I recently started practising Jazz standards. I started with Take Five, and Girl from Ipanema as they seemed relatively easy to play and their melody easy to remember. I would like advice on how I can get the most out of each standard I practice. Would it be possible to list out a set of questions I should aim to answer (about the harmony, changes, soloing style, rhythm, etc.) that would help me improve my soloing ability over them?
What I think you should be able to do is:
- Play the melody fluently; if you can learn it by heart, even better, but if not don't worry.
- Play the melody slightly varied. If you listen to the same jazz song by many artists, you'll see that none of them play it the same. Everyone changes it a bit here and there. That's something you'll have to do yourself.
- Play the chord changes
- Solo over the piece
- Accompany someone else that is soloing
What will help you with your soloing is learning the chord progressions by heart. This way you won't have to look at the sheet music all the time and you'll be free to explore the song by ear, since you'll be hearing the chords in your head.
Now, some of these, like the soloing part won't be really good at the beginning. I suggest that you do what you can do best, and then move on to another song. After you've practiced 9-10 songs, you can go back on the first ones and practice them again. Now you'll be even better at them.
Also, the most important thing in Jazz is to play with other musicians. I think it was Wayne Shorter that said that Jazz isn't learned by practicing on your own; jazz is learned by playing with others.
This doesn't mean you won't have to practice on your own, but you'll get the most out of a song if you jam it along with musicians that are better than yourself.
Following on from Shev's really good answer, other facets are to be able to play each song at different tempos, and in different keys. Often jazz players 'mess around' with standards, and use different tempos, and sometimes time sigs change, just for fun - or a challenge. Keys will change for songs as they become dependent on the vocalist. "I know xyz is in Bb, but I like to sing it in G," etc.