Embarking on a melodious journey, I’ve meticulously curated a collection of the best jazz songs of all time, each a popular jazz hit that has resonated across generations.
This concise guide offers you an immersive experience into the heart of jazz, bringing together timeless classics and unforgettable melodies that define the genre’s rich history and enduring appeal.
Top Jazz songs of all time
- “Caravan” by Juan Tizol
- “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday
- “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
- “My Funny Valentine” by Chet Baker
- “Autumn in New York” by Frank Sinatra
- “So What” by Miles Davis
- “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” by Celeste
- “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” by Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Wellington
- “Fly Me To The Moon” by Frank Sinatra
- “Georgia On My Mind” by Ray Charles
1. “Caravan” by Juan Tizol
“Caravan” is an American jazz song composed by Juan Tizol and infamous jazz legend Duke Ellington.
While there are lyrics, written by Irving Mills, they are rarely sung.
The piece is a focal point in the film Whiplash, a psychological drama about a drummer’s obsessive desire to impress and outwit his abusive conductor and mentor.
The drummer originally struggles to play the piece, but in the film’s climax he performs it against the conductor’s wishes, playing the piece perfectly.
2. “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday
“Strange Fruit” was written by Lewis Allen and performed by Billie Holiday in 1939.
Considered a classic in the jazz world, it was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for its historical significance.
The somber tone of this piece reflects its dark meaning: the lyrics compare the Black American victims of lynching to hanging fruit.
3. “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
“Feeling Good” was originally written for a musical, titled The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd.
It was performed on stage in the UK in 1964, producing many famous songs, such as “The Joker” and “Who Can I Turn To?”.
Nina Simone recorded the song for her 1965 album, I Put A Spell On You.
It has since been covered by numerous artists, including George Michael, Muse, and Michael Buble.
4. “My Funny Valentine” by Chet Baker
Another song originally created for a show, “My Funny Valentine” was composed for coming-of-age musical Babes in Arms.
The song is now an iconic jazz standard, appearing on over 1300 albums.
It was perhaps most famously recorded by Chet Baker, for whom it became his signature song.
The song was also selected by the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry for its cultural and historical significance.
5. “Autumn in New York” by Frank Sinatra
While many versions of “Autumn in New York” were recorded by various artists, Sinatra’s was the only one to achieve chart success as a single.
The song was written and composed by Vernon Duke, and sold to Murray Anderson for his musical, Thumbs Up!.
The lyrics are about the beauty of New York in the autumn season, the homely feeling and the promise of new love that hangs in the air.
6. “So What” by Miles Davis
Miles Davis is a name that is almost synonymous with the jazz genre.
“So What”, created for his 1959 album Kind of Blue, is an example of modal jazz.
Davis was an innovator in the jazz world, adopting many musical forms across his five-decade career.
Davis suffered from a heroin addiction that sometimes infringed on his ability to create music.
7. “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” by Celeste
A more modern piece, but still in line with many of the typical characteristics of the jazz genre, this song was released in 2021 for Celeste’s Not Your Muse album.
Celeste won the Rising Star award at the Brits in 2019, releasing her debut album two years later.
Not Your Muse debuted at No 1 on the UK charts and was nominated for Album of the Year, Best Female Solo Artist and Best New Artist at the 2021 Brits.
8. “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” by Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Wellington
Taking it back to the 1930’s and the rise of jazz music, this song was composed by Duke Ellington with lyrics by Irving Mills.
It is a jazz standard that is now considered legendary, characterized by its fast-paced and energetic feel.
In 2008, Ellington’s 1932 recording of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
9. “Fly Me To The Moon” by Frank Sinatra
Sinatra was one of the most famous and iconic performers of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s.
He remains one of the world’s best-selling artists with an estimated 150 million record sales.
While the original version was recorded in 1954 by Kaye Ballard, Sinatra’s more popular rendition of “Fly Me To The Moon’ was released in 1964 and is often associated with the Apollo missions to the moon.
