Understanding musical scores
Understanding musical scores

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Understanding musical scores

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
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