Music for a 2nd jazz band

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    The good news: Our band program has more than doubled in size in the last 5 years. There are so many more kids in the program that we had to split the concert band into 2 different ensembles this year. Our jazz program, that has been just 1 group with membership by audition only, has now followed suit. I just got the go ahead this week to start a second jazz band that will be open to anyone that plays an instrument (no audition for this group).

    The problem: I have absolutely no idea what kind of music to use with this group. The instrumentation is a little funky…full rhythm section, an alto sax, 2 tenor saxes, 1 bari sax, 2 clarinets, 1 flute, and if we can get a scheduling issue worked out, we’ll add a baritone and a trombone. The overall playing ability of this group is pretty low. My initial thought, at least to get started, was to treat it as sort of a combo where we can teach everyone the same tune (using Aebersold stuff) while also teaching more of the theory to get started in improv and help the rhythm section along.

    What are some other things (literature, books, etc) that I could use with this group?


    Congrats on the growth of the program! It sounds as though you have a supportive admin, as well. In regards to a the instrumentation being a “little funky” I feel your pain as I find myself writing, arranging, and rearranging every year depending on the instrumentation, strengths/weaknesses of groups, etc.

    First off, if your intent is to utilize the new group as a “farm band” for the more advanced band I would suggest not only playing a variety of tunes, but to also work on basic techniques including scales, arpeggios, tuning, etc. If the students in jazz are enrolled in the concert band, as well, and if you’re already working on technique basics in those groups, then you can up the ante somewhat in terms of how those scales relate to jazz, R&B, blues, pop, Latin, etc. by introducing Maj7, dom 7, and -7 arpeggios and their parent scales.

    As for tunes, some folks will tell you the only way to go is play jazz – only jazz. Some will tell you to play Chameleon over and over or tunes the kids enjoy (the former camp will tell you that you’re pandering to them if you do this…) I find it helps if I do both. If my kids really dig some the Headhunters tunes I’m going to have them play them, and I’ll teach the concepts they’ll need to make the bridge to swing. If they really dig an Ellington or Horace Silver tune I’m going to help them understand that the skills gained in that style of music translate to any other style of music, as well.

    Regarding instrumentation – are you comfortable re-writing some of the parts? There are several Little Big Band arr out there that either include flute/clarinet parts or you can write them out. An easy out would be to have each of the clarinets double the tenors (you can then use this to have them switch over to the tenor…) and give the flute the lead tpt part. You can also give the two clts the 2nd and 3rd tpt parts, thereby lessening your rearranging. These are great as you’ll also have all the rhythm section parts printed out – in case you’re not comfortable teaching those instruments.

    I think the Aebersold direction is a good way to go. There are also several method books out there. I don’t have any exp with them, but Hal Leonard, Belwin, etc all have their own version. There are also version by well-known jazz educators such as Shelly Berg, Dean Sorenson, etc. Once again, several of them have the rhythm section parts written out.

    My apologies for the long post! It’s a pretty big questions, and I’m sure there are others on the forum who have great ideas, well. Feel free to ask any additional questions if you have them!

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