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Thread: On Writing/Arranging for Big Band

  1. #1
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    On Writing/Arranging for Big Band

    I bought my first arranging book ever. It's really sweet. You may know it, maybe it's good maybe it isn't but it's Inside The Score which analyzes charts from Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones, and Bob Brookmeyer; including a CD of the score played along so you could follow. A lot of nice stuff I'm seeing in there.

    So, I have a couple questions (and will resort to this thread on all my Big Band Arranging needs). . .

    • Is it common, even in professional charts written for professionals to write out a bass line except for solos? Do bass players often follow these changes?
    • When you're following a chart what do you read? I find myself reading the lead alto since it's at the top; but is there a different way to do it. I can't really "read" all the staves at once.
    • Is guitar often doubled on the same clef as piano? It's that way on every chart in the book, and sometimes adds the bass to the piano and guitar. What gives of this?

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    I'm not a professional arranger, but I did have the opportunity to study with one. With regard to written bass lines, I think his advice would be that you have to know who you're writing for. If you want your music to be playable by students you'll want to be modest with instrument ranges, write out baselines, etc. If you're writing for your own band or studio players, they know what to do.

    As a piano player, I've seen a good number of piano parts from the published versions of Nestico arrangements. I don't know what Nestico actually handed to Count Basie, but Basie sure isn't playing the notes written in my part most of the time. I'd guess Nestico or someone at the publishing company wrote the piano parts years later so that high school bands could buy and play the charts.

    My arranging professor had a few interesting stories about writing readable parts. For example, he mentioned a chart once someone had arranged for a few big-name jazz guys to play with a pops orchestra. The jazz guys know how to swing, so they had a typical jazz part in 4/4. The orchestra guys, on the other hand, don't really know how to swing. They got the same part written in 12/8 with triplets instead of swung 8ths.

    The first step in writing playable and readable charts is deciding who needs to be able to play and read them.

  3. #3
    AAJ's Monster Under The Bed!!! tweebinmusic's Avatar
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    for the following lines

    with a great book like inside the score, you can take advantage of the ability to do this without the restraints of rehearsing a large band.

    practice following various parts of the chart, seeing it by section, by detail, by complexity. you will often see sections and parts couple up together...
    eventually you may be able to hear the voicings by reading parts, but just learning where to find the information is all you really need. (the chord symbols in the piano part can give you lots of clues when listening for wrong notes. You will very quickly learn to discern voicing types from the shapes seen in the sectional voicings.

    take your time, you can probably follow way more than you think, but it will take DOING it lots to get better.
    Eat a Live Toad in the morning, nothing worse will happen all day!

  4. #4
    Jazz Artist, Author EdByrne's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by iShawn View Post
    I bought my first arranging book ever. It's really sweet. You may know it, maybe it's good maybe it isn't but it's Inside The Score which analyzes charts from Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones, and Bob Brookmeyer; including a CD of the score played along so you could follow. A lot of nice stuff I'm seeing in there.

    So, I have a couple questions (and will resort to this thread on all my Big Band Arranging needs). . .

    • Is it common, even in professional charts written for professionals to write out a bass line except for solos? Do bass players often follow these changes?
    • When you're following a chart what do you read? I find myself reading the lead alto since it's at the top; but is there a different way to do it. I can't really "read" all the staves at once.
    • Is guitar often doubled on the same clef as piano? It's that way on every chart in the book, and sometimes adds the bass to the piano and guitar. What gives of this?
    I'm familiar with this fine book from years ago, but I don't have it in front of me. My recollection is as follows:

    With regard to your first question, no, we don't usually write out lines for professional bassists.

    Guitar does not custimarilly appear written on the same staff as piano.

    The editor, I believe, joined the guitar with piano on the score as a convenience for the reader--and also possibly to save space on his mini score examples. In the case of the bass lines, he wanted you to see the lines "realized," so you could concentrate on the real point: the orchestration example in question.

    Tweebin is correct regarding score reading. With experience you begin to see in groupings, since in big band writing much of it is done in sections. First you study the score in all its' detail by taking it apart, and then you begin to see the larger picture.

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    I have this book, and as a companion, I'd pick up the Henry Mancini book too.

