Category Archives: Jazz

4 Vocal Warms-Ups to Introduce Singers to Jazz Harmony

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By Dr. Art Lapierre

Throughout the years, I have enjoyed working with singers who have a more traditional awareness of music. Oftentimes these singers have experience singing in classical choirs or pop/rock bands, and have little experience singing in four-part harmonies with upper extensions. Other than passing tones, most of these singers have sung in four-part triads and a few seventh chords with approach notes. Because of the more diatonic nature of their musical experience, I have developed a few vocal warm-up exercises to help them transition into hearing and singing in the more chromatic nature of jazz. These warm-ups will also help lead to the tone, enunciation (voiced and unvoiced consonants for legato ballad singing), and ear training appropriate for vocal jazz singing.

On the first day of rehearsal, I observe whether or not they can arpeggiate simple seventh chords: 1-3-5-7 (do-mi-sol-ti); 1-3-5-♭7 (do-mi-sol-te), as well as minor, half-, and whole-diminished chords, and design exercises to help them do so. The idea that they will need to sing an unprepared “non-chord” tone is oftentimes foreign to them. And, of course, few have yet to explore the extended notes of the 9, 11, and 13.

Here are a few exercises you can try in an effort to familiarize your singers with non-chord tones.

  1. Have them sing an ascending/descending major 9th arpeggio (1-3-5-7-9-7-5), using various vowel and word combinations. I use the words “name-the-tune-and-I-will-sing” for its combination of vowels and voiced consonants. Accompany the singers on the piano with a tonic major seventh chord.
  2. Repeat exercise 1, except this time move to a subdominant major seventh chord in the accompaniment, as they sing the 7th and 9th scale tones in the exercise. You may choose to put a fermata on these notes so that the singers may become more familiar with the sound and sensation of the resulting #11 and “add 6” harmonies created.
  3. Have the singers sing an ascending/descending dominant 9th arpeggio (1-3-5-♭7-9-♭7-5) with the same lyrics, and in the piano accompaniment play a tonic dominant chord.
  4. Try the same exercises, but over a tonic minor chord (1-♭3-5-♭7-9-♭7-5). In the accompaniment, similar to exercise 2, try the same arpeggio over a subdominant minor chord. Again, you may want to put a fermata over each note in the arpeggio to familiarize your singers with these newfound harmonies.

When the singers get comfortable with the sensation of extended chords, alter the arpeggio for more chromatically altered chords that include the ♭9, #9, and ♭13.

I have found that in very little time the singers start hearing and enjoying the extended notes of a newfound harmony—the harmony they will encounter in much vocal jazz repertoire!

Art_LapierreDr. Arthur Lapierre is the director of the DownBeat Award-winning American River College Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and teaches voice in Sacramento, CA. Lapierre also conducts vocal jazz workshops and clinics in the United States and Europe. He has taught at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, CA. Learn more here.

                                                                              

5 Ways to Introduce Students to the Stylistic Nuances of Jazz

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By Vince Gassi

Jazz is a many-splendored thing. The numerous styles falling under the umbrella of “Jazz” (Swing, Bebop, Latin, Funk, etc.) allow performers and composers to be expressive in a variety of ways. It is a dynamic and ever-evolving genre, and each style has its own set of standard practices with regard to length of notes and phrasing. For young musicians, adapting to these stylistic nuances is a critical skill. This article offers a few suggestions to help your students toward that end.

1. Pattern Recognition

With Swing, quarter notes are played short unless otherwise marked. Eighth notes are played unevenly though they are written as normal (see fig. 1). The reason for this is that it is simply easier to read.

Swing Notes

Figure 1: Swing Eighth Notes

 

But this is just one style. A Bossa Nova or a Samba has a different code to unlock. Quarter notes are not necessarily always short or long and eighth notes are not swung but played evenly. And what about Rock or Funk? No matter the style, lots of listening and imitation is required. Like learning a language, learning any style of music takes countless hours of listening and practice in order to learn pattern recognition and to apply the appropriate style. If you wanted to be an award-winning novelist, simply reading a lot would not get you there. You would have to read constantly and then imitate. It’s the same with any musical style.

