RETHINKING ARTISTRY IN MODERN ORCHESTRAL JAZZ
Keith T. Karns
PREPARED FOR THE 2016 JAZZ EDUCATION NETWORK CONFERENCE
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS
Big band jazz has been engaged in a quiet renaissance over the past several decades. A host of composers have been consistently pushing back boundaries in the field of jazz composition and arranging. Press reviews of recent big band and jazz orchestra records describe the music as possessing “extravagant insight” being “astoundingly creative”, and of answering the question of “what’s next in jazz”.
Big band jazz is a widely discussed topic in academic analysis, pedagogy, and jazz research. Composers, performers, and scholars such as Rayburn Wright, Fred Sturm, Jim McNeely, Ethan Iverson, Bill Dobbins, Henry Martin, and Alex Stewart have all published detailed, thoughtful analyses of modern big band music in formal, pedagogical, and popular mediums.
Yet this is not reflected in our conception of jazz history. For example, in his The History of Jazz, Ted Gioia describes big band jazz as “more a tool of historical pedagogy than a vehicle for artistic expression”. Scott DeVeaux writes that big bands today suggest “…either nostalgia…or the academic sterility of the university lab band”. In his 1988 article on jazz arranging, Gunther Schuller wrote, “…very little truly innovative achievement in arranging concepts can be claimed after 1960”. This is essentially a reaffirmation of previous opinions on big band jazz dating back to the swing era.
During the 1940s, Ross Russell described the bebop movement as a revolt against “arrangers, vertical harmonies, soggy rhythms, non-playing orchestra leaders, Tin Pan Alley—against commercialized music in general.” Russell refocuses critical attention on spontaneity and improvisation and away from issues of form, texture and orchestration.
LeRoi Jones (Amiri Braka) reformulated the argument against big bands in his influential book Blues People: Negro Music in White America. According to Jones, the rampant commercialism of big bands in the swing era made artistic expression all but impossible. Jones says that bebop was a reaffirmation of small group jazz. Bebop musicians “secure[d] some measure of isolation from what they had come to realize by now was merely cultural vapidity” . This is important for Jones, because he views small group jazz as a musical manifestation of the ideals of freedom, revolution, and change. Jones is making a moral argument in favor of small group jazz. Viewed from this lens, arrangements are impediment to artistic expression, and therefore are not just a lesser form of music, but also a morally suspect form of music.
This perspective influenced many important jazz historians in the 1960s and 1970s and has become the tacit foundation for current historical discussions of modern big bands. According to this line of thought, the poor quality of big band music in the 1940s—formulaic and repetitive arrangements, little time for spontaneous improvisation—condemns all big band music as an impediment to creativity and ultimately lacking in artistic substance. Despite the proliferation of this argument, it is not backed up by evidence.
This paper shows that modern big band music has surpassed the limitations of old historical models proposed by Jones, Schuller, DeVeaux and others. It proves that far from being an impediment to musical expression, modern big band music is able to cast spontaneous improvisation and group collaboration in a new light through an orchestral approach to the music. This paper examines four (4) orchestral elements in three modern arrangements. These elements are (1) form, (2) texture, (3) orchestration, and (4) collaboration. This study will be done through analysis of three pieces: Maria Schneider’s “Arbiters of Evolution”, John Hollenbeck’s “The Falling Men”, and Bob Brookmeyer’s “The Big Time”.
“ARBITERS OF EVOLUTION”
After nearly a decade since the release of her last Jazz Orchestra Record, Schneider’s 2015 offering The Thomson Fields returns her to the pastoral ideal of rural Minnesota, and her love of birds and bird watching. “Arbiters of Evolution” is a particularly interesting track because it continues Schneider’s exploration of a very personal rural American ideal. She accomplishes this through her approach to texture, orchestration, and counterpoint. This piece also extends her reach into the realm of avant-garde jazz. Donny McCaslin received a Grammy nomination for best instrumental solo at the 2016 Grammy awards for his solo here. Scott Robinson too is in great form on the bari sax, not to mention George Flynn’s superb bass trombone playing.
Like the music of Gil Evans, “Arbiters of Evolution” thrives on the combination of western classical music with jazz. This can be heard in the form—which is a clear departure from typical big band form—and the level of detail in the orchestration and texture. This piece also provides a considerable time for improvisation and collaboration. Eleven and a half minutes—just over three quarters—of this fifteen-minute long piece is devoted to improvisation and collaboration.
