What jazz standards does a bassist need to nail?

There are a fair number of common tunes where people usually expect a specific bass part, at least on the head. If you don’t play the written bass part, you’re not playing the song. For example:

  • All Blues
  • Cantaloupe Island
  • Chameleon
  • Equinox
  • Footprints
  • Giant Steps (bass follows the head through the first half)
  • Killer Joe
  • Eighty-One
  • Four (gotta nail those hits in the head)
  • Jordu (those hits again)
  • Milestones
  • Mr. PC
  • Nardis
  • A Night in Tunisia
  • Pent-Up House
  • Red Clay
  • So What
  • Song For My Father
  • Watermelon Man

Additionally, learn to nail the transition on tunes that switch from straight 8ths to swing 8ths. Especially if it’s a jam session or something, I usually telegraph the upcoming swing part a measure ahead with a swing fill. When the straight 8ths part is coming back, I might play a whole note for the last measure. I also find switching back and forth a little tiresome, and switch to swinging all the way through the form after we express the head. A lot of classic recordings do this too. Tunes like:

  • A Night In Tunisia
  • Caravan
  • Green Dolphin Street
  • Invitation
  • Love For Sale
  • Nica’s Dream
  • Old Devil Moon

And work on some of the super up-tempo tunes that you won’t be able to read on the bandstand. Memorize a coupla lines through ’em at least:

  • Giant Steps
  • Cherokee
  • Moment’s Notice
  • Seven Steps to Heaven