2. Recommended Listening List

Have your students listen as much as possible to big bands, small bands, soloists, anything jazz related (and any other musical style possible) and try to copy what they’re hearing. Why not make a listening list and include a list of things to focus on (e.g., concept of sound, time, ensemble playing, effects, improv, phasing). Pick out phrases that you can isolate and have your students work on.

As a young trumpet player in high school, I was drawn to the big bands of Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Thad Jones / Mel Lewis, and Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass. To this day one of my favorites is a tune called “Stay Loose with Bruce” (Maynard Ferguson Band featuring Bruce Johnstone on baritone sax). This tune is a great example of the swing articulations and other effects like fall offs, shakes, bends, scoops, etc. Also, have a listen to the interplay between the ride cymbal (Randy Jones), the upright bass (Rick Petrone), and of course the baritone sax player, and the ensemble. (By the way, I just love upright bass. My uncle Ray played upright bass with a big band when I was a kid. I was mesmerized by the instrument). Quarter notes are short and the eighth-note swing feel is oh so sweet! Later on when just the bass and baritone sax are playing together, notice how the sense of time is maintained by just these two players. There is an endless supply of great Jazz artists in bands and vocal ensembles big and small for your students listen to and imitate. Recommending a listening list to your students will greatly increase their in-depth listening skills and differentiation of styles and interpretation. Miles, ‘Trane, Ella, Basie, Maynard, Buddy, Goodwin, New York Voices . . . the list is endless!

3. Ensemble Matching

Choose a rhythm, say the one in “Stay Loose with Bruce” (see fig. 2), and have everyone play/sing it in unison (note how the articulations on the 8th notes remind players of the triplet feel). As in Figure 2, insert a bar of rest every other bar to allow students to process what they are hearing in the silence. This also gives them an opportunity to focus on their sense of time. Alternatively, you might instruct the drummer to simply keep playing time in the rest measures. A third option is to have one section play/sing the rhythm and another section match it exactly in the next bar. By the way, this exercise can just as easily be done with a vocal ensemble. Try using syllables such as “Dut doo ba doo bop!”

Swing Articulation Exercise

Figure 2: Swing Articulation Exercise

4Live Performances

Find out where live jazz is happening in your locale and plan a “Jazz Trek.” The first live big band I heard was Maynard Ferguson’s band. My dad allowed me to skip off a day from my summer job so we could travel four hours by car to hear this amazing band at the Interlochen Centre for the Arts in Michigan. Mind blowing! Not just for the technical displays but for how tight the ensemble was and how well they could swing. To a kid in high school, hearing these sounds for the first time, it was transformative. Don’t you want to transform your students?

5. Transcription

Encourage your students to make a habit of transcription. I spent hours wearing out the grooves in my vinyl (yes, that’s right…vinyl) albums, attempting to listen to and imitate what I was hearing. Just jot down pitches to begin with (one at a time); rhythms will come later. Students should use their instrument to test the notes they are hearing. There’s a great app called The Amazing Slow Downer which allows you to slow the tempo of an MP3 down without affecting the pitch. Additionally, you can loop sections and isolate one or more bars or even just a few notes.

Be sure that your students notice inflection—the altering of a note or notes; another essential ingredient which tells the listener about what style you are communicating. Listen to Snooky Young’s cup mute trumpet solo on a tune called “Tiptoe” (Thad Jones Mel Lewis Big Band). It’s legendary, not because he plays a million notes, but because he is so musical. Notice how he shapes the last note of certain phrases with a slight vibrato. It’s a very subtle thing but adds to the coolness of the music. I don’t think anyone taught him that. Later in the chart you’ll hear the tastiest trombone soli (with upright bass). Put this music on and see if you can stay still, not tap your foot, or start moving in any way. Impossible!