Form Analysis of "Arbiters of Evolution"
An interesting facet of Schneider’s melodic construction is that she uses asymmetric phrasing. For example, in theme 1, the first a phrase from mm. 1-4 is four measures long. The next phrase comes in on beat three of m. five. The following phrase comes in on beat two of m. 10. Schneider sets up the expectation of four measure phrasing, yet with each new phrase takes a little more time before it comes in. Schneider resets in m. 17, beginning that phrase on beat 1 and continuing the procedure through theme 1. Schneider heightens this sense of asymmetry by using symmetrical harmonies. Schneider’s harmony changes every eight measures, moving to a new key before the melody does. This can be heard in the mm. 9-10. The harmony moves to F major in m. 9, but the b phrase does not enter until measure 10. This is repeated in mm. 25-26.
Figure 1. “Arbiters of Evolution” Theme 1.
Schneider’s sense of harmony reflects contemporary harmonic trends. For example, in theme 1, each B section goes to F, however rather than F minor (vi), Schneider moves to F major (VI). Essentially the movement of the bass note is functional but chord quality is not. This type of harmonic motion is by no means uncommon today; Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and others pioneered this approach in the 1960s. The presence of this type of harmonic device indicates the integration of all types of jazz styles not just the big band tradition.
The form of “Arbiters of Evolution” follows a (very) loose sonata approach. Unlike sonatas from the nineteenth century, Schneider abandons the harmonic expectations of a traditional sonata form. For example theme 2 is not in a key a fifth above or minor third below theme 1. Despite this the basics of the form are preserved.
In mm. 1-32 we hear theme 1. The first theme can be broken up into ABAB form. Each section is eight measures long. These sections can be broken down further into smaller phrases, following an a a’ b b’ a a’ b b’ form.
Theme 1 is followed by a brief transition before we hear theme 2 from mm. 37-68. Unlike theme 1, theme 2 is less formally structured and functions much more like a contrapuntal episode. In fact, this could be the function of this section if it were not for the recapitulation of this material in m. 221 and 256.
The second theme is followed by a short transition, which recapitulates theme 1 material before launching into the development. Here the development consists of five episodes that serve as vehicles for soloists Donnie McCaslin and Scott Robinson. The recapitulation of themes 1 and 2 occurs at m. 237. In this case, both themes 1 and 2 are transformed as they serve as secondary melodic figures supporting the conclusion of Robinson’s solo and the collective improvisation between Robinson and McCaslin.
Throughout the episodes, Schneider uses melodic and rhythmic fragments from the exposition to reiterate the melody. This is done overtly through brief paraphrases of melodic figures such as in mm. 221-236 and mm. 88-151. The thematic material is derived primarily from the ‘a’ material in the first theme, however theme 2 material also makes several appearances. This material is developed melodically such as in m. 221, but is more often done by developing rhythmic fragments from the melody such as in m. 88. Here Schneider reiterates the quarter note rhythmic motif of the melody. This creates a tenuous connection to the theme 1 material, tying the development to the exposition, but allowing enough melodic room for McCaslin to develop his solo.
Most of the thematic material Schneider develops is derived from theme 1 material. This can be heard primarily in one of two ways. The first is in the recurrence of quarter note figures in Cohort I (melody) groups. As stated above, this ties development figures to the theme 1 melody. The second form of melodic development derived from the theme 1 material is heard in meter.
Figure 2. “Arbiters of Evolution” Theme 1. Transcribed to show metric shifts.
While the majority of the piece is notated in 4-4 (episode 1 alternates between 4-4 and 6/8 time signatures), the meter of the first theme is slightly different. Schneider emphasizes a pattern of 5+4+4+3 during this section (see fig 2). Hemeola, syncopation, and opaque bar lines are in fact major components of the piece (try counting the first thirty-two measures in 4-4). In the example of the first theme (mm. 1-32), the 5+4+4+3 meter is tied to the melodic integrity of the theme. It returns briefly in mm. 69-76 during the theme 1 recapitulation. This rhythm is developed during the first episode. For example, in m. 88, Schneider returns to the ‘a’ material from theme 1, however it initially is felt in a 4-4 feel. This material is alternated with new material throughout the first episode, but by m. 122, the metric feel shifts and is heard as 5+4+3, this is repeated in m. 132, and in m. 147 we finally arrive at the 5+4+4+3 feel just before launching into Episode II, the first free solo section. Schneider abandons the 5+4+4+3 rhythm after the first episode. All later recapitulations of theme 1 are done in 4-4 time.