  6. #6
    Jazz Artist, Author EdByrne's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OnyaBirri View Post
    I have this book, and as a companion, I'd pick up the Henry Mancini book too.
    and the Don Sebeski book too

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    Brookmeyer's "Hello And Goodbye" is the shit!!!!!!

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    So then I write something in the style of one of these compositions? Or should I go completely through it and try to digest each one?

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    Quote Originally Posted by iShawn View Post
    So then I write something in the style of one of these compositions? Or should I go completely through it and try to digest each one?
    why not both? of course, the latter thing first...

  10. #10
    Compose /Arranger / Jazz Prod. Phil Kelly's Avatar
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    "Inside the score" is an excellent book, and the analysis and the two line concert sketch reductions ( with Wrights comments above ) are worth their weight in gold.

    The book I recommend first to those interested in arranging is the Sammy Nestico "Complete Arranger"
    It goes into the basics in a much greater depth that the more advanced Wright book. It also includes a discussion of studio electronic instruments which the others don't.

    The Sebesky book is also excellent. I feel the Mancini Book is a bit dated these days.

    As for your question about bass lines: I tend to be fairly careful about writing them out during ensembles, because there will be places where you need the harmonic and rhythmic features to agree exactly with the ensemble. However, I also include the changes all the way through .

    Hope this helps!




    Phil Kelly
    www.philkellymusic.com
    NW Prevailing Winds
    SW Santa Ana Winds
    Origin Records
    Swing ..or I'll kill you ( Bill Potts )
    RIP

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    Thanks all so far. I'll pick up the Don Sebesky book and the Complete Arranger when I've gotten as much as I could out of this one.

    The changes all the way through is something I already do, I just see such a variant I wasn't too sure. But I'll be sure to put something when it's needed.

    Phil, I checked out your site and saw the "ask Phil". I'll be sure to do that. But I don't know how easily that can be done since I have Sibelius. . .

  12. #12
    Compose /Arranger / Jazz Prod. Phil Kelly's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by iShawn View Post
    Phil, I checked out your site and saw the "ask Phil". I'll be sure to do that. But I don't know how easily that can be done since I have Sibelius. . .

    The best suggestion I can offer is to contact the webmistress of my site on jazz corner and ask her if posting some kind of jpg image of a Sibelius file is possible. The only problem is I can't post any sketches directly back to you because of the" Finale Well"

    I've had that site over four years, and NO ONE has yet asked me any questions ..I kinda wonder if the feature even works!

    Swing ..or I'll kill you ( Bill Potts )
    RIP

  13. #13
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    I'm looking into "Dolet" which supposedly allows me to export as a Finale file the best way possible. If that can't happen, I'll email her and try to find another way. But it will be away before I can send anything anyways. Pretty bogging down here

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    My first arranging book

    Normally the bass part is written, chord symbols can be provided throughout the whole arrangement or just the improvised areas. By writing the bass you can make sure the bass has a good relationship with the melody, by checking for parallel 5th or unison, another simple adjustment is to get your bass moving in opposite direction of the melody. Bass parts are easy to write when you know how to join the notes together. By writing this way you will give a positive forward motion to the bass.
    You can write an improvised type of bass line by filling in the chord tone with pass notes which create smooth stepwise motion.
    This is what a good bassist would do if he had the time and knowledge of you piece.
    Don’t forget the old saying “leaps in the bass add vigour”!

    What to listen to? Do you want to do a transcription?

    A two stave part with bass and gtr chords was written on scores up until computers arrived. Today each rhythm section instrument has a part. You can help your guitarist by not including upper alterations of chords that are diatonic. Such as A7 (b9) in the key of Bb (V/111) A7 is better.

  15. #15
    Compose /Arranger / Jazz Prod. Phil Kelly's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by byrneup View Post
    You can help your guitarist by not including upper alterations of chords that are diatonic. Such as A7 (b9) in the key of Bb (V/111) A7 is better.
    In general , this is sound advice ( since the point of written out changes is to give the soloist the most concise and most easily readible guidelines ) Let the soloist fill in the "hot notes" with his ears while playing.

    One other option for modally based tunes with long harmonic rhythms: write out one octave of the desired mode as stemless notes in the first bar and label it correspondingly ( "dorian", "mixolydian" etc )
    Swing ..or I'll kill you ( Bill Potts )
    RIP

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