All of the tips in this article (pattern recognition, recommended listening, ensemble matching, live performances, transcription) come down to listening and imitating (deciphering the code) and this applies to anything we want to learn. There is such a wellspring of expression and energy just waiting for your students to discover and these experiences will change the course of their lives. John Cacavas said it best, “Each day is different and your capacity for learning and expression will grow. Every time you browse through a score, hear a recording, see a movie, or attend a concert, your artistic self will absorb that which impresses you and will add to your experience.” As with any creative endeavor your students will eventually gain a greater awareness of their artistic self and begin to develop their own “voice.” So, encourage them to listen, listen some more, keep listening, and just see how much sweeter life is because of this music.


gassiVince Gassi
 is a much sought-after composer, conductor, and clinician. With nearly 100 published titles to his credit, Vince’s creative and energetic style has made him a favorite with young musicians. His works, both challenging and musically rewarding, appear on many international concert and contest lists. For 25 years Vince has taught instrumental music at the elementary and secondary school levels. He is in frequent demand as a guest conductor, adjudicator, and clinician throughout the United States and Canada.

Using Jazz to Teach Children Literacy, Math, History, and More

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Excerpted from Jazzy Fairy Tales, A Resource Guide for Introducing Jazz Music to Young Children

By Susan Milligan and Louise Rogers

Jazz is a play-centered approach to music, and we know that young children learn best by playing. Jazz is improvisational, fun, and playful. Jazz is creative and social. Jazz is easily accessible to both teachers and children. You don’t need to be a trained musician to make jazz part of your program and you don’t have to take time away from skill building in other areas. Children learn literacy, math, music, small and large motor skills, visual arts, and social studies while they are having fun with jazz—and jazz is a developmentally appropriate way to infuse your classroom with the joy of music!

Children love to hear and tell stories. Children tell their own stories as they pretend-play by themselves. When they play together, they create collaborative stories. When you tell or read stories to young children, you get their immediate attention. As the stories unfold, children become invested in the characters and plots. Stories are their gateway to learning. Skills are acquired almost effortlessly.

Stories allow children to focus and enter into learning experiences. For example, children can learn to sing the blues almost instantly within the context of pretending they are characters who are sad. They “become” the character. It makes sense to them to sing the blues because the blues reflect what the characters are feeling. In a like manner, children can learn to sing a scale as they pretend to be characters that are “climbing” stairs in their story. Because the stairs are going up, up, up, it is easy and natural for the pitch of their voices to go up, up, up, too.

Did you know that incorporating jazz and storytelling into your classroom can help build a foundation of many necessary skills? Jazz and storytelling:

Build Music Skills

  • Vocalization
  • Pitch
  • Rhythm
  • Listening skills
  • Recognizing patterns
  • Singing together
  • Understanding that written notes represent sounds and rhythms

Build Literacy Skills

  • Telling a story sequentially
  • Listening skills
  • Phonemic awareness
  • Rhyming
  • Tapping out syllables
  • Understanding characterization
  • Understanding stories and adding to stories told by others
  • Understanding and following oral directions
  • Listening respectfully without interrupting others
  • Speaking audibly
  • Speaking to dramatize an experience
  • Taking turns speaking
  • Understanding that written notes represent sounds and rhythms

Build Math Skills

  • Echoing patterns
  • Rhythms
  • Fractions: whole, half, quarter and eighth notes

Build Socio-Emotional Skills

  • Acquiring language for building empathy
  • Sharing and identifying feelings, emotions and experiences
  • Connecting to other people
  • Listening to each other
  • Solving problems together

Build Small and Large Motor Skills

  • Dancing, body movement
  • Fast and slow
  • Loud and soft
  • Hand movements

Jazz is playing with music within a structure. Storytelling is playing with words and ideas within a structure. If you can incorporates some simple jazz basics, such as scat singing (a jazz language used by singers when trying to make their voices sound like instruments), and basic rhythmic patterns and movements, and join them to storytelling, the result can be a powerful teaching tool for young children. You do not take away time from building academic skills when you bring jazz and storytelling into the classroom. Quite the opposite, you help children learn in a most enjoyable and accessible way.

00-36596The content of this article is excerpted from Jazzy Fairy Tales, a resource guide and CD designed to bring jazz music into the classroom. The activities provided may be used to supplement an existing program or to provide a ready-made, easy-to-use, all-encompassing music curriculum. The Appendix includes music theory terms, jazz terminology, standard blues form, and notation (melody with chords) for most of the themes and songs.