A typical big band orchestration features sections—trumpets, trombones, and woodwinds—each section acting together as a cohesive unit. A common orchestration technique is to give the melody to the saxophone section, hits and pads to the trombone section and melodic punches and stabs to the trumpets. One need only think of Erskine Hawkins’ “Tuxedo Junction”, or Glenn Miller’s “String of Pearls” to recall this technique. Yet Schneider is known for avoiding this technique.
Schneider uses cohorts from various sections in the band. As Gunther Schuller points out, this is an orchestral technique that all but defined the Ellington Style (Citation Schuller 48?). But the use of cohorts like this can also be attributed to a myriad of composers, on many pieces. In fact, this style of writing beginning with Duke can be traced through a host of composers such as Gil Evans, Claire Fischer, Shorty Rogers, and Bob Brookmeyer (Citation).
In “Arbiters of Evolution”, Schneider breaks the band into four distinct cohorts. The members of these cohorts change, but during virtually all ensemble sections three of these four groups can be heard. They are Cohort I (Melody), Cohort II (Counterpoint), Cohort III (Groove), Cohort IV (Solo/Collaborative). Cohort III (Groove) rarely plays while Cohort IV (Solo/Collaborative) is in play and vice-versa. The exception to this rule is in m. 256-299, however here the only member of Cohort III (Groove) is the bass trombone. In this instance Cohort III (Groove) functions to recapitulate earlier textures.
What is particularly interesting about this kind of approach to orchestration is how quickly members of each cohort change. During each ensemble section, three cohorts are always interacting with one another, but the members of each cohort change very quickly, in some cases every few measures. For example, in Episode I, Cohort I (Melody) changes members every eight measures. This is mirrored in Cohort II (Counterpoint). This rapid changing of roles between members of the band contributes to the textural color heard in the piece.
It is also interesting to note that the two cohorts with the least amount of textural change are Cohort III (Groove) and Cohort IV (solo/collaboration). In the case of Cohort IV (solo/collaboration), this is not surprising, as there are a limited number of soloists that even a fifteen-minute long piece can handle. However, Cohort III (Groove) is almost entirely the province of bass and bass trombone, with sporadic appearances from trombone 3 (essentially to get more bass trombone sound) bass clarinet, piano, guitar and accordion.
Maria Schneider is known for composing dense textures. Her contrapuntal style and use of interacting cohorts naturally produces denser passages than a more traditional approach. Yet despite this density, Schneider is able to keep things interesting. This is partially because of the rapid changes in the members of each cohort as described above, but it is also accomplished by textural changes built into the form and each episode.
Each episode has a distinct identity, particularly when compared with previous material. This is partially accomplished by changes in key and metric feel, but textural changes are equally important here. For example, Episode I texture is much more homophonic than the contrapuntal material heard in the exposition. Episode II is very dense but also is the first time when the winds are completely out and so this too creates a significant textural change. Episode III returns to homophonic texture in the horns and so on. This treatment of texture plays a big part in keeping a piece this long interesting.
What really makes this piece unique is not only the large amount of time—nearly eleven and a half minutes—devoted to improvisation, but also the incorporation of avant-garde techniques. If we consider jazz on a spectrum from conservative to avant-garde, the abandonment of musical elements—meter, hypermeter, chorus structure, pulse, harmonic rhythm, —can reposition a piece on that spectrum from conservative to free .
In Episode II and Episode IV, Schneider abandons meter, pulse and hypermeter, but maintains harmony and harmonic rhythm. This positions these episodes closer towards the avant-garde than previous sections, but comes short of being entirely “free”. Both of these episodes are about ninety seconds long, each one provides McCaslin and Robinson and the rhythm section, the opportunity to venture outside the confines of the arrangement and interact as a small group.
This is particularly important when considering complaints against big band music such as that arrangers do not provide enough opportunities for spontaneous improvisation. These sections—Episodes II and IV—not only provide a significant opportunity for improvisation, but also represent a deeper level of collaboration. Not just between the soloist and the rhythm section, but between Cohort IV (solo/collaboration) and Schneider in her role as the arranger and bandleader.
“Arbiters of Evolution” is a conglomeration of many different styles. It combines classical conceptions of form and orchestration with big band sensibilities dating back to Gil Evans and Duke Ellington. It incorporates modern improvisation and collaboration with avant-garde sensibilities. This piece has an ever-changing approach to time and texture. These elements are what set this piece apart, yet aside from the study of improvisation and collaboration, historical models that exclude big bands, have no vocabulary to address it.
“Falling Men” is the ninth piece in a series of pieces John Hollenbeck composed for the Orchestre National de Jazz. These pieces were released in 2010 on the record Shut Up and Dance. “Falling Men” was nominated for a Grammy award for best instrumental composition in 2012.
