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What should be the fifth horn added to a quartet?

  • Sopranino

    Votes: 3 5.7%
  • C soprano

    Votes: 1 1.9%
  • F mezzo-soprano or Conn-O-Sax

    Votes: 3 5.7%
  • C melody

    Votes: 3 5.7%
  • Bass

    Votes: 31 58.5%
  • Contrabass

    Votes: 4 7.5%
  • Other (specify)

    Votes: 4 7.5%
  • A non-saxophone instrument (specify)

    Votes: 7 13.2%
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Discussion Starter #1
I have been arranging big band charts for sax ensemble, and I have found it easier and more suitable to write for five saxes rather than four. It allows me to rest the soprano to change the sound, and to have full chords behind a solo. Also I can bounce pairs of horns off each other, much as the brasses are bounced off the saxes in a big band. Thus far I have been writing with the idea that a C-mel would be the additional horn, but I realize that at some point, others may wish to use these arrangements as well. Thus I would like to solicit ideas as to the best added horn for the purpose. The only constraints are:
  • It has to be an addition to a SATB quartet
  • It has to not be a duplicate of something we already have.
Other issues are practical. For example I'd love to write with contrabass sax in mind, but the chances of getting one are slim and it would be the same situation for others wanting to use the arrangement. However, I could fake one in studio without too much difficulty.

You can vote more than once if you think there is more than one good answer.

Also, do you feel it is acceptable to introduce non-saxophone doubles for variety? This is made simpler by the use of five players, and would probably only consist of flute, piccolo, clarinet and bass clarinet. Not everyone would have to double.
 

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I'm not sure I quite understand... are you are writing for a saxophone ensemble, as in a saxophone "orchestra" such as this?

http://faculty.wvwc.edu/wright/aso.htm

or something smaller?

& if may ask, why are you opposed to using a duplicate of something you already have? Saxophone ensembles typically break down into something such as "S1, S2, A1, A2, T1, T2, Bari, Bass" or something of a similar nature. To get an idea of typical saxophone ensemble repertoire instrumentation, visit:

http://www.jayeaston.com/Saxophonist_resources/resources_sax_orch_rep.html

Regarding practicality, which I think is important of you to bring up if you'd like to see these arrangements published and/or performed, bass & C melody are very practical (although not many people have a set up that sounds great on C melody or play it regularly)...or even sopranino. But instruments like C soprano, Conn-o-sax, and contrabass would make it very difficult to have your arrangement played.

Doubling is even more practical, especially if you are writing this for a group of saxophonists that have experience playing in big bands. Flute & clarinet will be comfortable for most alto/tenor players. Bass clarinet for more experienced bari players.
 

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French horn.
 

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banjo;)

Seriously, some sort of rhythm instrument. Keyboards?
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I'm not sure I quite understand... are you are writing for a saxophone ensemble, as in a saxophone "orchestra" such as this?

http://faculty.wvwc.edu/wright/aso.htm

or something smaller?
Smaller. Exactly five, no doubling of parts. If it were effectively an orchestra, I could split the sections as necessary and would not hesitate to write 'nino and bass parts.

& if may ask, why are you opposed to using a duplicate of something you already have?
Part of the charm of a small ensemble is the way the individual voices can be made to blend, or to stand out. Since I am unlikely to challenge BOTH ends of the C-mel's range in one song, it could always be substituted for by alto or tenor depending on the situation. The nice part about C-mel in particular is that it can be "second alto" or "lead tenor" or "second tenor" as required. This is also where I think a lot of the doubles would go (particularly flute), as the loss of the C-mel from the ensemble would not create a gaping hole to fill.

Regarding practicality, which I think is important of you to bring up if you'd like to see these arrangements published and/or performed, bass & C melody are very practical (although not many people have a set up that sounds great on C melody or play it regularly)...or even sopranino. But instruments like C soprano, Conn-o-sax, and contrabass would make it very difficult to have your arrangement played.
Agreed, at least outside the studio where an instrument can be shifted an octave without too much trouble. I don't really think a C-sop sounds markedly different from a soprano, I just thought I'd throw it out there. If I wrote for C-sop or F-mezzo/Conn-O-Sax, I'd have to provide Bb sop and alto equivalents.

One really nice thing about using a bass is that it could trade off carrying the bass line with the bari. I know from experience that the walking bass line can get quite tiring, and it might make sense to set things up so that the role can be shared. The longer a tune goes, the more important this becomes.

Doubling is even more practical, especially if you are writing this for a group of saxophonists that have experience playing in big bands. Flute & clarinet will be comfortable for most alto/tenor players. Bass clarinet for more experienced bari players.
I was not really concerned if doubling is practical -- it obviously is. It was more a question of "purity". Does it somehow become inappropriate to describe the group as a sax quintet when there are times some of the people are playing flutes and clarinets?