10. “Georgia On My Mind” by Ray Charles
“Georgia On My Mind” was written in 1930 by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell.
The song was more popularly covered by Ray Charles for his 1960 album, The Genius Hits the Road.
Charles was a native of the US state of Georgia, and the song became Georgia’s official state song in 1979.
11. “The Girl from Ipanema” by Amy Winehouse
“Garota di Ipanema”, or “The Girl from Ipanema” in English, is a Brazilian bossa nova and jazz song.
It won the Grammy for ‘Record of the Year’ in 1965 after worldwide success.
It is believed to be the second most recorded pop song in history, after “Yesterday” by the Beatles.
In 2004, it was one of 50 songs chosen that year to be added to the National Recording Registry.
The song was covered by Amy Winehouse for her Lioness: Hidden Treasures, a posthumous album.
12. “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong
This song originally came from the 1930’s, recorded by Ozzie Nelson.
It has been recorded for other versions over 60 times.
In the summer of 1950, seven recordings were released, including this version by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
It was covered by Cass Elliot in 1968 with the Mamas & the Papas, where it saw chart-topping success.
13. “My Favorite Things” by John Coltrane
“My Favorite Things” was written as a show tune for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Sound of Music musical in 1959.
John Coltrane created a jazz take on the song, in a 14 minute long version in E minor.
It became a jazz classic and a regular concert hit for Coltrane.
In 2019, Ariana Grande wrote her own take on the song, called ‘7 rings’.
14. “Summertime” by Billie Holiday
Another piece from the 1930’s, “Summertime” was composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess.
The song quickly became a popular jazz standard and is considered one of Gershwin’s most impressive feats.
Famous composer Stephen Sondheim said the piece had some of the ‘best lyrics in musical theatre’.
Billie Holiday’s 1936 recording was the first to hit the US pop charts.
15. “It Runs Through Me” by Tom Misch
Tom Misch is a great example of a more modern creator of jazz music.
Misch’s musical style combines traditional jazz elements with neo-soul and funk.
Misch studied music technology at Langley Park School for Boys before enrolling in a jazz guitar course at Trinity Conservatoire for Music and Dance in 2014.
He often works in collaboration with jazz drummer Yussef Dayes.
“It Runs Through Me” features De La Soul and is one of Misch’s most popular tracks.
16. “Take The A Train” by Duke Ellington
“Take the A Train” was created by Billy Strayhorn and became a signature piece of Duke Ellington and his orchestra.
The idea for the song came when Duke Ellington gave Strayhorn instructions to get to his house, including ‘take the A train’.
Strayhorn was a fan of the works of Fletcher Henderson, and wanted to create something with a similar sound.
17. “Cheek To Cheek” by Ella Fitzgerland, Louis Armstrong
“Cheek To Cheek” was written by Irving Berlin in 1934-5, specifically for his new musical Top Hat, starring Frank Sinatra and Ginger Rogers.
The song is romantic, with the lyrics talking about the joys of being in love and ‘dancing cheek to cheek’.
The song has supposedly been recorded by 438 different artists, including this version by Fitzgerald and Armstrong.
It was featured prominently in the 1999 film, The Green Mile.
18.”Song for My Father” by Horace Silver
“Song for My Father” is probably Silver’s most famous composition.
The song was partly inspired by his recent trip to Brazil, where he got the ‘Brazilian rhythm’ and bossa nova feel.
It was recorded in 1964 by Silver’s quintet, for his album of the same name.
It has now become a jazz standard.
19.”Soul Dancing” by Joey DeFrancesco
Joey DeFrancesco was an American jazz organist, trumpeter, saxophonist, and occasional singer.
He released more than 30 albums in his own name, and worked with some of the most famous jazz artists of all time in his career, including Miles Davis and Ray Charles.
He is described as having a ‘swinging Philly sound’, embellishing his music with ‘ferocity’.
“Soul Dancing” is no exception, with an improvised and spontaneous feel.