Shut Up and Dance is structured as a series of eleven “mini concertos” (the first track on CD 1, “Up” is a 29 second introduction). As the title suggests, Hollenbeck’s aim is to study the relationship between rhythm and movement. This approach has long been a trope among jazz composers—Cantaloupe Island, Bitches Brew, and Headhunters come to mind—however, Hollenbeck brings a fresh perspective here. Shut Up and Dance is essentially a fusion between jazz and contemporary twentieth and twenty first century classical—New Music—composition. The aim being to challenge preconceptions of what a jazz, or big band record should be. Included in his list of techniques are serial, electronic, gamelan, and minimalist styles. For example, “Shaking Peace” fits the style of Boulez’s “Structures” or John Cage’s “Music of Changes”. Similarly “Boom” is as much coming out of Paul Lansky’s “Idle Chatter” than anything else.
While his techniques vary, the common thread heard in all of these tracks is jazz. There are certainly experimental moments, however pieces such as “Melissa Dance”, and “Racing Heart, Heart Racing” do nothing if not satisfy the expectations of the twenty first century jazz listener.
“Falling Men” is perhaps the most familiar composition on this record. It features a familiar form—composed melody, followed by a solo section, a recapitulation of the melody, and a coda. “Falling Men” is consistent with the style for which Hollenbeck is known through the Claudia Quintet, the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble. The familiarity of “Falling Men” to the average jazz listener has more to do with how adventurous other tracks are than how conservative “Falling Men” is. Like the previous tracks, “Falling Men” features New Music techniques alongside jazz.
A common feature in nearly all of Hollenbeck’s work is his use of linear structures in place of vertical block chords. This means that there are no hits or punches in the brass or woodwinds. All chords are arrived to and resolved linearly. The primary compositional element at play is counterpoint. This is not to say that there is no harmony or even that there are no homophonic textures. For example in m. 20, the entire ensemble plays a sustained Gmaj+11 chord, however this chord and the chords after it are reached melodically rather than as percussive hits. This immediately sets Hollenbeck apart from other big band composers.
This at once calls to mind music from Phillip Glass, such as “Music in Twelve Parts”. Like Glass, Hollenbeck utilizes repetitive structures in his music. For example, Figure 3 shows repetitive structures, a texture that runs throughout much of the exposition and slowly is altered over time. Unlike Glass however, Hollenbeck uses these figures in conjunction with more traditional melodies. In “Falling Men” this can be heard in m. 12 when the A section melody comes in.
Figure 3. “Falling Men” repetitive structures.
In Figure 3, the repetitive structures are built on the Eb and F major scales. In beat five of m. 3, 4, and beat 4 of m. 5, Hollenbeck deviates from the major scale. It could be argued that these deviations imply a dominant function. For example on beat 5 of m. 3, these pitches could be heard as an implied dominant augmented sixth chord or tritone substitution: DomAug6 or Gb7. It could also be argued that they imply dominant or altered dominant chords. For example on beat five m. 3: C7+11. However, this model breaks down on beat 5 of m. 4. The implied F minor could be considered an implied Bb9. If so the function is particularly week. Rather than consider implied vertical harmonies in this piece it is better to consider the strength of the line and the rules of voice leading. In m. 3, dissonance resolves down a half step. In beat 4 of m. 5, the line encloses the Eb on beat one.
Figure 4. “Falling Men” A section melody.
Figure 4 shows a transcription of the A section melody along with the repetitive structures and the bass line (enharmonic pitches are preserved from the original score). Here we see just how contrapuntally dense “Falling Men is”. Modality is created through counterpoint between these three voices rather than through comping instruments such as guitar or piano. Unlike a typical jazz arrangement, there is no period in this section not filled by independently moving contrapuntal lines.
Counterpoint is also an important factor when determining meter. While the excerpt is notated primarily in 5-4, the time feel is actually in 6-8. This is achieved through the melody and the bass line (6/8 in these voices is superimposed over the 5-4 of the repetitive structures). Figure 5 shows a transcription that better represents the metric feel of the A section melody.
Figure 5. “Falling Men” A section melody. Transcribed to show metric shifts.
The most obvious distinction between this and other big band compositions is the departure from the traditional number and combination of forces. Rather than typical sections of five woodwinds, four or five trombones, and four or five trumpets, Hollenbeck uses what could be best described as a chamber music model. This is made up of five woodwinds, trumpet, three keyboards, electric bass, drums, and guitar. It is also important to note that only one keyboard—labeled KEYS 1 in the score—is for a keyboard player, the other two keyboard parts are written into the trumpet part and the second woodwind part.