Also I might want to change the composition for variety and to better suit an arrangement. While SACTB might be great for one chart (as it appears it will be for "All Of Me"), it might be more appropriate for another to use a 'nino plus SATB. Does it make more sense to ask two or more people to change so that the lead remains in the same hands, or does it make sense to leave four of the people on their best instruments and have the C-mel player switch to 'nino, and a totally different role in the ensemble?

banjo;)

Seriously, some sort of rhythm instrument. Keyboards?
I've considered that, but another thing I want to rule out is any sort of amplification. An acoustic guitar (or that banjo you mentioned) is a viable option, but keyboards are not. Using a chord instrument would reduce or eliminate the need to have saxophones doing things they aren't particularly good at, such as "chopping wood" like a guitar.
 

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I think practicality ceases being a factor as soon as you go beyond SATB in a sax ensemble, so I wouldn't worry further about it. Write what you want to hear and you have access to the players to cover. The rest of the world will just have to adapt to your instrumentation, or find some other music to play.
 

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I think that it is certainly a good idea to think about the marketability of the charts. Doing all of that work, you would hate it if nobody could use it, if instrumentation is obscure. Why not consider just adding another alto or tenor? Using them in different ranges could add more options for color. If I were to add another instrument in another family, I might consider adding a string bass. I like the idea of having doubles, as it would be really interesting to have the options of different colors. That said, if I were to want to market them, one would want to make sure that others could use them.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I think that it is certainly a good idea to think about the marketability of the charts. Doing all of that work, you would hate it if nobody could use it, if instrumentation is obscure. Why not consider just adding another alto or tenor? Using them in different ranges could add more options for color. If I were to add another instrument in another family, I might consider adding a string bass. I like the idea of having doubles, as it would be really interesting to have the options of different colors. That said, if I were to want to market them, one would want to make sure that others could use them.
I would add a 2nd alto= Soprano, Alto I, Alto II, Tenor, Baritone.
If I write for C-melody as the extra horn, it's no big deal to transpose the part to alto or tenor as the situation requires. Writing for bass (and transposing to bari II) is only slightly more difficult, but it does limit what I can do in terms of voicing when the (first) bari is used primarily as a middle-harmony instrument. It would mean lots of drop-2 and fully open voicings -- not that there's anything wrong with those, but I like having all the options available as much as possible. Drop-2 is somewhat inevitable when the lead line is screaming and there is no instrument of the same type to play a third lower.

I guess it's going to be a "whatever works" situation, meaning I have to try more than one way and possibly a different way from song to song or even within a song. Having five horns does make it easier to have someone change during a song without leaving too much empty space. I just have to approach the specialty sax as another double, and consider how that is going to play out if a group does not have one available. In the case of the 'nino that probably means keeping the part playable on soprano. I don't have a 'nino anyhow and would probably be faking it with a soprano and a bright mouthpiece. I am imagining the odd horns part will probably fall to me since I not only have a C-mel, but a setup that works and a sound I like.
 

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I'm with Gary - french horn is a good addition to a 4tet, I've played with this instrumentation before.

There is also merit to bass sax added or maybe a second alto depending on the chart.
 

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I said C-Mel, just because I thought it would be interesting.
 

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How about a clarinet? I know it doubles the soprano range (well, it goes a little higher, at least mine does :) ), I have heard some really nice arrangements in ALL styles with clarinet lead on top of saxes. i even wrote a jazz-funk chart in college with a clarinet lead, it adds a nice little spice at the top.

DON'T think Glenn Miller here, but go back to the Duke charts. Or go forward - I think there are examples of more modern writing with clarinet lead, like maybe Marty Paich? Bill Holman? someone like that (it's where I got the idea in college).
 

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OK let me add a related question -- it's still about writing for quartet or quintet.

The parts, naturally, are transposed for whatever horn is to play them. Should I provide the score in concert pitch or written pitch? I would think concert to be preferable. Certainly that's how I think about it when writing it, so if someone wants to reverse-engineer what I've done, concert pitch seems best.

I have posted one quartet thus far - Flight of the Foo Birds. The other two I have done so far are adversely affected without the fifth horn. This one, not so much.
 

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Back when I was arranging for big band, I did it both ways - transposed score and concert score. Of course, this was before there were computer notation programs... There are points both ways.

Transposed:
* It's easier to auralize (like visualize, but with the ears) what each instrument will sound like when writing for it directly.
* It's easier to copy the parts later (not an issue any more).

Concert:
* It's easier to auralize the entire arrangement.
* It's easier to transpose the whole arrangement (like for a singer who needs it down a step).

I like doing it both ways - it really depends on the chart. I once had to transcribe a bunch of Basie charts, and I found it easier to write the scores transposed, because it's easier to hear what each horn is doing.

