Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Become an OU student

Share this free course

Understanding musical scores
Understanding musical scores

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2.2.2 Texture in big band jazz

Figure 5 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra in 1935

A texture using block chords is also a common feature in jazz. Music for big bands often features ‘blocks’ of sound, with each instrument within the saxophone, trumpet and trombone sections having similar material. There is one further group of instruments (piano, bass, guitar and drums) that each have slightly different things to play. Collectively, this group is known as the ‘rhythm section’ and can be compared to the engine in a car, driving the music along and coordinating the other elements.

This strong sense of the band being divided into four sections makes following a score of a classic big band piece, which might involve around 20 musicians, not quite as tricky as it might first appear. Sometimes, for an even more powerful effect, the saxophones, trumpet and trombones are all scored to play in block chords – a great example of this can be found in Fletcher Henderson’s arrangement of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies for Benny Goodman’s orchestra. Henderson’s arrangement presents a series of variations based on the melody and harmony of Berlin’s original song. Listen to a short section of this number now. You’ll be looking at this in a bit more detail next week.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: blueskiesp1.mp3
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).