There’s no doubt that jazz is one of the trickiest styles to get a grip on with drumming. It’s a completely different ball game from playing straight grooves in rock and pop. If you want to learn to play jazz, there are several iconic songs that every jazz drummer should know.
As part of our series on the best drumming songs, we’ve picked the best jazz drumming songs according to how fun they are to play, as well as how essential they are to know off by heart. Most of these songs are referred to as standards, meaning they’re songs that every jazz band can pull out whenever they need to.
Learn all of these on the drums, and you’ll be a valued member of any jazz group.
- 1 Moanin’ – Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
- 2 Solar – Lee Morgan & Clifford Jordan Quintet
- 3 Take Five – Dave Brubeck
- 4 A Night in Tunisia – Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
- 5 Spain – Chick Corea
- 6 Sing, Sing, Sing – Benny Goodman
- 7 Soul Bossa Nova – Quincy Jones
- 8 Blue Monk – Thelonius Monk & Art Blakey
- 9 Moanin’ – Charles Mingus
- 10 The Drum Thunder Suite – Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
- 11 What About Me? – Snarky Puppy
- 12 Caravan – Whiplash
- 13 Cherokee – Max Roach Quartet
- 14 Snap Crackle – Roy Haynes Quartet
- 15 Jungle Juice – Horace Silver
- 16 Island Magic – Dave Weckl
- 17 Blue Bossa – Dexter Gordon
- 18 Freddie Freeloader – Miles Davis
- 19 Cantaloupe Island – Herbie Hancock
- 20 Chameleon – Herbie Hancock
- 21 Final Thoughts on the Best Jazz Drumming Songs
Moanin’ – Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
Art Blakey was a monster drummer, but this was one of his more laid-back tunes with The Jazz Messengers. It’s heavily focused on a piano part throughout the track, while the drums come in with a hard shuffle to support the rest of the band.
The shuffle involves playing four on the floor with your bass drum, and then you need to lead into every backbeat with a ghost note just beforehand. Playing that rhythm along with the swinging ride pattern is something that every jazz drummer should be able to do.
When you’re not playing the shuffle, you’ll be doing the hits along with the rest of the band in between all the piano motives.
Solar – Lee Morgan & Clifford Jordan Quintet
Solar was originally a track done by Miles Davis along with The Jazz Messengers. However, this Lee Morgan version is a better listen, as the drums are recorded a lot clearer than the original version. That will give you a better idea of what to play for the tune.
It’s a fantastic jazz song to play, as it has the drummer playing a classic mid-tempo swing throughout the whole thing. Playing a swing at a medium tempo is one of the best feelings as a jazz drummer. It’s generally the most comfortable version of a swing to play.
Take Five – Dave Brubeck
Take Five is arguably one of the most famous jazz tunes in existence. The drums are a huge part of the song, thanks to Joe Morello’s playing in the original recording. The whole tune is in 5/4, which is why it’s one of the more popular jazz standards.
Playing a swing groove in 5/4 can be quite tricky when attempting to make it sound natural and flowing. However, listen to Joe Morello’s drumming here. It’s a masterclass in odd time, and you’ll undoubtedly be asked to play this tune at some point or another in your jazz drumming journey.
A Night in Tunisia – Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
Here’s another iconic jazz standard that has amazing drum parts. The drums in this tune switch between playing a Latin-style groove and an up-tempo swing. It starts with the Latin groove with the head of the track. It then switches to the swing groove as the instrumentalists play solos.
This is an incredibly fun song to play on the drums, as switching between Latin and swing is always very satisfying. As a jazz drummer, you need to know how to play various types of Latin grooves to be able to play a lot of standards, so working on this track is a great way of developing that skill.
Spain – Chick Corea
Sticking with the theme of Latin drumming, Spain has a very strong samba groove that drives the tune. It also has a repeating motive that comes in before the samba groove. All the instruments play the same group of rhythms, so you must strictly learn those to keep up with the song.
While you play those rhythms around the drums, you’ll keep a four-on-the-floor pattern going with your bass drum. The samba groove will then have you playing quick doubles on your bass drum with clave patterns played with your hands.
Sing, Sing, Sing – Benny Goodman
Sing, Sing, Sing was originally recorded with Gene Krupa behind the kit. The opening floor tom rhythms that you hear became so popular that people often refer to this idea as a “Gene Krupa-style solo.”
This is undoubtedly one of the most fun jazz songs to play on the drums. You’ll be playing multiple drum solos on the floor tom, and it’s another tune with a straight-ahead swing feel that you play in between those floor tom solos.
This song may sound very familiar, as it’s one of the most used jazz standards in movies.
Soul Bossa Nova – Quincy Jones
If you’ve ever watched the Austin Powers movies, this jazz song will stick out to you quite noticeably. It’s another track that is very fun to play, as it has a unique sense of quirkiness to it.
The drum part is a mid-tempo bossa nova groove. It’s a two-bar phrase that repeats where you play straight eighth notes on the hi-hat, a 3/2 clave on the snare drum as a cross-stick, and doubles on the kick drum that go over each bar line.
If you’re new to Latin drumming, we suggest learning this song first, as the bossa nova is easier to learn than other Latin grooves like sambas and songos.
