How About Some Swingin' Holiday Jazz?

It’s the annual question for many band directors. “What can I do for a holiday jazz band performance that will offer effective programming, sound educational music, be enjoyable for the band and audience alike, and fairly easy to rehearse?” asks MENC Society for Jazz Education Member-At-Large Pete BarenBregge.

“A mix of tempos and styles, a blend of well-known holiday titles, along with something light and a little bit different but not too far out, should work nicely,” continues BarenBregge. “Consider programming new music, and try not to rehash old chestnuts the band has played every year. Your goal should be for the band to have fun and the audience to share in the seasonal festivities, but still perform a quality repertoire. There usually isn’t a lot of time for rehearsal so it all must come together quickly.

Here’s the plan.

1) Listen to a few music publisher promo demo tracks and narrow down your selections to something appropriate for
your band’s skill level and ability.

2) Look/listen for arrangements that catch your ear and that are interesting yet familiar, perhaps a fresh approach to a
well-known holiday title. At the same time, try to find something else that is new or different to broaden the holiday
music experience, but not too complicated or far-out.

3) Then, determine if your selections are fun to play and accessible.

4) And last but not least, can you rehearse it quickly and effectively in the limited time available? Look
for danger zones like complex or unfamiliar rhythms, difficult range issues, instrumentation challenges and
key signatures. Are there any solos not written out that may create a challenge based on the rehearsal
time you do have?

Hopefully these suggestions will assist you in creating an enjoyable yet accessible holiday jazz band concert. No worries! You’ve done it before and you’ll do it again. Best of luck on another successful holiday season!”

Adapted from “How about some swingin’ holiday jazz” by Pete BarenBregge, originally published in the Belwin Jazz monthly email newsletter, with permission from Alfred Music Publishing (

Pete BarenBregge is a freelance professional musician, clinician, educator and adjudicator. He is also the Instrumental Jazz Editor for Belwin Jazz, a division of Alfred Publishing Co.

—Nick Webb, December 8, 2010, © National Association for Music Education