Getting to Know the Great Jazz Legends

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Jazz is truly an American treasure, performed and enjoyed all over the world. To help establish appreciation among today’s jazz students, it is important for them to learn about some of the legendary musicians who made significant contributions to its development over time. Telling stories and humanizing the biggest players will fascinate and inspire your students to be more well-rounded players themselves. In celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, we’re sharing some of our favorite historical facts and anecdotes on some of our favorite jazz legends of all time:

  • While recording “Heebie Jeebies,” Louis Armstrong kept his session running after the sheet music fell off the stand. He continued singing using nonsense syllables and making sounds similar to an instrument, resulting in the first known recording of scat singing.
  • Duke Ellington played baseball as a child, and his other talents included drawing and painting. He first demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit with a sign-painting business, before becoming one of the greatest bandleaders of all time.
  • As a child growing up in Newport News, Virginia, Ella Fitzgerald’s first dream was to become a tap dancer, however she launched her singing career after winning an amateur talent contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem at age 17.
  • During a jam session, drummer Jo Jones expressed his displeasure with Charlie Parker’s saxophone playing by tossing a pair of cymbals at Parker’s feet, indicating for him to leave the stage. Parker then became dedicated to music like never before, practicing 10 to 12 hours a day to sharpen his skills.
  • Thelonious Monk began piano lessons at 5 years old, and by the time he was 13, he was banned from a weekly amateur contest at the Apollo Theater because he had won so many times.
  • In 1954, Dave Brubeck became the first modern jazz musician to be featured on the cover of Time magazine.
  • John Coltrane was known to practice 12 to 14 hours each day to perfect his sound and technique. Even after reaching professional status, he could be found practicing between breaks at many of his gigs.
  • In addition to being a virtuoso bassist, bandleader, pianist, and prolific composer, Charles Mingus was also an astute business man, creating his own publishing company to protect his increasing catalog of original compositions.
  • Herbie Hancock not only demonstrated great ability on the piano, but in mathematics as well. He graduated Grinnell College in Iowa with degrees in electrical engineering and music composition.

Keeping students informed and inspired will help to continue the story of jazz for future generations. Jazz music, in comparison to Western art music, is still in its infancy. The jazz students of today are the jazz legends of tomorrow!

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The content for this article was pulled from Meet the Great Jazz Legends, which features 17 20-30 minute lessons on various jazz legends, each containing pictures, suggested listening, biographies, insights, and a puzzle, word scramble, or true/false game. The book also includes an enhanced CD with listening tracks for each lesson and a fully reproducible PDF. For a sample, click here.


Preparing Students to Improvise

BJim Snideroy Jim Snidero

Improvisation is a scary proposition for many music students and teachers. But the word “improvisation” is fairly misleading, as much of what an improviser uses to create a solo is actually preconceived, and therefore can be learned and developed.

Preconceived concepts regarding form, rhythm, melody, harmony and importantly, solo construction, are some of the elements that are tirelessly practiced and perfected by great improvisers (e.g. masters). This creates a foundation for what will be played. Furthermore, masters have preconceived concepts regarding how they will play. Tone, technique, time feel, articulation, phrasing and vibrato style are often the thing that most identifies a master, being carefully formulated and developed, then repeated over and over again.

What separates an improvisation master from everyone else is (1) the quality and quantity of what’s preconceived, (2) art and, (3) taste. The good news is that (1) can be studied and practiced to the point that you can gain control over a massive amount of preconceived concepts. The bad news is that not everyone can create a work of art, and not everyone has exquisite taste.

Masters strike a balance between preconceived concepts and going with the moment, letting their “spirit,” for lack of a better term, lead them to very human expression. This creates a kind of inspired flow. And this sense of balance between essentially “knowing and not knowing,” to quote Chick Corea from a 1976 Keyboard Player magazine article, is informed by incredible taste and yes, talent. But here’s the thing: it’s very tough to create (2) and (3) without (1)! And (1) is something that most definitely can learned.

There’s a little secret that masters know regarding preconceived vocabulary. To quote Chick again from the same article:

“The myth is that you always have to play something different to be spontaneous. But that’s not true. What’s important is how “there” you are when you’re playing: that’s really the point. Good music is just good music whether it’s composed, improvised or whatever.”

