It’s easy to think that the group of songs we call “Standards” and the “Great American Songbook” emerged with a quality of “timelessness” directly from the musical or film for which they were written. In fact, as originally performed-without the intervention of jazz-most of these songs would have fallen quickly off the vine and disappeared as fast as Chewing Gum Losing Its Flavor on the Bedpost (overnight).
The body of music written by Berlin, Arlen, Rodgers, Kern and co. was rooted in late 19th and early 20th century musical conventions and has continually been re-conceived, rejuvenated and adapted by jazz to changing aesthetics. There are three basic tools used to affect the alchemy: First, infusing swing and other rhythmic approaches and exploring alternate tempos. Second, updating chord structures, with an emphasis on harmony conducive to improvisation. Third, turning down the “heat;” imparting a certain emotional detachment; not that emotion wasn’t important in communicating the message of the song through jazz, but its use is more nuanced; cooler, a respite from the heavy-handedness that often weighed down the original versions. The result is the creation of hundreds of free-floating musical entities, unbound by the aesthetic strictures of any one era.
The way to make my point is with examples. According to the website, www.jazzstandards.com, these are the top ten most recorded tunes