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Topic: Big Band Orchestration?

  1. #1

    Big Band Orchestration?


    Is anyone here experienced in big band orchestration? From frequenting this forum I've seen that there are lots of resources for those into traditional orchestration. But can someone recommend resources for big band orchestration? Here's a bit of an explanation of what I need:

    For many years I've been writing for a five piece horn section, consisting of 2 Trumpets, Trombone, Tenor and Bari Sax, (and rhythm section). In that context, the horns sort of function as "jacks of all trades"; meaning that sometimes they'll be playing in a sax section style, and other times they'll playing more Trumpet section-like fashion. Lately, I've been considering taking it to the next level, and learning to write for full big band; meaning 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 5 saxes and full rhythm section. (This is where something like the upcoming Garritan Big band Collection will come in VERY handy.)

    I recently recorded a cd with this 5 horn band, and for the most part it was very successful, in terms of what I was able to achieve artistically with only the 5 horns. But here's where my knowledge and experience failed me:

    I wrote a chart where the two trumpets and trombone were using harmon mutes, and of course, the saxes were not. (This was the first time I'd ever tried writing for muted horns.) These were 4 or 5 note voicings. Unfortunately in that configuration, I was not able to get the section to blend properly. The saxes sounded too different from the muted brass, and the muted bone was not able to "bridge the sonic gap" between the brass and reeds. Ultimately the only solution was to lose all the mutes, and just play everything open; which luckily worked in the context of this piece.

    So when I hear a harmon-muted big band chart, what am I hearing? All 4 Trumpets with harmon mutes? Also, I'd like to begin to incorporate flutes and clarinets into my writing as well, in conjunction with the muted brass. This is the kind of info that I'm looking for.

    For further clarity: Ego aside, note selection and voicings are not an issue for me. It's NOT about, "how do I get get a nice fat voicing for a C7 #9". I've already got that knowledge. At this point it's more about what instruments that I assign the notes to in order to achieve various big band colors. My tastes tend to lean in the direction of Mintzer, Buddy Rich, Thad & Mel, etc. And while I'm not crazy about the "Muzak-y" nature of Natalie Cole recordings, I'm drawn to the woodwind and muted brass colors on them. The same thing with Dave Grusin's horn charts; love the colors, but a bit over-commercialized for my taste.

    So how do I go about learning this stuff? I wish I was in NY or Boston to access one of the music colleges, but that's not an option.

    Any thoughts?

  2. #2

    Re: Big Band Orchestration?

    I have been looking into the same thing myself and have come across a 1st rate big band arranger in Adrian Drover (a frequenter of the Sibelius mailing list). He & I are currently trying to set up a system of tuition via email.

    Send me a private email and I'll let you have his contact information. You may know some of his charts for the Maynard Ferguson band, most famously MacArthur Park.


    G5 Dual 2Gb, 4Gb Ram, OSX.3.8, UAD-1, PoCo, Logic 7.01, Logic Control & XT, EWQLSO Gold, BFD

  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    NW Illinois

    Re: Big Band Orchestration?


    William Russo (Sten Kenton Orchestra) wrote a few books on jazz arranging/orchestration that I thought were well done. Don Sebesky's THE CONTEMPORARY ARRANGER is good also. He has a little more emphasis on commercial/studio writing aspect, but he does a good job of covering the "instrumental colors" available to a jazz orchestrator.

    I think studying scores is always good. You might not be near NY, but everyone at least has at least junior college nearby. More than likely, they have a jazz band. Go meet the director. Tell him what you're looking for. He might let to photocopy some scores to study. Once you've made that contact, and when your jazz writing chops get cooking, you've got a band at your disposal who could read the charts down.

    If you're interested in Ellington at all, go here.

    David Berger working with the Jazz at Lincoln Center program, each year transcribes vintage Ellinton recordings. These scores and parts are given to many schools free. But anyone can purchase the individual scores for $10 each.

    Hope this helps,

  4. #4

    Re: Big Band Orchestration?

    Berklee in Boston has correspondence courses that would teach you exactly what you are looking for. I took their arranging correspondence course back in the 60's and it was the most beneficial course I ever had.


  5. #5

    Re: Big Band Orchestration?

    Aside from period pieces (like Basie's trpts/bones all in cup mutes or Henry Mancini's brass in buckets), mutes are the arranger's salt and pepper, and a little goes a long way. With an ensemble the size you were using, one muted trumpet would have sufficed. Mutes need support underneath them in an ensemble context. Mixed mutes in the trumpet section can be used as well, along with the altos on flute, tenors on clarinet and bari on bass clarinet. I've written charts with the trumpets as 2 flugehorns/1 plunger/1 harmon, there's all kinds of colors you can explore.

    I read the Russo book cover to cover back in the mid-70's and in the end was more confused than enlightened(it's some heavy reading). The Sebesky book was pretty good, the Mancini allright, but nothing beat a one-on-one with people like Herb Pomeroy and Wes Hensel.

  6. #6

    Re: Big Band Orchestration?

    "Sounds and Scores" by Mancini is a good resource, although it might be a bit basic for you.


  7. #7

    Re: Big Band Orchestration?

    I'm currently reading "Arranging for Large Jazz Ensemble" from Berklee Press. It's got a chapter on woodwind doubling and muted brass.


    I read "Arranged by Nelson Riddle" a number of years ago and as I remember it had some material about instrumental combinations and various coloristic effects.


  8. #8

    Re: Big Band Orchestration?

    Many thanks for all the suggestions! The Berklee courses are a bit pricey. I'm going to look into some of the books you've all recommended, starting with the Sebesky book (which I just ordered from Amazon). I've always enjoyed his writing, and since this book comes with audio examples, it sounds like it might be just what I need.

    Bruce, thanks for the suggestions. That's the kind of hands-on info I really need. Feel free to offer any more of that you'd feel like offering.

    Gary Garritan (if you're listening):

    Will the new Big Band Collection include multiple muted brass, flutes and clarinets?

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