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  Piece for horn and jazz combo

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Piece for horn and jazz combosubmitted:
2008/09/29 14:15:11
2008/10/14 20:46:07

I enjoy listening to and playing classical music and have had some standard theory classes, but when I write music more often than not it contains Jazz elements. This is the case with a work I have written for Horn and piano (optional drums and string bass). It is an original theme and variations on A Mighty Fortress (MF) for Horn and accompaniment. (the current working title is Genesis and Revelations on Ein Feste Berg ).

After an original theme is introduced by solo horn off stage, the the piano picks it up using Coplandesque polychords. the horn, now on stage, joins in. A 7/8 section introduces the first variation on MF. The Intro theme and MF are then played together in the second half of the 7/8 section.

A 4/4 "jazz' section uses a diminished (octatonic scale). It is a variation on the second half of the MF tune. A rising diminished scale segues into the recapitulation, a brief summary of the first part of the piece.

It lasts for about 5 minutes. The ending is rather abrupt---it is obviously based on the end of Rhapsody in Blue. What can I say---I was tired, I wanted to finish the piece, and just wrote the first thing that came into my head

* How should the octotonic section be notated from a practical point of view?
- I started with the following scale sequence G G# A# B C# D E F(nat.) G And put two sharps in the key signature. I then modified the parts to try and minimize accidentals and use sharps when going up and flats going down. Is this a good idea?
- What are the proper chord names? For example G A# D. I decided I needed to notate it as Gm in the piano part even though other parts may be notated using the A#.

* What is the practical range for the string bass?
- Did I go too high in the Jazz section?
- Should I go lower at the end of the jazz section (I could take the E and F down an octave I suppose.)

I am moderately good a horn player and moderately bad piano player so I know a bit about writing for horn but feel the piano part could be better.

I'd love to get a critical opinion of this work and make it good enough to get a good player interested in recording it

PDF of excerpt (I you do not see this correctly in Firefox try ie or Google Chrome)
I am attaching a Finale 2006 file and an mp3 (made by Finale) of the jazz section of the work as well as an mp3 of the whole thing.

It appears that you do not have a plug-in to view PDFs.

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mp3 of excerpt (about 1 min.)

click here to display audio file in a new window


Finale 2006 file of excerpt.

click here to open Finale file

Mp3 of entire piece (about 5 min.)

click here to display audio file in a new window


Re:Piece for horn and jazz combosubmitted:
2008/10/09 12:10:41
2008/10/10 07:02:17


Your notation is fine for the octatonic pcs. In spite of the fact that the octatonic is diatonic to no key, the normal rules for non-harmonic tones apply: Ascending notes take sharps or naturals; descending, flats. The signature stands.

Since you hear jazz-inflected music, it is honest and personal, so it is valid for you to use it.

In creating the kind of swing feel you are trying to get, there are more effective ways, such as:

NIn swing, notate the bass line as quarter notes. Also, what you have is too simply repetitive and predicitable, and it impedes the forward motion characteristic of the swing bass function. The double bass should never play a simple single-measure repetitive line such as this. Construct through-composed chromatically-enhanced qn lines in 8mm phrases (for the most part). This can be done either by targeting chordal roots as you go--or not. Make these line melodic (singable). Rise in range for more intensity in building towards a climax. All qns should be performed with no separation between notes.

The piano accompaniment should not be placed on the beat, but rather should anticipate beats 1 and 3. Chords should be played stacatto--against the connected on-the-beat bass line, to create the yin and yang of the swing feel.

Regarding chords, 7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th chords are jazz's natural habitat: Simple triads are rarely employed. Use modified block chords for comping with a walking bass. By "modified" block chords, I mean substituting (some kind of) 9 for 1, 11 for 3, 13 for 5 in the right hand, while maintaining the basic close-position 7th chords in the left. Avoid excessive use of roots in the left hand.

Another basic type of comp is the melodic riff figure, a 2 or 4mm phrase as done by Count Basie's horn sections.

I don't recommend writing out an explicit swing part for drum set (you'll never fully achieve it that way): Get a drummer who knows how to play swing (with all the usual variants, gestures, and feeling); instruct him to "play swing feel." Write slashes for qns throughout; write in the specific hits at the phrase endings in rhythm notation. For the most part it is best to leave the selection of individual instruments to the drummer's disgression.

Jazz is a language, so perhaps you should examine how these devices are done by such people as pianist Red Garland (early Miles Davis recordings), Count Basie big band (the earlier the better), Wynton Kelly, and other masters of the swing comp. Listen to arranger Gil Evans--the best (9 LPs for Miles Davis--get the scores). While there are formulas, there are also many variants--all of which you can make your own.

This kind of stylistic fusion can easily sound corny as hell, but if it is done in an authentic and effective manner it can greatly enhance your sonic fingerprint. After all, since the 20th century the salient characteristic of Western art music is "anything goes." It is best, however, to be informed as to where those "anythings" came from, and how and why they work.

Best of luck,

Re:Piece for horn and jazz combosubmitted:
2008/10/11 01:02:04
2008/10/11 01:02:04

Ed, thanks for your thoughtful and detailed reply. Its great to get some constructive criticism. I will think about your suggestions and try stretching my style.


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