Like “Arbiters of Evolution”, “Falling Men” features a significant amount of spontaneous improvisation. Here trumpeter Guillaume Poncelet is featured and has the opportunity to solo in a quasi-free setting, as well as in a contemporary rock jazz mode. Poncelet is particularly good at incorporating elements of Hollenbeck’s arrangement into his solo. For example in m. 40, the woodwinds play a rubato F-Eb figure three times. Poncelet begins his quasi-free solo by developing this motif. While this level of collaboration is interesting, “Falling Men” also features group collaboration pertaining to the arrangement itself.
When I asked Hollenbeck for permission to use his score in my research, he was happy to oblige me but advised that the final product recorded on Shut Up and Dance was the result the result of significant collaboration with the Orchestre National de Jazz and that the recording deviated significantly from the score. This can be heard in several minor ways, for example in mm. 12-19, the second flute does not double the bass line until the second time through this repeated section. In m, 46, the repetitive structures that appear in the Bb trumpet part are given to the guitar.
However, there are also some major departures from the score that indicate key parts of the recorded piece came about through collaboration with the ONJ. For example, in the score, the trumpet solo in m. 50 is not present. Instead, repetitive structures are marked in the trumpet part. Shut Up and Dance is a series of mini concertos; had the written trumpet part been played it would have dramatically changed the character and nature of this concerto. The change to include the trumpet solo at m. 50 indicates the level of collaboration the ONJ enjoyed with Hollenbeck.
Another key point indicating some form of collaboration is in m. 65, the repeated rhythmic figures in the clarinet, alto sax and tenor sax. These figures are not clearly heard on the recording, they are either or so far down in the mix as to be non-existent from the listener’s perspective, or not present at all. This suggests one of two kinds of collaboration. (1) Hollenbeck and members of the ONJ decided to omit these passages for musical or practical reasons, (2) in post production Hollenbeck, the engineer and/or members of the production staff decided to mute these passages in the mix. This last type of collaboration is a modern artifact—pioneered by Miles Davis in the late 1960s on pieces like “Water on the Pond”, “Circle in the Round”, and “Bitches Brew”.
“THE BIG TIME”
“The Big Time” is the first track on the 2014 Vanguard Jazz Orchestra record Overtime: the music of Bob Brookmeyer. This record is important for several reasons. First, the VJO is the longest running big band in the world and is a crucial institution when we consider the past fifty years of jazz . Secondly, Overtime was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album at the 2015 Grammy Awards. Most importantly however, Overtime is a collection of music composed by Brookmeyer over thirty years, several pieces such as “Suite for Three” were commissioned for this album, while others such as “The Big Time” were composed for the band during the 1980s but were never recorded.
“The Big Time” is an interesting composition because it provides a postmodern commentary on swing and popular music from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Brookmeyer injects early swing and vaudeville sensibilities throughout the piece. At the same time, Brookmeyer is increasingly modern. Brookmeyer’s sophisticated orchestration, thematic development, and incorporation of twentieth century classical techniques set “The Big Time” apart from most big band arrangements. Indeed, even thirty years after it was composed, “The Big Time” sounds remarkably relevant, lacking the sounds that date music from past decades.
Form is one of the primary ways that Brookmeyer establishes a connection to the music of the 1920s and 1930s. Compared to other Brookmeyer works, this piece is quite short (just over four minutes long). Despite its brevity, Brookmeyer is able to pack a lot into that amount of time.
“The Big Time” is through-composed. This is a departure from the strophic chorus based formal structure heard in typical arrangements. Instead, Brookmeyer approaches form in a manner very similar to early swing arrangers such as Don Redman or Fletcher Henderson. Figure 6 shows a formal analysis of “The Big Time”, while Figure 7 shows a similar analysis of Don Redman’s “The Stampede”. When comparing these two pieces it is easy to see how relatively short melodic passages are developed over the course of an entire piece.
