Rescoring for jazz ensembles

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Al Hager –
Jazz ensembles with standard instrumentation have the opportunity and obligation to build repertoire. Playing lots of literature at the appropriate degree of difficulty is advantageous for groups at any level. Most literature is written for five saxes, eight to ten brass, piano, bass, drums and guitar. Assuming this instrumentation is ideal, you should strive to assemble the perfect band. However, adjustments must usually be made to compensate.
Composers and arrangers who write for younger groups are aware of instrumentation deficiencies and usually offer suggestions for making their charts work. A role of many of the less complicated charts is getting as many people swinging as possible so standard instrumentation is not as great a concern. More advanced groups playing more advanced literature should make instrumentation more of a priority.
As a general rule, doubling parts should be avoided. The traditional concept of an ensemble and respect for the composer/arranger must be considered. Therefore, rescoring is the alternative.
What if you have more than five saxes? There are situations when ten saxes doubling a soli can sound great but those same ten in unison behind a flugel horn solo would not. If you have three altos, don’t double lead; with four, split evenly. The primary concern should be balance within the section and throughout the band.
What if you have less than five saxes? With two, use altos; with three, use altos and one tenor. When working with four, the bari is usually the one to use but you must analyze the chord structure to decide. In older arrangements using five, bari often doubled lead alto so tenor was the choice. Soprano sax can add color. Transpose the lead alto down a fifth.
What do you do with flutes and clarinets? First, encourage them to learn saxophone but a flute can be effective when doubling alto in soli and piccolo adds a nice edge doubling lead trumpet in a shout chorus. Use clarinets on the tenor parts played an octave lower rather than doubling trumpets.
What do you do with a lack of trombones? Sometimes the arrangement will work as written in tutti sections but not for background parts. Either tacit those sections or fill in the parts with saxes in the trombone range. Because balance and chord voicing are the main issues, try rescoring the whole chart for one brass part. Put a flugel horn on lead trombone and the trombone on the critical chord tone (usually the third or seventh). Try doubling lead trumpet with the one trombone while the other trumpets fill in the middle notes. This is the concept used by the Glenn Miller sax section (unison clarinet lead and lower tenor part in octaves with the other saxes in the middle) and the George Shearing Quintet (vibes and guitar in octaves with the piano on the middle notes). If there are extra trumpets, have them play euphonium. Teach them the bass clef transposition or write it out.
The euphonium and flugel horn are versatile instruments because they blend so well. They are great solo instruments and add color to unison lines. When used in their respective section, they should play the lower parts.
Tuba players can add depth to a full brass section. When writing their part, use sections from the bass, bari sax, left-hand piano and fourth trombone. Be careful of chord voicing in trombone solis.
What if you don’t have a bass player? This is serious. Every band room should have at least one school-owned acoustic and electric bass displayed prominently. Encourage your best tuba player to learn it as a potentially lucrative double because bass players always get work. The basics are relatively uncomplicated and in the hands of a responsible individual it can quickly become the solid foundation for your jazz ensemble. Recruit from the orchestra. The transfer from acoustic to electric is relatively easy. A keyboard bass can keep rehearsals moving while you develop a regular player. Do not use left hand acoustic piano as a substitute. Don’t use a tuba for bass parts unless you are playing Dixieland or Dirty Dozen Brass Band covers.
Mallet parts can be very effective. Vibes or bells blend well with saxes and a xylophone puts a nice edge (like piccolo) on strong tutti sections and shout choruses. This was a signature sound for the Rob McConnell band.
Don’t use a guitar just to fill a chair. Unless the player is relatively competent or taking lessons, it may be more trouble than it’s worth. Two guitars can work with one doubling lead lines and the other on rhythm as long as it doesn’t conflict with the piano.
Strive for contrast in the rhythm section. Be sure the comping parts agree on chords and there is no clutter. Piano players should use the pedal sparingly. Try alternating guitar and piano within sections of a tune. Try leaving the entire rhythm section out for a chorus. Try using just the bass player for a chorus. The drummer should be the one capable of the most contrast concerning dynamics and color. Changing cymbals between sections works effectively. Switching from ride cymbal to high hat will immediately bring dynamics down a level.
Too much rescoring can become time consuming and alter the intent of the arranger but in most ensembles, some is necessary. You are fortunate if your band is comfortable reading, rehearsing and performing lots of literature. Performance responsibilities usually dictate this as a luxury but a worthwhile goal. Adjusting quickly to any arrangement is desirable in any band.

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