No matter how many times you play an idea, if you are “in the moment,” it is spontaneous and can never actually be played the exact same way again, as no one ever experiences a moment exactly the same way. Charlie Parker played some of his signature ideas thousands of times, but they never sounded exactly alike. The same can be said about virtually every master. So preconceived vocabulary is crucial to the creative process.

Transcribing a solo is the best way to build vocabulary, but quality books are also a good source. For example, the new edition of the Jazz Conception series contains a section on improvisation, extracting over 100 ideas from 21 etudes over various common chord progressions. Vocabulary and context!

Once ideas are committed to memory, you then have material to develop both timing and balance. If one idea is active, dense with notes or rhythms, perhaps the next idea could be static, using just a couple of notes or rhythms. If the contour of an idea ascends, perhaps the next idea might descend, creating a peak. This helps you to develop a sense of balance, maybe even taste.

These instincts then allow you to assemble ideas in a logical and musical manner, often helping to “say” something when improvising. The more material, the more you can say. Eventually, your instincts will allow you to play new things that you hear spontaneously in a musical, logical manner, or react to what your bandmates are playing. You will then be able to balance improvisation between “knowing and not knowing.” It’s powerful stuff, not to mention a whole lot of fun!

Jim Snidero is an alto saxophonist, author and educator living in New York City. He is a Savant recording artist, author of the Jazz Conception series and president of The Jazz Conception Company.

Shop the Jazz Conception series here.

Alfred Music Joins Peaksware To Help The World Experience The Joy of Making Music

Andrew Surmani

By Andrew Surmani
Chief Marketing Officer, Alfred Music

Alfred Music is excited to announce today that it is joining the Peaksware Holdings, LLC portfolio of companies. This group includes MakeMusic, Inc., the developer of Finale and SmartMusic, bringing together the leaders in educational music publishing and music technology.

Both Alfred Music and MakeMusic will continue to operate independently. By sharing resources within the Peaksware group, additional investments and innovations will provide additional content and distribution channels for both companies. Specifically, this relationship will not change MakeMusic’s long-standing commitment to work equally with all publishing partners to provide the highest level of quality content for musicians and educators within SmartMusic.

“We are excited to be working with MakeMusic. Alfred Music truly believes in the MakeMusic products which is why we took over exclusive North American and UK distribution of the Finale suite of products in 2013. We also believe strongly in the SmartMusic platform, evidenced by the fact that we are one of its leading content providers. This partnership provides the resources needed to significantly enhance Alfred Music’s mission of helping the world experience the joy of making music,” said Andrew Surmani, Chief Marketing Officer of Alfred Music.” “We are combining the leading music education publisher with the industry leader in music technology to benefit everyone, from our music publishing partners, to music dealers, composers, arrangers, educators, students and independent musicians.”

MakeMusic owns some of the most advanced and patented technology solutions to support the composing, arranging, teaching, learning, and playing of music. Regular updates and innovations to Finale make it the industry standard for music notation software and the trusted creation tool for composers and arrangers around the world. With more than one million students and 20,000 teachers, SmartMusic is at the forefront of interactive learning technologies for the classroom. And, with their recent acquisition of Weezic, an Augmented Sheet Music innovator, SmartMusic will now be available wherever musicians are – on the web, Chromebooks, iPads, Mac and PC.

Alfred Music’s customers, dealers, and industry partners should expect business to continue as usual with no immediate changes. Alfred’s main office will remain in Van Nuys, California and additional offices will stay in their current New York, Miami, UK, Singapore, and Germany locations.

To stay current with further developments, visit the SmartMusic blog or follow Alfred on Twitter and MakeMusic on Twitter.

Jazz Ensemble: The 80 percent rule.

Pete BarenBregge

A jazz ensemble should always try to find its energy output “sweet spot.” What does this mean?
The sweet spot is all about playing with efficiency, and how much output or power the band can deliver. When the band can play with dynamics, have a core sound that is focused, deliver blend and balance, hear each other, and ultimately produce a cohesive and full sound as an ensemble—then you have found the sweet spot.