Figure 6: Form analysis of “The Big Time”
Figure 7. Form analysis of Don Redman’s “The Stampede (1927)”
In “The Big Time”, Brookmeyer relies on variation in his ‘a’ motive as a form device. This produces a series of short related phrases that avoid chorus structure. This same technique is seen in “The Stampede”. Brookmeyer’s technique differs in a few ways however. Brookmeyer develops his ‘a’ motive through orchestration; alternating between solo melody statements in the soprano, trumpet and trombone, with homophonic big band statements of the melody in the winds. This can be heard throughout the piece, for example in mm. 49-57 and mm. 85-92. This appears in “The Stampede” in m. 159 where Redman rescores the material from mm. 29-32. However, this is an infrequently used technique in “The Stampede”. A key difference here is that Redman develops his melodies through solo improvisation throughout “The Stampede”. Brookmeyer avoids this entirely. This is one way that Brookmeyer references early swing, but does not follow all of the implications of that genre.
Another point of interest is the B section. I label this section the “Blues Interlude”. Here the horns play unison blues scale lines mixed with brief outbursts of collective improvisation. The rhythm section accompanies with pedal Eb quarter notes. This material conjures the image of early jazz while not directly imitating any band in particular. The material from this section is unique in that it contrasts greatly from the A section melody. More importantly however, is that the B section material is only stated once, a rare occurrence in a typical big band arrangement.
“The Big Time” is nothing if not representative of Brookmeyer’s style. As I have already stated, this includes a commentary on swing era music and early to mid twentieth century pop music in general. More specifically, it includes defining thematic elements of Brookmeyer’s own idiom. This can be heard in the quarter note accompaniment in m.107 and m. 183. This is a common thread in a variety of Brookmeyer works such as “Hello and Goodbye”, “The Nasty Dance”, “The American Express”, and “Make Me Smile”. To a larger degree, quarter note accompaniment is characteristic of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis—and by extension the VJO—sound in general. The Thad Jones arrangements of “A-That’s Freedom”, and “All of Me” are perhaps the best examples of this technique outside of Brookmeyer’s own writing.
Another element of Brookmeyer’s idom present in “The Big Time” is the use of a scale or scale fragment as melodic material. Brookmeyer used this technique in “McNeely’s Piece”. In “The Big Time” the A melody theme is based off of the C major augmented scale. It is first heard in m. 49 in Dick Oattes’ soprano saxophone part.
Figure 8. A section melody to “The Big Time”.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Brookmeyer’s idiom is his reference to twentieth century classical composers. The most famous example of this is from Brookmeyer’s Arrangement of “My Funny Valentine” from the record Make Me Smile and Other Works by Bob Brookmeyer. Brookmeyer’s “My Funny Valentine” references Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”. Stravinsky is also represented in “The Big Time”, this time referencing “The Soldier’s Tale”. In measure 203 of “The Big Time”, Brookmeyer uses a Stravinsky interruption as a transitional passage to move from the blues interlude to the last recapitulation of the A melody.
Figure 9. “The Big Time” Stravinsky Interuption.
Of the three pieces in this study, “The Big Time” is perhaps the most familiar to the jazz listener. Unlike Schneider and Hollenbeck who defer from conventional big band forces, Brookmeyer wrote for what is considered a standard big band formation. With the exception of the French Horn part and the auxiliary percussion part, the forces present in “The Big Time” do not differ from the typically big band arrangement. This does not mean that Brookmeyer uses the ensemble in traditional or uninspired ways. In fact, Brookmeyer’s use of orchestration techniques adds small but important details to much of the piece.
For example, in m. 85, Brookmeyer develops the ‘a’ section melody by transforming it from descending whole notes on a major augmented scale to descending half notes on the major scale. From the listener’s perspective, all we hear is a descending chromatic line in the soprano saxophone (Figure 8). However Brookmeyer scores it between two soprano saxophones (Figure 9). The effect of this orchestration leaves each soprano saxophone part hanging over slightly, causing very short durations of chromatic dissonance. Brookmeyer drives this home in m. 93 when both soprano parts hit a sustained pitch a half step apart.
Figure 10. “The Big Time”. Melody transcribes from the perspective of the listener.
Brookmeyer deconstructs melodic figures and splits them among several instruments in order to present the melody in a different way. This happens throughout “The Big Time” in mm. 31-36, mm.89-94, and mm. 203-208.
Figure 11. “The Big Time”. Melody transcribed as it appears in the score.
Spontaneous improvisation is one of the problematic musical elements when dealing with Brookmeyer’s music. While “The Big Time” contains collective improvisation, and composed solo statements that are subject to individual interpretation, there are no true solo sections in “The Big Time”. This was a point of contention between Brookmeyer and members of the Mel Lewis Orchestra and was one of the reasons why he left in the mid 1980s (CITATION).
