10 famous jazz tunes that are based on earlier songs

Did you know that many great jazz tunes were based upon earlier songs?

Yep, it’s true. Jazz musicians have always made it a practice to write their own melodies over the chord progressions of their favorite standards. It makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, this way they can continue to solo over a series of chords they enjoy and know really well, while at the same time putting their personal stamp on the music with their own original melody. (They also get composers’ royalties this way!)

You’ll sometimes hear these tunes referred to as “contrafacts,” which is borrowed from classical music terminology. But I can’t bring myself to use this term to describe them, which is why I didn’t call this post “10 famous jazz contrafacts.” It just doesn’t sound like jazz! (And I can’t imagine Dizzy Gillespie going up to the microphone to announce “Now we’d like to play a contrafact I’ve composed…”!!!)

So, here are the 10 pairs of tunes. I’ve put the original standard first, followed by the “new” melody with uses the same or similar chords. Some of these may surprise you!

1. Whispering/Groovin’ High

2. What Is This Think Called Love?/ Hot House

3. I Got Rhythm/ Lester Leaps In

4. Exactly Like You/ Take The ‘A’ Train


5. Pennies From Heaven/ Lennie’s Pennies

6. Tune Up/ Countdown

7. So What/ Impressions

8. Sweet Georgia Brown/ Dig



9. Ladybird/ Half Nelson

10. How High The Moon/ Ornithology

There you go, 10 famous jazz tunes that are based upon earlier songs. Learn the first tune in each pair, and then compare it to the new tune. See how the different composers found different melodic implications in the same, or similar, chord progressions. I’m sure you’ll also find at least one or two great new tunes to add to your repertoire as well.


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