20. “June in January” by Bing Crosby
“June in January” was composed by Ralph Rainger, with lyrics by Leo Robin.
Bing Crosby introduced the song in the movie Here Is My Heart, in 1934.
The following recording became a No 1 hit.
The lyrics are about the ability of love to warm up the coldest of winters, making it feel like it is ‘June in January.
21. “Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock
‘Watermelon Man” was written by American composer Herbie Hancock for his debut album in 1962.
It has since become a famous jazz standard.
It was originally released as a grooving hard bop record, but Hancock reworked the tune, combining elements of funk, for his later album Head Hunters in 1973.
22.”Turn Me On” by Hyde Park Brass
Hyde Park Brass are a brass band that formed when the group met at Leeds University in the UK in 2015.
They cover popular songs into jazz versions, seen here in their cover of “Turn Me On” by Kevin Lyttle.
Since 2015, they have been touring extensively around Europe, challenging preconceptions of the jazz genre.
23. “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck
“Take Five” was composed by saxophonist Paul Desmond and originally recorded by the Dave Brubeck quartet for their album.
The tune was a hit and became the best-selling jazz single of all time.
The single was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1996.
24. “Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole
The most popular version of “Unforgettable” was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1951 for his album of the same name.
The song was originally going to be called “Undeniable”, until the record company convinced the writer to change the name.
The recording was reworked into a duet in 1991, with Nat’s daughter Natalie King Cole singing the female lyrics.
25.”1992” by Rejjie Snow, Loyle Carner
Alexander Anyaegbunam, better known by his stage name Rejjie Snow, is an Irish rapper and songwriter from Dublin.
Working with fellow genre-crossing artist Loyle Carner, Rejjie released “1992” for his debut EP, Rejovich.
The song went on to have over 1 million views on YouTube.
Snow’s EP immediately topped the iTunes charts, surpassing releases from Kanye West and J. Cole.
26. “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong
While “What A Wonderful World” didn’t have much success in the US, it topped the pop chart in the UK.
It is thought that the song did badly in the US because Larry Newton, president of ABC Records, didn’t like the song and refused to promote it.
Armstrong’s recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
27. “Tick” by Mind Blowing Orchestra
Mind Blowing Orchestra, also known as MBO, is a band with a variable set of musicians, known for their distinctive electro swing sound.
Their modern interpretation of the jazz genre creates a lively, upbeat and feel-good energy in their music.
28. “All Blues” by Miles Davis
“All Blues” is a composition from Davis’s influential Kind of Blue album from 1959.
The chord sequence is that of basic blues and is made up entirely of seventh chords.
The tune has an almost anxious feel, fast-paced and wavering.
29. “Cry Me A River” by Julie London
“Cry Me A River” is known as a ‘torch song’, a sentimental love song that typically laments over unrequited love.
The song was written by Arthur Hamilton and popularized by Julie London’s 1953 recording.
It has been covered by many other artists, notably Michael Buble, Rick Astley and Denise Welsh in more recent years.
30. “Damselfly” by Loyle Carner, Tom Misch
Benjamin Gerard Coyle-Larner goes by his stage name Loyle Carner for his musical performances.
His debut album was released in 2017, Yesterday’s Gone.
Like his peers Tom Misch and Rejjie Snow, Carner interpolates the jazz genre and blends it with funk, rap and Hip-Hop to create a new form of music that almost becomes its own genre.
31. “Night and Day” by Frank Sinatra
“Night and Day” was written by Cole Porter for 1932 musical Gay Divorce.
Fred Astaire, widely considered one of the greatest performers in history, introduced the song on stage.
His studio recording was released in 1933 and became a No 1 hit, staying there for ten weeks.
Astaire performed it again for a 1934 film version of the musical, called The Gay Divorcee.
32. “Stolen Moments” by Oliver Nelson
“Stolen Moments” is a 16-bar jazz standard composed by Nelson.
The piece was included in his The Blues and the Abstract Truth album, allowing for greater recognition.
American jazz critic Ted Giolo marked out the piece as having a ‘clever hook’.
