20 Songs in 20 Weeks

In this course you’re going to learn 20 songs in 20 weeks.

I’ve set myself the target of learning 400 songs in ten years. Whilst working through my list of 120 songs I want to learn this year, I realised that a shortened version of this would make an excellent course for you guys.

All of us know a lot of songs – wouldn’t it be great if we had access to that library of songs through our saxophone? Using a Real Book or reading from the music is a nasty habit when playing jazz – people often come up against problems, when trying to improvise, when all they have done is read off the ‘dots’. I’m going to publish a lead sheet with most of the songs we’re going to look at, but do not be under the illusion that this is my preferred method. I want you to go out and learn these songs so you can stand on stage and perform them with no music in front of you!

This course ties in well with all of our transcription courses, but in particular the following are well worth watching if you want to go deeper:

Autumn Leaves’ –  Zoot Simms

All of Me’ – Lester Young

Take Five’ – Paul Desmond

Work Song’ – Cannonball Adderley 

#20songs20weeks is the # I’m going to get you to use on social media – and do make sure that you comment on your progress in the forum.



Song #1 Autumn Leaves

The first song in this course is one that many of you will be familiar with already, the great Joseph Kosma standard, ‘Autumn Leaves’.

Song #2 All Of Me

‘All of Me’ is a very popular standard originally written by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons in 1931. Like many of the classic ‘Tin Pan Alley’ songs it has some interesting harmonic progressions which give the melody a distinctive flavour.

Song #3 All The Things You Are

‘All The Things You Are’ is one of the best jazz standards around. It has been recorded be nearly every great jazz artist that has ever played / sung and is one of my favourites.

Song #4 Blue Monk

Blue Monk was first recorded on the 1954 album Thelonious Monk Trio, and is a very clever melody based over a simple 12 bar blues in Bb.

Song #5 Cantaloupe Island

I’m sorry to say that Cantaloupe Island first found its way into my ears via a 90’s advertising campaign from Burger King!

Song #6 Cheek to Cheek

For me, Cheek to Cheek is one of the greatest songs ever written. Composed by Irving Berlin in 1936, Cheek to Cheek is a classic, ‘Tin Pan Alley’ song. Written for the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film, Top Hat it has recently been recorded by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga!

Song #7 Cherokee

Cherokee is a rare standard, it’s a song which is more famous for the chord progressions it contains, than the melody!
The principal reason for this is that it is whilst soloing on this song that Charlie Parker said that, ‘he came alive, I felt I could fly’

Song #8 – The Chicken

One of my favourite tunes to play when I was in college was ‘The Chicken’ by Jaco Pastorius. It has since become a favourite of many of my students.

Song #10 – Footprints

Footprints is one track I always seem to come back to playing in concerts and on recordings. It has a very simple modal melody and gives everyone a chance of playing a good solo, from the novice to the professional.

Song #11 – The Girl From Ipanema

The Girl from Ipanema was written by Brazilian composer, Anton Carlos Jobim in 1962. However, it is the 1964 recording featuring saxophonist Stan Getz that has become a firm favourite of many.

Song #12 Have You Met Miss Jones?

Have You Met Miss Jones? Is a classic ‘Rodgers & Hart’ song from 1937. It is taken from the musical comedy, I’d rather be right’ and it has been recorded by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Robbie Williams!

Song #13 I Got Rhythm

‘I Got Rhythm’ is second only to the blues in its influence on jazz music. The chord changes to ‘I Got Rhythm’ are more commonly known as ‘Rhythm Changes’ and will form part of a future course on this site.

Song #14 Lush Life

‘Lush Life’ was written by Billy Strayhorn in the 1930’s. It is reputed to be one of the two songs that Strayhorn played for his ‘audition’ with Duke Ellington, the other being ‘Take the A Train’.

Song #15 Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy was written by pianist Joe Zawinul and was made famous by Alto Saxophonist, Julian, ‘Cannonball’ Adderely.

Song #16 The Nearness of You

The Nearness of You is another of those great 1930’s songs that have made it into our 20 songs in 20 weeks course. The Nearness of You was written by Hoagy Carmichael in 1938 and featured in the film Romance in the Dark.

Song #17 Summertime

‘Summertime’ is one of the most famous jazz standards around. It was originally part of the George Gershwin Opera Porgy and Bess and, (according to Wikipedia) is the most ‘covered’ song in history with over 33,000 versions recorded.

Song #18 Take Five

We’ve already covered ‘Take Five’ in a transcription project, (you can view the course by clicking here) but it is such a popular jazz standard, particularly for saxophone that I wanted to include it as part of this course.

Song #19 Take the ‘A’ Train

‘Take the ‘A’ Train’ is the penultimate song in our 20 songs in 20 weeks series. It was written by Billy Strayhorn and it was the signature tune of the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Song #20 Well, You Needn’t

‘Well, You Needn’t’ was composed by legendary jazz pianist Thelonious Monk in 1944. The melody makes use of a second inversion chord of F concert, (G on the tenor, D on the Alto) and has a chromatic root movement in the ‘A’ section, (make sure you play the root tones once you have the head nailed down.)


Dan Forshaw

I'm passionate about creating inspirational experiences through music and other arts. A life changing experience under the influence of the music of John Coltrane lead to study in New York and London. My thesis was on the Theology of John Coltrane as expressed through A Love Supreme. I perform across Europe with various jazz groups and teach through my innovative website, www.cambridgesaxophone.com. I'm a total Apple Geek, Cricket, Rugby, F1 and Football fan and I'm learning to listen opinions before giving my own!