The best books for playing jazz tunes and standards on the piano

Who am I?

I’ve been the pianist for the Heath Brothers and the Jimmy Heath Quartet for over 20 years. Since moving to NYC in 1996, I’ve had the honor of playing and recording with an assortment of jazz luminaries including Charles McPherson, Roberta Gambarini, Lewis Nash, Winard Harper, Rodney Green, Michael Rodriguez, David Wong, among many others. During that time, I’ve also been actively involved in teaching, arranging, and writing, having three books published by Chuck Sher since 2013, An Approach to Comping Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 and Introduction to Jazz Piano, A Deep Dive.


I wrote...

Introduction to Jazz Piano, A Deep Dive

By Jeb Patton,

Book cover of Introduction to Jazz Piano, A Deep Dive

What is my book about?

Introduction to Jazz Piano, A Deep Dive is a fully immersive course designed to shed light on the inner workings of jazz piano and to help you attain skills necessary for basic comping (accompanying) and soloing. The 60 workouts highlight the importance of playing along with real classic jazz records in real time with accessible exercises that take you inside the rhythm section. You’ll be learning the basics of jazz piano while, at the same time, becoming acquainted with some of the classic jazz canons.

The books I picked & why

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K.D. 30 Compositions

By Kenny Dorham,

Book cover of K.D. 30 Compositions

Why this book?

First of all, the compositions are incredibly beautiful. Kenny Dorham is the ultimate romantic. As an added bonus, Walter Davis arranges these often complex tunes in a way that is accessible for the intermediate pianist. The simple and economical voicings offer insights that you just can’t get from fake books. 

K.D. 30 Compositions

By Kenny Dorham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked K.D. 30 Compositions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Kenny Dorham: jazz legend, master composer, arranger and performer. His unique and compelling voice on trumpet is well documented on recordings. Now K.D.'s music is presented in print, through the eyes, ears and heart of pianist Walter Davis, Jr. All 30 compositions have been recorded by major jazz artists. Complete with recording credits, chord symbols and instructions for expanding the arrangements to include improvised solo choruses. Contents include: Escapade + The Fox + Karioka + La Mesha + Night Watch + An Oscar for Oscar + Philly Twist + Whistle Stop + Windmill + Una Mas + and 20 others.…


Johnny Mandel Songbook: The Shadow of Your Smile and Other Great Songs

By Johnny Mandel,

Book cover of Johnny Mandel Songbook: The Shadow of Your Smile and Other Great Songs

Why this book?

Again, this one offers many of the favorites by the great composer as well as some gems that are seldom played. The piano part is orchestrated in a way that elevates each composition and offers insights into Johnny Mandel’s incredible arranging skills. This book offers a masterclass on voice leading and how to create chord movement.

Johnny Mandel Songbook: The Shadow of Your Smile and Other Great Songs

By Johnny Mandel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Johnny Mandel Songbook as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

PIANO*VOCAL*CHORDS: *All I Want for Christmas Is You (A Christmas Love Song) * Cinnamon and Clove * Close Enough for Love * Don't Look Back * El Cajon * Emily * I Never Told You * I Won't Believe My Eyes * I've Been Around * Little Did I Dream * Living Without You * Lovers After All * Quietly There * The Shadow of Your Smile * The Shining Sea * Solitary Moon * Song from M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless) * Take Me Home * A Time for Love * Unless It's You * Where Do You Start? *…


Thelonious Monk - Intermediate Piano Solos

By Ronnie Mathews, Thelonious Monk,

Book cover of Thelonious Monk - Intermediate Piano Solos

Why this book?

I love the way Mr. Mathews retains Monk’s personal and instantly recognizable sound while presenting very playable and economical jazz piano arrangements. I would recommend this to jazz piano students looking for a way to play Monk’s music as solo piano pieces. It's nice to be able to reference how to voice these tunes from a master who actually exchanged ideas with Monk himself. The collection includes some of the most popular Monk compositions along with some lesser-known gems.

Thelonious Monk - Intermediate Piano Solos

By Ronnie Mathews, Thelonious Monk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thelonious Monk - Intermediate Piano Solos as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

(Artist Transcriptions). Now the intermediate-level pianist can play and study the music of this jazz giant! This collection includes 14 tunes Monk made great, arranged by T.S. Monk band member Ronnie Mathews. Songs include: Brilliant Corners * Criss Cross * Hackensack * Pannonica * 'Round Midnight * Thelonious * Well You Needn't * and more. Also includes a biography, discography, performance notes and more.


The Standards Real Book, C Version

By Chuck Sher,

Book cover of The Standards Real Book, C Version

Why this book?

This resource offers a great selection of standards. Some include verses as well. The lyrics, chords, and melody are crystal clear and professionally copied. The look and style of these real books are legendary and very easy to use. I personally own the version in B-flat. This helps me see these tunes in another key and in turn, makes them slightly easier to transpose in general. Knowledge of standards cannot be underestimated in my opinion. For me, hearing how the great jazz pianists interpreted jazz standards is very illuminating.

The Standards Real Book, C Version

By Chuck Sher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Standards Real Book, C Version as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Standards Real Book is the most comprehensive book of classic songs in the jazz tradition ever published. Lyrics are included for every song that has a lyric and even the verses are there, especially valuable for vocalists. The book includes the best songs of Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Henry Mancini, Johnny Mandel and many more! The Gold Standard in jazz songbooks.


Dick Hyman's Professional Chord Changes and Substitutions for 100 Tunes Every Musician Should Know

By Dick Hyman,

Book cover of Dick Hyman's Professional Chord Changes and Substitutions for 100 Tunes Every Musician Should Know

Why this book?

This songbook is an incredible window into the world of chord movement and voice leading. Mr. Hyman offers the original chord symbols from chord sheets (often lost to history), professional substitutions that are frequently played, and his own substitutions offering some fresh new harmonic options. Because each measure of music is teeming with chords and little movements, it makes you think precisely about chord extensions and what’s unnecessary in your voicings. 

Dick Hyman's Professional Chord Changes and Substitutions for 100 Tunes Every Musician Should Know

By Dick Hyman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dick Hyman's Professional Chord Changes and Substitutions for 100 Tunes Every Musician Should Know as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Songs include: Alone Together * Am I Blue? * Body and Soul * Do It Again * Get Happy * Lulu's Back in Town * Mack the Knife * Misty * Night and Day * Skylark * Soon * Sweet Georgia Brown * Time After Time * You Go to My Head * You're the Top and more.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in jazz, piano, and jazz musicians?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about jazz, piano, and jazz musicians.

Jazz Explore 93 books about jazz
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Jazz Musicians Explore 25 books about jazz musicians

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Froth on the Daydream, Thelonious Monk, and Considering Genius if you like this list.