Often, if the band sees a fortissimo dynamic marking, that means they will play as loud as possible, at 100 percent. When that happens, that means every player is maxed out—with no room left for any nuances. In other words, you have nowhere to grow energy-wise, and that’s all you have to offer—you’re done! Instead, when the band plays, they should play at 80 percent. If they play unified attacks and releases, listen to each other, and play together as a unit, they will hardly ever exceed an output level of 80 percent of their potential. Let me be clear, this does not mean playing softer or with less intensity—you can still give 100 percent musically! This also doesn’t mean that the band should never play past the 80 percent level. There will be times when the band exceeds the 80 percent target. If the band is playing together and listening to their section and the ensemble, then every indicated dynamic and nuance and the overall band sound will be totally effective—all with the desired intensity.

Beyond the fact that when players exceed 80 percent output there is no room for nuances, the ensemble sound will be “spread.” This applies to every instrument, including the rhythm section. For example; if the rhythm players are playing too loud / too much, it will sound cluttered and the groove will typically be smothered, which means there is no space. The groove, no matter what the style is, needs some space to breathe. The saxes will be over blowing which will produce intonation problems, a distorted and poor tone, and the players will tire easily. The brass will also have intonation issues, the sound of the horn will be exaggerated, distorted with a wide sound with no center core, and players will definitely tire easily. Combine all that and the ensemble sound is “spread.” We’ve all heard bands do this and it’s not a good sound. Rhythm players will tire easily and wind players may feel tightness in their throat, hurt their ears, and more. It’s like putting the gas pedal to the floor all the time—not practical and not good.

Simply put, avoid over blowing the music. Yes, it’s loud but the sound will not carry to the back of the room because it is so spread. The goal is to back off a bit, get the same intensity, play together as one but with a solid and efficient tone that will project. The band will have more endurance, be able to execute dynamics and nuances, hear soloists, hear each other, and still be able to deliver 100 percent of the music with efficiency.

Let’s call the 80 percent concept “efficient playing.” An efficient band can deliver all the intensity it can muster and rarely exceed 80 percent. This includes all the dynamics—from fff to ppp, and any physical movements as well. The soloists will be heard, the background behind soloists will be just that, background. The rhythm section players will hear each other: the saxes and brass players will hear each other and play with better intonation. The audience will hear the nuances and dynamics, and not be overwhelmed with sheer volume. Everyone wins!

It all boils down to this: back off a notch and save some juice for that special moment. You’ll need to remind your band frequently about this efficient and more effective concept (and maybe remind certain individual players a little more often).

Enjoy the jazz!

Pete BarenBregge

Instrumental Jazz Editor

That Cheapskate Composer Guy

Rick Hirsh

That Cheapskate Composer Guy
By Rick Hirsch

“Where do you get your inspiration to write music?” I get that question all the time, and I’m still not sure how to answer it. There is no divine force that hands me complete tunes out of thin air . . . or even gives me a great 16-bar melody. Yet I manage to produce new music.

Why? It’s because I’m a cheapskate composer.

You see, I don’t like to write any more notes than necessary. When I uncover a little melodic-rhythmic motif with good bones I will see how much music I can squeeze out of it. I’ll sequence it, truncate it, transpose it to a different modality, invert it, slice it, dice it, you-name-it. And then I’ll sift through these ideas to see what I’m inspired to glue together into a larger statement.

My jazz ensemble piece “Chili Today, Hot Tamale” illustrates this concept well. The primary 16-bar melody is a 4-measure motif followed by three variations. A fourth variation appears as a countermelody later on. And a truncated version is used as a background figure behind soloists. In addition to saving me the trouble of having to come up with a bunch of new material, this sort of motivic construction unifies and strengthens the composition. And this specificity gives a piece like “Chili Today” a distinctive character and personality. You can listen and check it out at alfred.com.

This process of motivic development is nothing new. Think about the opening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, arguably the paragon of compositional thrift. Or check out Oliver Nelson’s tenor solo on “Stolen Moments,” a brilliant improvisation in which he spins out chorus after chorus of motivic variation. And then there is “Hip Song” by Thelonious Monk, an excellent example of thrift by a supreme musical tightwad.”