Blue Monk – Thelonius Monk & Art Blakey
Blue Monk is a much slower song than all the ones we’ve listed so far. As a jazz drummer, you need to know how to use brushes well, and this is one of the best songs to work on that with.
The drum part will have you playing very slow swing grooves with brushes around the kit. You do that by establishing rhythms with one brush and then performing a swishing motion around the snare with the other brush.
The song turns to double time somewhere in the middle, so all your brush strokes will double, and you’ll play a mid-tempo swing.
Moanin’ – Charles Mingus
Here’s a tune that is utterly chaotic yet very controlled and vibrant. The star of the show here is the baritone saxophone part, while the drums quietly drive the tune in the background.
It’s an amazing drumming jazz song, as you feel how the drums keep everything together while the rest of the band creates chaos by improvising at the same time.
It’s one of those tunes where you can let yourself go on the drums and play fills to match the energy of the band. You just need to make sure to keep the tempo locked.
The Drum Thunder Suite – Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
The Drum Thunder Suite is essentially a seven-minute drum solo with a bit of instrumentation added here and there. There are a few solos from other instruments, but it’s a drummer’s song. It’s a drummer’s dream.
The drums are played mostly on the toms for the whole track, but there are a few moments where the rims of each drum are played.
You would’ve noticed by now that there are several Art Blakey songs on this list, showing how influential Art Blakey was to drumming and overall jazz.
What About Me? – Snarky Puppy
Here’s a more modern jazz tune that is great for drummers. It has heavy influences from rock and other styles, but it’s still a fusion jazz track at its core.
It has a straight-ahead 4/4 feel, but there’s a part where the drums go over the bar line while playing a polyrhythm to create a very interesting rhythmic feel.
There’s also a drum solo near the end of the track, which is one of the easiest ways for a song to make it to this list.
Caravan – Whiplash
Caravan has always been a well-known jazz standard, but it got some serious traction when Whiplash came out, and it was played in the final scene of the movie.
It’s a bebop tune that starts with songo feel on the drums, and then it shifts to a quick double-time swing. Those two grooves switch interchangeably throughout the whole song.
While Whiplash exaggerated the speed at which you need to play the drum parts, it’s true that this song is quite a challenge.
Cherokee – Max Roach Quartet
If you want to get more into double-time swing, Cherokee is the perfect track for that. Max Roach was the original drummer and performer of this track, and his double-time swing ability was out of this world.
This song is quite hard to play simply due to how fast the drum parts are in certain sections. There are a few breaks where you only play one or two notes per bar, though, so you get to rest your hands!
Snap Crackle – Roy Haynes Quartet
Roy Haynes was another amazing jazz drummer who did a lot to shape the genre, and Snap Crackle was one of his most well-known tracks. It has a mid-tempo swing feel, and there’s typically a big drum solo in the song.
The bass keeps a walking bass rhythm going while the drum part gets busy, keeping the song driving and coherent. The song also starts with a short solo that gives a bit of a hint as to what comes later.
Jungle Juice – Horace Silver
Here’s another popular song that is in 5/4. However, this one doesn’t have a hard swing feel like Take Five does. The drums play more of a straight feel between the snare drum, ride, bass drum, and hi-hats.
It’s a lot of fun to play on the drums, and the drum part is all about improvising around that feel while sticking to those drums.
Island Magic – Dave Weckl
Island Magic is a powerful jazz fusion tune where Dave Weckl demonstrates exactly why he’s one of the best drummers in the world.
The tune is in 7/8, and there’s a big drum solo in it where that odd time signature shines through. It’s an excellent song to listen to if you want to hear how a drummer can solo in 7/8 while playing polyrhythms, syncopated rhythms, and everything in between.
Blue Bossa – Dexter Gordon
Here’s an excellent track to listen to if you want to hear a bossa feel played with a bit more freedom than the other bossa tracks that we’ve mentioned on this list.
It’s not a tune that has drumming at the forefront, but it’s a great example of how the drums can support soloists in jazz when they’re playing solos.
Freddie Freeloader – Miles Davis
Freddie Freeloader is an excellent jazz track for people to play when they want to work on their swing grooves. It has a great tempo that caters to beginners who want to work on a straight swing, as well as experienced players who want to expand their swinging vocabulary on the kit.
Cantaloupe Island – Herbie Hancock
Cantaloupe Island is an excellent track for drummers to try out if they’re new to jazz, but have experience with playing straight beats in other styles. It has a driving 8th note feel, and most of the track is played on the ride cymbal.
It’s a good tune to learn as there isn’t a strong backbeat in the drum part, which is one of the main differences between jazz drum parts and drum parts from other styles.
Chameleon – Herbie Hancock
Here’s another Herbie Hancock tune with an amazing drum part. It’s one of the more popular jazz fusion tracks, and it has a straightforward 8th note groove. However, it has an offbeat snare in every bar that establishes the overall feel.
It’s a lot of fun to play on the drums, and it’s a lot easier to digest for drummers who don’t want to get into hard jazz just yet.
Final Thoughts on the Best Jazz Drumming Songs
All these songs show how diverse jazz drummers need to be. The first step that makes jazz drumming difficult is getting the feel of swing and improvisational playing. The next step is learning how to play all the different jazz-style grooves.
As we said earlier, most of these songs are referred to as jazz standards, and every jazz musician will end up playing them at some point. So, it’s good to know them all.