33. “Round Midnight” by Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Sphere Monk was an American jazz pianist and composer.
He had a unique improvisational style, and is the second-most recorded jazz artist after Duke Ellington.
Monk and his quartet’s version of “Round Midnight” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1993.
It is one of the most recorded jazz standards composed by a jazz musician.
34. “Yenne” by Young Jazz Giants
Young Jazz Giants come from Los Angeles’ Crenshaw district.
Their debut album was released in 2004.
The group were mentored by late jazz legend Billy Higgins at a World Stage workshop.
They take inspiration from many of the genre’s legends, like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Herbie Hancock, adding their own unique style.
35. “Back in Your Own Back Yard” by Sun Ra
“Back In Your Own Back Yard” was written by Al Jolson, Billy Rose and Dave Dreyer.
The song has been recorded by many famous jazz names, including Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby and Vera Lynn.
Sun Ra was a composer and synthesizer player, known for his experimental style, that created his own take on the piece.
36. “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” by Fred Astaire
Here is another song written by George Gershwin, introduced by Fred Astaire in the musical Shall We Dance.
Again, Astaire plays across from Ginger Rogers in this 1937 film success.
The lyrics are about the inability of the world to take away the narrator’s memories of their lover, such as the way she wears her hat and sips her tea.
37. “Fever” by Peggy Lee
“Fever” was originally recorded by American R&B singer Little Willie John for his debut album of the same name.
The song was received well by critics and covered by many artists, most famously by Peggy Lee in 1958.
Lee’s version contains rewritten lyrics and an altered musical arrangement.
It has more recently been covered by many of the biggest names in the modern music industry, such as Madonna, Beyonce and Christina Aguilera.
38. “After You’ve Gone” by Dinah Washington
“After You’ve Gone” is one of the oldest songs on this list, composed in 1918 by Turner Layton.
It has been covered by many of the biggest names in the jazz world, including Washington’s rendition in 1958.
Dinah Washington was an American pianist and singer, sometimes cited as the ‘most popular black female recording artist of the 1950s songs’.
39. “Lady Bird” by Chet Baker
“Lady Bird” is often celebrated as one of the most performed pieces in modern jazz.
It is described as having a ‘sauve, mellow’ theme.
It is a sixteen bar jazz standard written by Tadd Dameron.
40. “My Baby Just Cares For Me” by Nina Simone
Nina Simone created her own version of this piece, originally written by Walteron Donaldson.
Simone’s version became a top hit in the UK.
Simone was an American singer, songwriter and civil rights activist, who attended prestigious performance school Julliard in New York and achieved a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
41. “Dragonball Durag” by Thundercat
Another modern interpretation of the jazz genre, Thundercat’s “Dragonball Durag” includes brass instruments.
Thundercat’s fourth album was released in 2020, and was praised for his sense of humor and his ability to express emotions, such as his grief following the death of close friend Mac Miller.
The album won him an award for ‘Best Progressive R&B Album’ at the Grammys.
42. “Alfie” by Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a blind American jazz saxophonist.
He was known for his exceptional ability to play two saxophones at the same time.
“Alfie” was written by Burt Bacharach for the 1966 film Alfie, the story of a womanizing, self-centered young man.
43. “Blue Ridge” by Nat Reeves
Nat Reeves is an American jazz bassist.
Reeves lives in Hartford, Connecticut, and teaches at the Hartt School of The University of Hartford.
Blue Ridge was released in 2018, and is one of Reeve’s only songs as leader.
44. “Mood Indigo” by Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins
Yet another piece from the king of the jazz world, “Mood Indigo” was the first piece that Ellington specifically wrote with radio in mind.
It was dubbed a ‘Mexican Blues’ piece.
In this piece, Ellington pitches the trombone at the top of the instrument’s register, and the clarinet at the bottom of its register, which was unheard of at the time.
45. “The Nearness of You” by Norah Jones
“The Nearness of You” was written in the 1930s by Hoagy Carmichael.
