Does the fact that more and more musicians make it the basis of their own improvisations make a jazz piece a popular, i.e. a pop piece? Or will it become, as the interpretations pile up, rather a classic, classical music? Jazz musicians save themselves from this conceptual dilemma by calling the piece in question "standard". This does not necessarily have to have been composed as a basis for improvisation, most standards even go back to (musical) songs: "You and the Night and the Music", "Night and Day" or "Summertime" for example. The original lyrics, however, play a subordinate role in modern jazz, the purely instrumental interpretations predominate.
Almost two hundred versions of a piece
Conversely, for most standards originally written for jazz combos, there are no lyrics at all, think of "Kind of Blue", "A Love Supreme" or "Oleo". Some of these compositions, however, moved the listeners so much that a text was subsequently attributed to them, such as Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight", which was sung by Sting, among others.
Another ballad, "Crepucule with Nellie", Monk, on the other hand, understood from the outset as a classical, i.e. in its notation unchangeable piece: he himself never improvised over the chord progressions, but always limited himself to playing only the melody (so sacred and untouchable seemed to him probably the love for his wife Nellie).
Another jazz musician did not necessarily become famous as a ballad composer, and yet he wrote the most covered jazz ballad in history: the free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. Almost two hundred versions of his play "Lonely Woman" have been created since the first recording in 1959. And these are only those pressed on record or burned on CD. In addition, there are countless live versions that only Youtube has.
The reason for the success of the piece is undoubtedly its melody, which, like the great melodies of Thelonious Monk or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is of such sublime simplicity that one wonders why some person has not already thought of stringing these few notes together. Actually, it seems that the melody of "Lonely Woman" has always been there, and as if Coleman was just the first to write it down. It has nothing made, composed about it, but rather seems like the spontaneous expression of an emotion, a mood (sad, melancholic, D minor), which is well known to every listener. The fitting and visually powerful title additionally fires the imagination.
The concise, percussive bass figure of Charlie Haden, who opens the piece, also charges it with almost raw energy and protects "Lonely Woman" from any false sentimentality. The way Coleman with his plastic saxophone and Don Cherry on the cornet rub against each other in the unison passages and the short, cadenza-like improvisations do the rest to reinforce the feeling of authenticity and emotional directness. Never before has artlessness been staged so artfully.