If I had to write a chart today, I'd do it in concert pitch, probably, and let the computer do the dirty work. HTH.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
If I had to write a chart today, I'd do it in concert pitch, probably, and let the computer do the dirty work. HTH.
That's how I've been doing it for however long I've had Encore. (17 years? 18? Something like that.) One thing that helps is to use octave clefs for the middle parts. Instead of tenor clef or bass clef I will use the treble clef with the 8 below it. This way the leger lines stay under control but I don't have to deal with reading yet a third clef. There is no really good answer for the alto sax line, a straight treble clef means leger lines below, and an octave clef means lots of leger lines above. I opt for the plain treble clef though. The bari is in bass clef because that visually translates quite well to the playing range of the horn. Bass sax also gets bass clef by default, there really is no other choice. As with the alto, I have to consciously keep range in mind, and sometimes think whether something will lie well on the horn.

Since I'm not providing chord changes except for the soloists, someone might find themselves having to reverse-engineer my voicings. That is much easier to do when the parts are in the same key. Ah well, you get it the way that works for ME then. Treble, treble, octave treble, and bass, all in concert pitch. If you want to see how it looks on the part... then look at the part. There are only four or five of them.
 

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I'm with Keller, I'd write it all in concert pitch, then let the computer transpose it to the key necessary. My only caveat to that is making sure you transpose up and down properly, you don't want your tenor playing above the alto pitches because the computer put one up and one down.


As far as the original post, adding a second alto normally is common practice. I'm speaking for a classical sax side though, I'm sure a bass or something would provide a bit more rhythm could be beneficial.

- Pat
 

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Just because it is a quintet of 5 players, doesn't mean that it has to be limited to a quintet of 5 saxes. It is not unheard of to have players switch instrumentation during the piece.

I think most of your choices are not very practical. As far as marketability, all of the saxes you have listed are not very readily available. So you'd need to rewrite it for the common 4 sizes of saxes. Since you are writing jazz, to stray from the typical A(S)ATTB form of a sax quintet, from a strictly market stand point.

If you are talking sound I voted for bass. You can use the bass for walking bass lines a lot easier then a bari. It has always been my philosophy that as you take the voicing higher you need to take it lower also to balance it. So if you are using soprano as opposed to 2 altos, adding a bass makes sense.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Just because it is a quintet of 5 players, doesn't mean that it has to be limited to a quintet of 5 saxes. It is not unheard of to have players switch instrumentation during the piece.
Agreed, and I have already put some flute doubling in the alto part of one arrangement. It is one (admittedly not very imaginitive) way to deal with piano fills in tunes where these are essential. I am trying to keep things on the light and mobile side though, which is why I have ruled out instruments that require amplification. This also means asking for more than one lightweight double each is impractical, and none are required of bari or bass. (This means scratching bass clarinet as an option.)

I think most of your choices are not very practical. As far as marketability, all of the saxes you have listed are not very readily available. So you'd need to rewrite it for the common 4 sizes of saxes. Since you are writing jazz, to stray from the typical A(S)ATTB form of a sax quintet, from a strictly market stand point.
This is why I watch the range when I use a C-mel as the added part. It's not a big deal to provide the same part for alto and/or tenor, as the computer makes short work of such things.

If you are talking sound I voted for bass. You can use the bass for walking bass lines a lot easier then a bari. It has always been my philosophy that as you take the voicing higher you need to take it lower also to balance it. So if you are using soprano as opposed to 2 altos, adding a bass makes sense.
I do like using a bass, and it allows me to do interesting things like throw the bass line back and forth between bass and bari, and put solos in the bass sax part. For example I threw the trumpet solo of "In The Mood" into the bass sax part just because it sounds cool that way. I even cued in the original trumpet solo, two octaves lower. The down side is that it leaves the bari a little bit stranded -- it ends up being at the upper end of its range an awful lot and I have to invert voicings to keep it in check. My preference ends up being heavily influenced by key. Songs in C and F work great within (low A) bari range, but songs in Bb, Eb, Ab... not so much.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Well I decided that most of the time, the best answer is "none". I'm sticking with a quartet format. If I add a fifth player, it will probably be a percussionist. This would give me much more flexibility to do Latin jazz. Right now, with swing tunes only, I'm not finding it too hard to write licks that melodically simulate drum fills. Latin percussion is so much busier, and so much more integral to the groove, that I need a real drummer.

Also I now have three charts online, and more will be coming (they're written, just not broken out into individual parts yet). This includes a clean-up of "Foo Birds", as I caught some correctable errors and missing accents/dynamics.

http://mal-2.com/charts/sax4tet

I have also done some twists just for s***s and giggles. For example, I have moved the trumpet solo on "In The Mood" to the bari part. I have even transcribed the original solo, if the player wants to use it (two octaves below the original pitch). "Jumpin' at the Woodside" features a full solo chorus for ALL FOUR HORNS in turn. "Fly Me to the Moon" is NOT lifted from the Basie arrangement, except for eight bars near the end which I did from memory.
 
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