly - Greatest Hits

Goals For All Instruments

  • Learn two songs per quarter, preferably at least one song learned aurally
  • Discuss the music being learned, its composer(s) and performers, and their musical and life experiences
  • Play in sync rhythmically is a primary goal at all time 
  • Demonstrate basic melodic phrasing - question and answer - singability
  • Form and chord progression of all tunes in repertoire memorized
  • Has control and awareness of dynamic levels in the context of the ensemble and as a soloist, in terms of balancing instruments and shaping arrangement 
  • Developing swing and straight 8th/bossa feels through the class repertoire
  • Awareness of “Do” (the root of a song’s key) at all times in all tunes in the repertoire

Goals By Instrument


  • Work on playing a basic swing beat with 2 and 4 on the hi-hat, quarter notes on the ride symbol, and a cross-stick on beat 4 when appropriate
  • Further develop basic fills leading into and out of sections
  • Experiment with small off-beat accents (and of 4 and the and of 2) on the snare drum both with the melody and during solos
  • Get some experience trading 8s, 4s, or soloing over a short song form
  • Develop strategies to keep the form of all tunes in repertoire, alterations to the part/fills/form marking   
  • Work on keeping the hi-hat going on 2 and 4 during solo
  • For soloing and fills, use of 8th note triplet based ideas on a swing groove, 16ths on a straight groove
  • Ability to use rhythms of a tune’s melody as basis for soloing
  • Basic Bossa Nova and Latin feels 


  • Can play roots and fifths in time using constant quarter notes along with a swing groove, ideally root, third, fifth, and basic passing or approach tones 
  • Can play reasonably in tune if playing upright/fretless bass
  • Can execute a blues scale, pentatonic scale, and major/minor scale in 8th notes at a med tempo for improvisational purposes, relative to tunes being played
  • Can keep the form all tunes being played with bass line alone


  • Has at least one voicing memorized for every chord in all tunes being played, ideally shell voicings rather than barred chords
  • Can execute a blues/pentatonic scale, and major/minor scale in 8th notes at a medium tempo for improvisational purposes, relative to tunes being played 
  • Can play at least one major, minor, dominant, min7(b5) voicing from any root (moveable)
  • Has experience comping in an improvised rhythmic structure as well as in a groove based structure
  • Can “chunk” quarter notes with the high-hat and bass player 
  • Can keep the form of all tunes being played with chords alone
  • Can play the full melody of at least one tune in the band repertoire 


  • Has at least one left-hand voicing memorized for all chords in all tunes being played
  • Can execute a blues, pentatonic, and major/minor scale in 8th notes, in the right hand, at the tempo of the tune being played. Multiple octaves is ideal
  • Can play at least one tune, from the repertoire, with chords in the left hand and the melody in the right hand
  • Has experience comping in both an improvised rhythmic structure as well as a groove of some kind
  • Can accurately comp on off-beats consistently, and of 2 and 4 primarily. 
  • Can keep the form of all tunes in repertoire with chords alone 

Melody Instrument

  • Has all melodies memorized to all tunes being performed in a quarter 
  • Can execute several scales including blues, pentatonic, major, minor, etc.. in 8th notes, in time, as related to the music being performed. 
  • Can play the roots of the chords in order and in time to songs being performed, from memory
  • Can play melodies in tune and with at least a small degree of expression

You can learn more about Jazz Night School levels by reviewing our Student Skill Levels Matrix.