One of the questions that “The Big Time” raises is: how important is improvisation to jazz? “The Big Time” features most of the key ingredients of jazz. It contains syncopation, the blues, swing, and collective improvisation. It does not feature an improvised solo, and this is where things get problematic. This piece and others like it, refocus audience attention from the soloist to the group as a whole. In this sense, “The Big Time” might feature the most pure form of group collaboration. Each voice is more or less equal in working toward a group musical goal. However, by eliminating improvisation, we can also argue that the piece has become less free. This is essentially Brookmeyer exerting his own control over the band.
This seems to be the case in regards to Overtime. Here, the lack of improvisation functions quite well. Most of the pieces on Overtime feature various members of the VJO who have been a key part of the band for many years. “Suite for Three” is a three-movement concerto for Dick Oattes, Scott Wendholt, and Rich Perry. “On the Corner of Ralph and Gary” is a sax battle between Ralph Lalama and Gary Smulyan. In all of these cases, Brookmeyer takes a lot of time to showcase these individual members of the VJO as soloists. If we view the absence of solo improvisation as heard in “The Big Time” as a refocusing on the ensemble, beginning with a piece that features the band as its own entity seems fitting.
Many historians today seem to argue that big band is an unnecessary medium in jazz. There is an opinion that if it only were not for high school and university jazz bands, big band music would be once and for all an artifact of bygone days. Yet it is hard make a musical argument to support this position based on modern big band music. Modern arrangers are capable of combining orchestral elements with improvisation and collaboration. Rather than rehashing the music of the past, modern arrangers are making the same kinds of individual statements that modern improvisers are.
Another important element of big bands are their roles in music communities. This is the focus of Alex Stewart’s excellent research on modern big bands. According to Stewart, big bands are an important institution for working musicians. They are places where younger musicians learn the foundations of performance (how to swing, play in tune, sight read, show up on time etc.). They also provide a crucial networking tool for professionals. While most big bands do not pay much or at all, playing with a large group of musicians functions as a kind of informal audition. Playing for little money in big bands often leads to better paying opportunities in other groups.
Despite the opinions of many jazz critics and historians, modern big bands like those led by Maria Schneider, John Hollenbeck, and the Vanguard Orchestra are consistently putting out interesting music that advances the big band tradition. These groups are leaders in a much larger community of big band musicians, composers, arrangers, and audiences. It is time that we considered this music accordingly.
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Russel, Ross. “Bebop” in The Art of Jazz: Essays on the Nature and Development of Jazz (1959), ed. Martin Williams, 202 (Boston: Da Capo Press), 187-214.
Sidran, Ben. Black Talk, (Boston: Da Capo Press, 1983), 8.
Schuller, Gunther. “Sonny Rollinsand the Challenge of Thematic Improvisation”. The Jazz Review (1):1 1958. 6.
Schuller, Gunther.“Arrangement”, In The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz 2nd ed. vol I, edited by Barry Kernfield. (London: Macmillan, 2002), 662.
Schuller, Gunter.The Swing Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 48.
Stewart, Alex. Making the Scene: Contemporary New York City Big Band Jazz. (Berkley: University of California Press, 2007).
Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz 2nd ed, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 211.
Sturm, Fred. Changes over Time: The Evolution of Jazz Arranging. (Rottenburg Germany: Advance Music, 1995).
Taylor, Billy . “Jazz: America's Classical Music”. The Black Perspective in Music 14 (1). None: 21–25. doi:10.2307/1214726.
Waters, Keith and Martin Williams, “Modeling Diatonic, Acoustic, Hexatonic, and Octatonic Harmonies and progressions in Two- and Three-Dimensional Pitch Spaces; or Jazz Harmony after 1960”, Society for Music Theory (2010), Accessed December 5th 2015, http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.10.16.3/mto.10.16.3.waters_williams.html
Waters, Keith. The Studio Recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet, 1965-68. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
Wright, Rayburn. Inside the Score. (Delaven: Kendor Music, Inc, 1982).
 Nate Chinen, “Maria Schneider Orchestra The Thompson Fields” The New York Times, June 1, 2015.
 Patrick Jarenwattanon, “John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble Newport Jazz 2011”. National Public Radio. Accessed August 15, 2015.
 Frank Alkyer, “Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Brooklyn Babylon” Downbeat Magazine (2011)
 Rayburn Wright, Inside the Score. (Delaven: Kendor Music, Inc, 1982)
Fred Sturm, Changes over Time: The Evolution of Jazz Arranging. (Rottenburg Germany: Advance Music, 1995).
Jim McNeely, “About the Music” in Lickety Split. (New York: New Worlds Music, 1997), 4-11.