Share this concept with your students. Have them discover that the music they play is made from small building blocks. Ask them to point out passages in their parts that are—or aren’t related to the main theme. Have fun discovering your favorite musical cheapskates.

Brass Quintet Swing: It’s All about That Bass

Zachary Smith

If you have ever heard a brass quintet plod its way through what is supposed to be a “swinging” arrangement of a standard and wondered why it doesn’t feel right, the answer is simple: It’s “all about that bass”…or more accurately, the bass line and the tuba playing it.

In a typical “classical” brass quintet, the tuba is treated as one of five voices which come together to paint a sonic picture. To create an effective “swing” quintet arrangement, a composer has to write for four voices which will play over the top of a tuba bass line. Listen to a jazz small group and you will realize that the bass almost never stops playing—often playing a “walking four” as horn players solo over the top. The tuba has to embrace the same role for a brass quintet to swing and to maintain accurate time.

“Walking four” is the art of playing long strings of quarter notes which provide the chordal or harmonic foundation of a swing tune. One issue for the tuba player playing a walking bass line is that there seems to be no opportunity to breathe. A composer can address this problem with skillfully placed quarter or eighth rests, and the tuba player must learn to take quick, efficient breaths. Planning and practicing where to breathe should not be overlooked when rehearsing a swing tune.

Connecting notes is also critical when playing an effective walking bass line. When an acoustic bassist plucks a string, it rings until the next note is plucked. Many tuba players have a tendency to leave space in between every note they play. The result is a stilted bass line that sounds more like ragtime than swing. In the quintets I have written for Alfred Music I frequently write legato marks over the quarter notes for the tuba as a reminder (or plea) to use a “doo” tongue and connect the notes. In addition, the “doo” articulation will provide a smoother, more connected line, therefore a more effective approach to the quarter note line. If your quintet isn’t swinging, work on it from the bottom up—because it truly is, “All about that bass!”

Zachary Smith
See all titles from Zachary including his three new brass quintets here.

Whiplash—Conquering Complex Time Signatures in Jazz

Erik Morales

Erik Morales

“Whiplash”
By Erik Morales
10/09/2014

A movie hit the cinemas, Whiplash. This highly acclaimed film is about a young student drummer and his relentless pursuit of perfection. The title of the film is borrowed from a jazz band composition by Hank Levy of the same name and is featured in a key scene of the film. “Whiplash,” composed by Levy for the Don Ellis band, is a notoriously difficult piece. This is due largely in part from the time signature that prevails: 7/4. Don Ellis was a pioneer in championing music that had odd meters. But the difficulty does not necessarily arise from the 7/4 meter.

The challenge of this arrangement and many other odd meter pieces in any genre lies in how the individual measures of 7/4 are subdivided. In order to perform this piece effectively all members of the band must understand how each measure is sub-divided or broken down into smaller parts. Specifically, each measure is subdivided in groupings of two or three eighth notes. Of course the eighth note groupings are arranged in a manner that always equal out to seven full beats (14 eighth notes). These groupings are illustrated in the following manner: (2+2+2+2+3+3), (2+2+3+3+2+2), (3+3+2+2+2+2), (3+3+3+3+2), and so on.

Luckily, most of “Whiplash” is based on the (2+2+2+2+3+3) subdivision of the 7/4 meter. Another variation to count this subdivision is a measure of 4/4 plus a bar of 6/8. Levy’s genius shines in his ability to save the more complex subdivisions for later sections of the work including the head-spinning ending. I was lucky enough to create an arrangement of this work for Belwin Jazz (00-30647).

Whiplash

The Levy arrangement was out of print so hopefully I was able to bring new and fresh light on this terrific tune. My version of the work attempts to be as close as possible to the original version but remain within the standards of today’s modern jazz ensemble. The producers of this film could not have found a more appropriate title. Whiplash lives up to the billing as both a brilliant movie and a musical masterpiece.

I highly recommend students and educators step out of the common time “box” and explore odd meters. It is a great way to expand the focus of meter and time in general.

Most importantly, have fun playing jazz!

Erik Morales
http://moralesmusic.com/

Click Here to see all of Erik’s Belwin Jazz arrangements.