EXPLORING JAZZ ARRANGING
USING GARRITAN JAZZ & BIG BAND
INTERACTIVE EDITION

by Chuck Israels




Lesson 8 - Melody & Orchestration


Creating and orchestrating a coherent and balanced melody:



Of all the challenges facing the jazz composer/arranger, among the most difficult, and most important, is learning to create good melodies. The first step, as it is in acquiring comfort and confidence in other arranging techniques, is to listen to and internalize well-constructed melodies that others have written. This is an ongoing process in which the principles of coherence and balance are slowly absorbed and incorporated until the arranger’s own output begins to reflect his or her listening experience. Good examples abound, and they start at least as early as Mozart’s sublime music and, in jazz, as early as Louis Armstrong.

The combinations of intervals and rhythm that make up melodic form are subject to some observable principles of balance and development that can be understood and refined with persistent practice. The first thing to understand is that the right proportion of repetition is a friend of memorable melody. In balancing repetition and invention, about 2/3 of the melodic and rhythmic information needs to be recognizable as belonging to the original germ of the idea, or at least growing from it in a logical and predictable pattern of development. That means that outright repetition, repetition with small changes, and sequences where similar melodic patterns occur at different pitch levels, are all necessary elements of coherent music.

Other elements found in memorable melodies are, rhythmic patterns that produce expectations and surprise, and new pitches at important points like the beginnings and ends of phrases and the outsides of the melodic contour – places where the melody changes direction. It’s also a good idea to have a balance between conjunct (scalar) motion and disjunct motion (intervallic skips). There is a general principle that the ear wants to have the last skip resolved by step in the opposite direction. There are techniques to delay this kind of melodic resolution, but there is a real pull for skips to resolve this way eventually. It is quite normal for a succession of skips to appear in a good melody. It is only when returning to conjunct motion that attention needs to be paid to this tendency for resolution.

Jazz melodies welcome variety in the rhythmic placement of beginnings and endings of phrases.

There are as many working methods of achieving good melodies as there are people who write them. Some composers start with a methodical application of a technical dea and finish by inserting elements and making adjustments that add to the illusion of spontaneity. Others write more quickly, letting the melody flow unimpeded by technical concerns and clean up the results later. One way I have found to start the juices flowing is to sketch gestures, notating rhythm and intervallic direction, adjusting the exact pitches only after the overall contour and rhythmic flow have been established.

It’s a good idea not to get blocked when confronting a point in the piece that defies apparent solution. If possible, move on to later, less problematic parts of the piece and return to the problem spot later. you will often find that the feeling of blockage is removed as the problem spot changes from one that stands in the way of the rest of the music to one that simply needs to connect what precedes it to the already written part that follows - a far less daunting challenge.

When working with the melodic contour of a bass line, the composer is making decisions and creating patterns that are (usually) partially controlled by the limitations of an existing melody, or at least a harmonic pattern, against which the bass part must function. There are also limitations of rhythmic possibility that are governed by the style of jazz accompaniments. So, as much freedom as there is in creating bass lines, lead melodies allow and demand more variety.

Good tunes are usually generated from a germinating motive that develops in a way that balances repetitive elements with fantasy and free association. When the creative juices are flowing, and ideas continue without difficulty, just write. When an obstacle turns up, and you don’t know how to continue, there is a set of effective techniques that composers have been using for centuries to solve those problems.
  • Repetition
  • Sequence (transposed repetition, including octave displacement)
  • Inversion (turning the motive upside down)
  • Retrograde (playing it backwards)
  • Retrograde Inversion (backwards and upside down)
  • Augmentation and Diminution (These work in pitch and duration – changing rhythmic and intervallic proportions.)
  • Fragmentation (using part of the motive)
  • Interjection and Extension (inserting elements in the existing motive or continuing it beyond its expected length)
  • Rhythmic Displacement (placing the motive in a different part of the measure and changing the rhythmic emphasis in relation to the underlying pulse)

Composers often find favorites among these techniques and ignore others. (Monk loves repetition combined with rhythmic displacement, and I don’t know if I’ve ever consciously used any music backwards.)

Here is an example of a melody written to the harmonies of “Honeysuckle rose”. Some of the motives, variation techniques, and general characteristics have been indicated, but there are still other elements that help to maintain the listener’s attention. It’s worth taking note of the places that show similar rhythms, and similar rhythmic entrances and endings, and those that show variety. All analytical notations have been added after the fact. The melody was first written with only subconscious awareness of the formal relationships; then adjustments were applied while paying attention to the balances among important elements.



Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:


Click on Play Button below to Play from the Score



ORCHESTRATION OF MELODIES AND LEAD PARTS

This example appears as it would be written for, and played by, a piano. The range and character of this melody suits a variety of orchestration possibilities. It can be comfortably played by a soprano saxophone, clarinet or trumpet, at pitch, by a tenor saxophone an octave lower, and by a flute an octave higher. Here is how the parts would appear for trumpet and tenor saxophone in octaves, a traditional and appropriate orchestration. In this case, both parts look identical with the normal tenor transposition sounding down the octave. you can “solo” each part, in order to hear how the instruments sound individually. (N.B. This playback includes a hidden clef with the L.H. piano accompaniment that appeared in the original version.)




Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:


Click on Play Button below to Play from the Score



Click on Play Button below to Play from the Score




Another good combination is trombone in the lower octave and baritone saxophone (a more interesting combination than trombone and tenor saxophone).

Click on Play Button below to Play from the Score





Orchestrating this melody for trumpet in cup mute is another good option. Doubling it with a flute at the unison softens and smoothes the sound.




Click on Play Button below to Play from the Score



Doubling the muted trumpet with the flute an octave higher brightens the sound considerably.



Click on Play Button below to Play from the Score



Another good choice for this melody, since it is so rhythmically active, would be guitar and vibraphone. Here’s how that sounds:


Click on Play Button below to Play from the Score