By Pete BarenBregge
Jazz Editor

It’s time to schedule, plan and begin to program a spring jazz ensemble performance. Where to begin? How many times have you heard another jazz ensemble play a chart you wish you had selected it for your band? Hey, it happens to all of us, that’s how we learn. The selection of music that fits your group is no mystery but the process should be logical and practical. The selection of music can make a significant impact on your program.

Goals: jazz education—to educate in the jazz idiom; select music that appeals to the band; select music that will appeal to the audience; and select music that is playable by your band.

Additional tips:
1)      Morale. Avoid selecting music that is simply too difficult for your band to play. It  will frustrate the players and you. Plus it will consume a lot of valuable rehearsal time and even potentially damage young embouchures.

2)      Programming. Always keep your audience in mind. Try a strong opener followed by something new and creative then something familiar. Offer a nice mix of swing charts, a ballad or two, a Latin, perhaps something funky or something more traditional or historic. Pace the band and avoid too many “power” charts or music that sounds similar back-to-back—imagine yourself in the audience as the critical listener.

3)      Choose quality music. How about jazz charts you are familiar with and can count on to fill a programming niche, perhaps a jazz standard? Or new charts that you have selected this year, perhaps an original composition or something a little out of the box. Listen to the publisher demos, they provide you with a very good example of how the chart should sound. As you make your selections, get a feel for the style, phrasing, articulation, rhythmic complexity, brass range and so on. Does the chart fit your band? Select music that will be a valuable addition to your music library—a jazz chart that will sound good five years from now.

  1. Evaluate your groups’ performance level.
  2. Accurately assess the practical range of each player in your group.
  3. Who are the strong or weak players in the ensemble?
  4. Who are the (potentially) strong soloists and what is their improvisation skill level or knowledge? Do they require written-out solos?
  5. Featured soloists.
  6. Brass section endurance.
  7. Can the rhythm section players comp or do they need written-out parts?
  8. Do you need to include any non-traditional instruments such as flute, auxiliary Latin percussion, F horn or tuba?

4)      Work it. Spend time working with the rhythm section before the winds.

5)      Listening. It is the most efficient way to learn jazz—use the demo recording to assist in teaching the chart to the band.

Most importantly, educate, enjoy and have fun playing jazz!