Finding and Studying Quality Arrangements

Whether you’re a new or veteran director, you’re probably on the lookout for quality jazz literature that showcases your group’s strengths and exposes students to great jazz.

The Jazz Ensemble Companion: A Guide to Outstanding Big Band Arrangements Selected by Some of the Foremost Jazz Educators, published by MENC and Rowman & Littlefield Education, recommends and analyzes 67 quality jazz arrangements.

The book’s author, Michele Caniato, asked high school, college, and professional jazz directors and educators to recommend high-quality arrangements. His results nearly matched a similar survey done 10 years earlier by Chuck Owen. “I wasn’t too surprised by the general outcome, though it is always interesting to discover little nooks and crannies where quality arrangements hide,” said Caniato.

With this book, he wanted to bridge the gap between extensive repertoire lists and analytical texts that focused on just a small number of charts. “There are good resources for both,” he said, “but I wanted this book to focus on the work of the director, addressing what the director needs to do: actually study the scores and recordings and come up with solutions on how to make music with their ensemble.”

Along with information on instrumentation, ranges, playability, and requirements for rendering the score, the book highlights how directors can use these arrangements to teach specific techniques.

“A first-time jazz director can stock up on quality charts and begin working on them,” says Caniato. “Through the experience of studying, rehearsing, and conducting some of the charts, he/she will develop an informed and personal musical approach and be able to choose, prepare, and render much other music. Arranger Gerald Wilson used to say that over time good music keeps getting better and bad music keeps getting worse: keep up the quest for quality and you’ll recognize inspiring music when you hear it!”

The book’s “Making Music” and “Technique Highlight” sections guide you to arrangements that teach specific techniques and offer suggestions for practicing and performing the music with your ensemble.

For each arrangement, you’ll also find information on instrumentation, ranges, solos, and form and texture, along with an “At a Glance” breakdown of articulation, bass line, chord progressions, dynamics, and style.

The Jazz Ensemble Companion is available with a 25% discount to MENC members from Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Author Michele Caniato is an MENC member and an active composer, conductor, and educator. He has directed jazz ensembles since 1991 and is an Associate Professor of Music at Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts.

– Anne Wagener, May 25, 2011, © National Association for Music Education