Ethan Iverson, “Mini McNeely Tutorial 2” Do The Math. (April 2011), Accessed September 1, 2015. http://dothemath.typepad.com/dtm/2011/04/mini-mcneely-tutorial-2.html
Bill Dobbins, Jazz Arranging and Composing: A Linear Approach. (Rottenburg: Advance Music, 1986), 9.
Alex Stewart, Making the Scene: Contemporary New York City Big Band Jazz. (Berkley: University of California Press, 2007).
 Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz 2nd ed, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 211.
 Scott DeVeaux, The Birth of Bebop: a Social and Musical History, (Berkley: University of California Press, 1997), 2.
 Gunther Schuller, “Arrangement”, In The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz 2nd ed. vol I, edited by Barry Kernfield. (London: Macmillan. 75-81), 662.
 Ross Russel, “Bebop” in The Art of Jazz: Essays on the Nature and Development of Jazz (1959), ed. Martin Williams, 202 (Boston: Da Capo Press), 187-214.
 Russel, “Bebop”, 187-214.
 LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Blues People: Negro Music in White America (New York: Harper Collins, 1963), 183
 Ben Sidran, Black Talk, (Boston: Da Capo Press, 1983), 8.
Gunther Schuller, “Sonny Rollinsand the Challenge of Thematic Improvisation”. The Jazz Review (1):1 1958. 6.
Billy Taylor, Jazz: America's Classical Music”. The Black Perspective in Music 14 (1). None: 21–25. doi:10.2307/1214726.
Bruno Nettle, “Heartland Excursions: Ethnomusicological Reflections of Schools of Music” (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 113-114.
Ben Sidran, Black Talk, (Boston: Da Capo Press, 1983), 8.
 Many writers make exceptions to this rule. LeRoi Jones praises Basie’s band, but then goes on to claim that Basie’s primary contribution is in the field of small group jazz. Ted Gioa identifies Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue for making important contributions, but argues that Schneider and Argue are exceptions to the Rule of Big Band Marginalization, rather than individuals leading the vanguard of a musical community.
 For a complete formal analysis of “Arbiters of Evolution” see Table 1.
 Keith Waters and Martin Williams, “Modeling Diatonic, Acoustic, Hexatonic, and Octatonic Harmonies and progressions in Two- and Three-Dimensional Pitch Spaces; or Jazz Harmony after 1960”, Society for Music Theory (2010), Accessed December 5th 2015, http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.10.16.3/mto.10.16.3.waters_williams.html
 Gunter Schuller, The Swing Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 48.
 Some might argue that Cohort IV (solo/Collaborative) is not a true cohort because it only contains the soloists. I have included the McCaslin and Robinson solos in their own cohort not only because of the collective improvisation section in mm. 256-315, but also to include the members of the rhythm section that in Episode II and Episode IV. During these free sections collaboration between soloists and the members of the rhythm section is of utmost importance.
 Keith Waters. The Studio Recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet, 1965-68. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
 Schneider includes minimal directions in the score, asking that each time the vamp repeats there is a crash to signal the repetition of the progression.
 John Hollenbeck, “Shut Up and Dance” johnhollenbeck.com. (2010), Accessed December 3, 2015. http://johnhollenbeck.com/sound/shut-up-and-dance/
 This is crucial because here we do have an example of block chords between these two voices. These figures function like a rock guitar riff, orchestrated for three woodwinds, however because they are either so soft in the mix or not present, for all intents and purposes, they do not exist on the recording.
 Past and current members of the VJO/TJMLJO are A BIG DEAL in jazz history and modern jazz such as: Joe Lavono, Tom Harrell, Jim McNeely, Bob Brookmeyer, Kenny Garret, Terrel Stafford, and Rich Perry just to name a few.
 The quarter note motif is a common technique in Brookmeyer’s writing and can be heard in “Make Me Smile”, “The American Express”, and “Hello and Goodbye”.
 McNeely, “About the Music” in Lickety Split. 4-11.
 Brookmeyer’s solo on this “A-That’s Freedom” also contains one of the gutsiest examples of motivic improvisation in jazz: a full chorus of repeated, smeared quarter notes, derived from the trombone introduction of the arrangement.
 With the exception of the French Horn part and the auxiliary percussion part, the forces present in “The Big Time” do not differ from the typically big band arrangement.
 If we were to make moral analogies to political systems and pieces like “The Big Time”, we might conclude that this type of piece favors a more egalitarian outlook than traditional jazz.
 Alex Stewart, Making the Scene: Contemporary New York City Big Band Jazz. (Berkley: University of California Press, 2007).