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Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2007-
2,666 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A concept for starting a new jazz ensemble in my area is starting to jell in my mind.

I see the band developing in two phases. The final phase will have this instrumentation: 4 woodwind players (LOTS of sax, clarinet, flute/piccolo, oboe doubles with an emphasis on 2 clarinets and 2 bass clarinets), french horn, trombone, tuba, and rhythm section. Most likely, it will take some time to get that off the ground. Therefore, as a first phase I envision the 4 woodwind players and rhythm section. I'm thinking that a quick way to put together a book is to adapt published small group charts (for 4 horns) for the woodwinds.

With all of this in mind, I'm looking for sources of really good, creative, small group charts. Think Carla Bley....

Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Thanks! Roger

Distinguished SOTW Member and Old King Log
801 Posts
A couple of alternatives you might consider...

There's nothing wrong with innovative instrumentation from a concept standpoint; ask Stan Getz (if he's taking any calls these days). But, when it comes down to ensemble playing, the music that's out there and available, you start to run into some real world restraints.

The obvious "fits all situations" way of handling this is to use fake books with lead sheets. These are provided with chords for the changes, plus a melody line written out (and often include the words as well). Using these, folks skilled at playing together are able to turn out decent "combo" arrangements on the fly. However, these work best when restricted to a combo setting (rhythm section plus one or two horns), and the harmonic "arrangement" can get pretty muddy if you have too many players coming up with a different interpretation at once.

(Fake books (or "real books", to use the name of one famous one) are available in C, C (bass clef), Bb and Eb. These accommodate most every instrumentation normally used (but not French horns or English horns).)

"Common", non-school band instrumentation for which published parts is available, is going to be limited to arrangements like the ever popular 5444 (and in some of the "student versions" of charts available, perhaps as high as 7455) group composition. The numbers refer to saxes, trumpets, trombones and rhythm (bass, guitar, percussion and piano). The "school" versions occasionally include parts for clarinet, flute, baritone horn and tuba, hence the odd number count there.

(There are also other groupings, such as "tenor bands", but I'm trying to keep this simple.)

That's not to say that you can't reassign the parts of any of these as you will, but the intended voicing envisioned by the arranger will go missing if you do.

As an alternative approach, you could do your own arranging (thereby accommodating that English horn player that might wander into your fold), but that's a big time and effort commitment. With teaching, you've already got a handful to deal with, so this is probably not practical.

(One of my former trombone players was a music teacher in a small parocial school, was blessed one year with a 'cello player to integrate into his odd combination "band". It worked out pretty well for all concerned, but he had the only pep band in the world that had an amplified 'cellist sitting there in the stands next to the sax players.)

There are sources for "X horn" bands, and you can find sources for these on the internet as well as in ads in the International Musician each month. Usually, you need to ask just what "3 horns" and such means, since they may have a different concept than you.

Unfortunately, there's very little out there written for your prospective group. (Hector Berlioz and his concepts aside, most don't see much utility in having multiple bass clarinets in their group...) And, stuff written for (say) two tenors may not be musically appropriate for a pair of basses.

There may be some economical "middle ground" here. The same trombone player above wanted to introduce something other than concert band stuff, and (before he relocated last month) was experimenting with old "stock" arrangements.

These are orchestrations produced by commercial publishing houses back in the years 1920 - 1960, written for something like a 4324-1 instrumentation. Usually, these have four or five saxophones (sometimes including a baritone, often including clarinets that "double" the parts), and most have a provision for vocal parts as well if desired. In many of them, there are also two violin parts...a relic of the 1920's if ever I've seen one.

You'd recognize the arrangers in some cases - folks like Johnny Warrington, Art Dedrick, and others from the "good old days". And the tunes are literally a walk down memory lane Moon River; Seems Like Old Times; Hernando's Hide-a-way and other "pop" standards from the old days.

There were genuine commercial arrangements, written for the hotel orchestras of the 1920's and 1930's, and were further arranged to allow the omission of some of the parts without harming the whole.

I still use some of these when someone's looking for a particular tune. The band members don't like them because they are "corny", but often that's just what pleases the person who has requested them. And, they have the advantage over most of the "jazz band" oriented stuff in that the tunes are recognizable by the general public.

There are folks that sell these today; is one (with a huge collection of the smaller sized group arrangements listed by instrumentation on their website) and there are undoubtedly others. The basic style went out of fashion around about 1960 (there are some rock tunes that are available in "stocks" (mostly by the ubiquitous Johnny Warrington back in the Brill Building days), but not too many).

Also, there's another route to take for "small groups", although it's not perfectly suited for your proposed mix as we see it here. Long ago and far away, when I taught clarinet. I found that, in addition to standard methods and studies, that so-called "SSA" vocal arrangements, normally used by high school swing choirs.

These are three part, treble clef arrangements pitched in C, with attached piano accompaniment. When I used them, two soprano clarinets took the two soprano parts, and a bass covered the alto line. (We did not use the piano part, and if we did want to do so, it (or the clarinet parts) would have had to be transposed.

The kids liked these, since they often were based upon pop tunes and music that they (and their parents) looked forward to these each lesson. I would have the second student show up fifteen minutes early (to overlap with the previous student), and then the three of us would play them together.

Aside from being "recognizable" tunes, these SSA arrangements have one other great benefit: they are dirt cheap. For a minimal investment of fifteen dollars, I got about ten of them, enough to last through a typical teaching year. The only problem with them is that they'd not work with student trombonists, as they have no bass clef melody/harmony line.

Push comes to shove, getting something in your specific instrumentation is going to be tough. No matter what you do, you'll most likely either settle for adaptation of something else or the do it yourself approach.

Premium Member
1,586 Posts
Roll your own, YO!

Seriously, if you are going to use an odd instrumentation like that, I think it would be better to just start out writing your own stuff, than to sit down and try and arrange "standard" (or whatever you are interested in playing) into a groups like that. We need more GOOD, ORIGINAL music. Not just rehashes of stuff that's already been done.

Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2007-
2,666 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I just learned that there is a possibility that I might be able to get an early retirement package from work. If that happens I'll suddenly have much more time for writing! I have a bunch of originals and some extended pieces that I'd like to use. If I do, indeed, have more free time I'll work on arranging them. But, to get up and running quickly with the group I think that I will start with some existing 4-horn charts and rescore them for this woodwind concept.

Between the 4 doublers I'll have there will be: 2 sopranos, 3 altos, 3 tenors, 1 bari, 4 clarinets, 2 bass clarinets, 2-3 flutes, 2 piccolos, and 1 oboe. Plus, one of the guys is thinking about getting an accordian. ha ha ha That's a lot of color and voicing possibilities! One thing, off the top of my head, that I want to try is bass clarinet lead over 3 tenors.

Another crazed idea I've had is to take existing big band charts and use alto & bass clarinets and a contra alto clarinet on the sax parts. That would be different! No transposition or rescoring would be neccessary. The challange, of course, is to line up enough low clarinets.

This is going to be fun!

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