Some musicians who play acoustic fingerstyle guitar sound like there is definitely more than one guitar playing.
Many jazz standards can be arranged for fingerstyle guitar and this style of guitar playing lends itself well to the genre.
Let’s take a look at some of the top jazz standards that are particularly good played fingerstyle on the acoustic guitar.
Here they are in no particular order.
What is this Thing Called Love
by Cole Porter
Some versions of this song will take you to places bright and dark, doing this standard great justice where other musicians have used the song at very fast tempos. The original composition was at a slower and in my opinion better tempo for this great song.
Lenny Breau plays a great version; from the 1997 album “Cabin Fever”. Catch it on YouTube first if it’s not in your collection yet.
Georgia on My Mind
by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics by Stuart Gorrell
This standard would play well in almost any form or genre, and it has.
This is a favourite of many; thank you Ray Charles!
Give it a listen here with Lenny Breau.
by Antonio Carlos Jobim
This is a beautiful composition by the famous Brazilian.
This song is perfect for fingerstyle guitarists with that Brazilian sense that added so much to the jazz repertoire.
The deceptively simple sound with more of a daydreaming quality to it, plus the fact that the classically trained composer wrote it, adds to the need for this song to be played fingerstyle.
Here’s a great version of this tune by Astrud Gilberto.
by Billy Strayhorn
The song stands out in the standards repertoire due to its unique construction and richness of voicing and space.
Listen to Joe Pass delicately accompany the great Ella Fitzgerald hearing the words and feel of this song with the masterful playing of Joe Pass’s guitar; beautiful.
by Django Reinhardt
This is the legendary guitarists’ most famous (for good reason) song.
A recording of note is the 1940 performance with the Quintette du Hot Club de France.
I’m not sure if this is exactly that version, but here’s an old recording of it!
by Kenny Dorham
Bossa Nova type songs played fingerstyle have the thumb being available for the base line while freeing up the fingers for melody and chords alike, all the while keeping that addictive Bossa groove going.
It feels like the Bossa groove was made for fingerstyle guitarists and the common long and short chord phrasings create great comping opportunities as well as chord melody arrangements.
Here’s a take by the great Dexter Gordon
Days of Wine and Roses
by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer
This song basically became a standard because of guitarists such as Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and Lenny Breau plus others.
The song has lots of room for improvisation which probably has aided in keeping this great song around and played at many different tempos as well. Give me a slower version though.
Wes’s version is the one that really made me fall in love with the song.
by John Lewis
He wrote this song honouring Django Reinhardt, the great gypsy jazz guitarist.
This simple sounding (but not) song has endured due to its’ many variations by later artists from Joe Pass to Jeff Beck.
Here’s a beautiful take on it:
If You Could See Me Now
by Tadd Dameron, lyrics by Carl Sigman
Originally composed as more of a jazz-pop crossover, this song has gained acknowledgement from Wes Montgomery to Pat Metheny and others.
This is a standard worth listening to in any form.
I have included a link even though this version does not feature a fingerstyle version of the song. Let’s say it’s here for inspiration from Wes Montgomery where Pat Metheny is credited with saying it may be the best guitar solo ever played.
All the Things You Are
by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
An enduring standard through the generations due in part to the space the song provides for soloists and improvisers. The song flows nicely at a slower to more moderate tempo all the way to Joe Pass’s rendition where it takes on an almost flighty feel.
Here’s a great version by the man himself, Charlie Parker.
There are too many to list.
An excellent source of information on the standards is the book “The Jazz Standards” by Gioia.
About the Author
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.
For more info on acoustic guitar in jazz, check out the Top 5 Acoustic Guitar Jazz Albums.