When it comes to jazz, incredible female singers are not hard to find. Keep reading as voice instructor Molly R. lists some of the top vocal jazz standards that are sure to get your foot tapping and your soul singing.
As a voice teacher, one of the genres I am consistently suggesting students try is jazz singing. Why? One reason is that learning a jazz standard really helps you grow stronger with your vocal phrasing. It’s also great for singers because it allows for more freedom in your musicianship: you can play more with tempo, try some scat, and so on.
It’s no secret that some of the best musicians on the planet are jazz players. That’s because unlike most pop or folk tunes, jazz makes use of the entire range of musical colors. Even relatively simple jazz tunes can challenge your ear and bring you on a wild journey, while serving as platforms for jazz players to improvise upon. Once you are familiar with the jazz vocabulary, a sense of freedom opens that is unlike any other genre.
Please don’t think that jazz is best suited for low, smoky voices, though! Opera diva Renee Fleming, a soprano singer, is a huge fan of jazz. In fact, she made money performing jazz at night while studying classical voice during the day as a young singer. Jazz can sound great with any type of voice, as long as the vocal skills are strong!
So ladies, read on for my suggestions on the most popular jazz songs to sing. And remember, all of these songs have been sung in every imaginable key — this is by far one of the most customizable of musical genres out there. If one of these recordings is outside of your range, don’t hesitate to change the key!
Popular Jazz Songs for Females
1) “’Round Midnight”
This sultry and mysterious tune was written by the great Thelonious Monk. Contraltos will really shine with this piece! Here, we see the legendary Ella Fitzgerald with her interpretation.
2) “The Man I Love”
There have been many fantastic renditions of this simple but heartfelt song written by the Gershwins, but this version by Lena Horne is particularly inspiring!
3) “Why Don’t You Do Right?”
Perhaps the most memorable performance of this jazz song was done by a cartoon (Jessica Rabbit in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”), but the legendary Peggy Lee gives it a three-dimensional sass in this video!
4) “Crazy He Calls Me”
This charming 1949 classic is great pick for a singer who really wants to show off her strong middle range. Here, the fabulous Billie Holiday owns the song in her own way.
5) “The Man That Got Away”
Do you want a jazz ballad with some serious pain in it? Well, this song will do the trick! We all know this as one of Judy Garland’s big hits, but part of the fun of being a singer is seeing what YOU can do, even when you’re singing a cover song.
Those Gershwins sure could write a memorable jazz tune! Although originally an aria in an opera (“Porgy and Bess”), most of us know this as a laid-back jazz song sung in a lower key. Here, modern day jazz chanteuse Norah Jones sings her rendition. This is one of the best blues songs for female vocalists!
7) “Autumn Leaves”
Talk about haunting and gorgeous! This song may be short, but it’s so fun to sing. Here is proof that all voices can sing jazz: the Wagnerian soprano Helen Traubel sounds just as fabulous singing this as she does opera.
8) “Come Rain or Come Shine”
This mid-tempo standard has attitude AND heart in it. Here is yet another opera diva and jazz singer, Eileen Farrell, really selling it.
9) “Send in the Clowns”
Yes, technically it’s another musical theatre piece, but many theatre songs have turned into standards that are fit for a jazz club! This is definitely one of them. Take a listen to see what Sarah Vaughn does with the vocal line and tempo here to make it more jazzy.
10) “Someone to Watch Over Me”
Simple, sweet, and we all know it and love it! This is a marvelous song for beginners of all ages. Here, listen to the late, great Amy Winehouse giving it plenty of heart.
11) “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”
Marilyn’s performance may be truly iconic, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have fun with this song — and it’s all about the fun factor. Here is the great Julie London, NOT Marilyn, singing it.
12) “Black Coffee”
It’s jazz, but with really blues-y lyrics! This is a rainy day jazz classic that’s good for showing off your vocal range. Here, Sarah Vaughn gives it the perfect amount of emotion.
13) “I’ve Got a Crush on You”
Flirtatious without being over the top, this is a wonderful jazz song for females that’s hardly overdone! In the video above, the versatile vocalist Linda Ronstadt sings it soulfully and beautifully.
14) “Take the A Train”
This one is best left for jazz singers with a bit more experience, as you REALLY must know how to scat to sell this swinging number! Here’s one the best scat singers of all time, Ella Fitzgerald, thrilling us with one of her best jazz standard vocal performances.
15) “Cry Me a River”
This very dramatic tune would be an excellent closer! Like with all jazz songs, it’s all a matter of what you choose to do with the tempo and the words. Here, modern day jazz diva Diana Krall gives a lovely rendition.
Building Up Your Jazz Standard Vocal Skills
These are just 15 of the many popular jazz and blues songs for female vocalists. There are countless variations of the genre that are worth also exploring, including Latin jazz songs for females. If you can sing jazz like these ladies can, pretty much any pop tune will be a piece of cake, so rest assured that you’re building your musical skills in a versatile way when you work on these tunes.
Every jazz musician learns this musical language by listening to and imitating those that came before them. After learning the vocal lines of the greats, you can go on to create your own melodies and improvisations. YouTube is a treasure trove of jazz performances that you can always come back to when you need some inspiration!
While videos and books are a great resource, by far the best way to build up your jazz standard vocal skills is with private voice lessons. A teacher can help you develop proper posture and vocal technique, while revealing the secrets of the great singers that we listened to today. Online vocal lessons make it possible to maximize the potential of your voice, no matter where you are!
Have fun exploring the infinite potential of jazz, and I look forward to hearing the next female jazz vocal star!
Do you have another favorite female jazz vocal tune? Let us know in the comments below!