The song debuted in the 1938 film, Romance in the Dark.
It appears as a cover on Norah Jones’ Grammy-winning album, Come Away With Me.
46. “Ain’t Nothing Changed” by Loyle Carner
“Ain’t Nothing Changed” creates an air of nostalgia for a past life.
Carner reminisces on living in a ‘student home’, getting a ‘student loan’ and ‘sharing stories’ with his friends.
The song comes from Carner’s debut album, Yesterday’s Gone, which garnered universal acclaim.
47. “Upswingin’” by Tim Simonec
A more traditional jazz piece, “Upswingin’’” was also featured in the film Whiplash.
It was performed by Justin Hurwitz for the soundtrack to the film.
“Upswingin’” is a fast-paced and energetic piece, like many of those featured in the film.
48. “House Rules” by Hyde Park Brass
Another piece from contemporary jazz band Hyde Park Brass, “House Rules” likewise demonstrates their modern take on the jazz genre.
The song has a dance-inspired bassline, making it very accessible to those that aren’t normally a fan of the jazz genre.
The Hyde Park Brass band started their career off playing at the Brudenell Social Club in Hyde Park, Leeds, a popular venue amongst bigger artists like Loyle Carner for its intimate feel and dynamic energy.
49. “La Vie En Rose” by Edith Piaf
“La Vie En Rose” is the signature song for French singer, Edith Piaf.
It was written in 1945 and released the following year, reaching US popularity in 1950.
The song’s title can be translated as ‘life in happy hues’, or ‘life through rose-tinted glasses’.
50. “Bittersweet” by Lianne La Havas
Lianne La Havas began her career mainly working as a backing singer for artists like Paloma Faith.
She makes use of a neo-soul style, incorporating elements of jazz and folk.
“Bittersweet” features on her third album, which is inspired by the life cycle of nature and its ability to thrive, go away and grow back stronger.
51. “Mzungu” by The Adam Price Group
Adam Price is jazz clarinetist from rural Pennsylvania.
“Mzungu” is a piece from his recent album, House Ghosts.
Taking elements from Brazilian and African musical styles, Price breathes new life into the genre.
52. “What Is This Thing Called Love” by Clifford Brown, Max Broach Quintet, Sonny Rollins
Clifford Brown was an American jazz trumpeter and composer that sadly lost his life in a car accident at 25 years old.
Brown left behind four years worth of recordings after his death in 1956.
Many of his compositions have gone on to become recognised jazz standards.
He was inducted into the DownBeat Hall of Fame in 1972.
53. “Prosperity’s Fear” by Makaya McCraven, Tomeka Reid, Junius Paul
Makaya McCraven is a Paris-born jazz drummer.
At the age of 5, McCraven was playing in his father’s drum ensemble, along with some of his drummer father’s students.
In 2019, his double album Universal Beings was nominated for the Jazz Journalists Association awards and won the DownBeat Rising Star award in 2020.
54. “Just Friends” by Chet Baker
Chet Baker was a jazz trumpeter and vocalist, nicknamed the ‘Prince of Cool’ in the industry.
Baker had a reputation for his drug habit, and was often in and out of jail throughout his career.
His career saw a resurgence in the 70’s and 80’s.
The lyrics of “Just Friends” are about going from lovers to being friends, how it feels like they are ‘pretending it isn’t the ending’.
55. “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn
‘We’ll Meet Again’ will forever be associated with the Second World War after its release in 1939 by singer Vera Lynn.
It resonated with soldiers going off to war, not knowing when they would see their families and loved ones again.
Lynn was known as the ‘Force’s Sweetheart’ for her popularity during the war.
Best Jazz Songs – Final Thoughts
The improvisational and swinging elements open many jazz tunes up to being recreated by different artists, putting their own personal style into the pieces.
In this respect, the jazz genre can be seen as being in constant communication with itself, branching into different genres and modernizations.
Jazz is often seen as representing liberation and freedom, having given a platform to African-Americans and women throughout the decades.