jazz arranging

End Results

In my previous post, I shared a jazz chorale I had written for my arranging class on Mancini's classic tune, "The Days of Wine and Roses." As I mentioned in that post, I'd been planning on writing something for the U-Tubes, UNT's jazz trombone ensemble, and I figured the chorale was a good place to start.

Well, over the past couple of months I've taken that chorale and run forward with it, ultimately resulting in a full-length arrangement; in fact, it was publicly debuted this past Thursday at the U-Tubes's performance in the Syndicate:

My arrangement, featuring solos by Jenny Kellogg (trombone) and Evan Oxenhandler (guitar).

I've had Mancini's tune rolling around in my head for years, ever since running across it in a fake book in high school. Until recently, I never really bothered to look up the lyrics; I always just assumed it was your typical romantic ballad, a beautiful celebration of the joys of love and luxury. As it turns out, the lyrics are much darker than I'd expected:

The days of wine and roses
Laugh and run away
Like a child at play
Through a meadow land toward a closing door,
A door marked, "never more,"
That wasn't there before.

The lonely night discloses
Just a passing breeze
Filled with memories
Of the golden smile that introduced me to
The days of wine and roses and you.

The tune was originally written for a 1962 movie by the same name; I haven't seen it myself, but from what I understand it chronicles the lives of a married couple whose lives are destroyed by alcoholism. The title of both song and movie come from a much earlier poem by Ernest Dowson:

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

The story behind this song, then, is somewhat different than what I'd always envisioned —it's about lovesickness rather than love, of passions once held but long gone, of beautiful memories lost in painful regrets. That's the story I tried to evoke through my arrangement.

Beyond that, I'll leave the piece to speak for itself —I really enjoyed writing it, and I'm very happy with the end result. Please let me know what you think!

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A Reasonably Successful Jazz Chorale

This past week in my jazz arranging class, we started talking about chorale writing. In jazz contexts, a "chorale" is a work of polyphonic music played without the rhythm section. Removing the rhythm section sort of changes the rules of the game; you can't rely on their persistent improvisation to make up for a lack of rhythmic or harmonic interest in what's going on elsewhere. As a result, chorale writing is driven by melody, not by groove.

My professor started class on Monday by listing off four basic characteristics to strive towards in jazz chorale writing: independent motion, varied melodic registers, reuse of material from the main theme in the counterlines, and a flexible tempo.

With those basic principles in mind, I went ahead and put together a basic jazz chorale arrangement of Mancini's The Days of Wine and Roses. Since I've been wanting to write something for the U-Tubes (UNT's jazz trombone ensemble), I opened up a blank score with 8 trombone staves and set to work. Here's what I came up with:

The Days of Wine and Roses; trombone chorale by Adam Jensen

You can also download the score if you'd prefer to follow along on paper. The arrangement has its problems, but I do think it demonstrates the basic idea pretty well. In fact, I think I'm going to fix it up a bit and then use it as an introduction to a larger chart, which I'll be writing over the course of the semester. Keep watching for more about that piece!

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Semester Projects

This semester at UNT I'm going to be taking graduate-level jazz arranging. We've only had a few class sessions so far, but I can already tell it's going to be an interesting term.

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Jazz arranging, round two

It's been a busy few months. Among other things, I've been finishing up my second semester of jazz arranging at UNT, which included two major projects I'd now like to share here.

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It's different when you hear it

The first major project in this semester's jazz arranging class was a simple, 8-bar melody orchestration for brass and rhythm section—all told, no more than 15 seconds of music. The idea was to give us an opportunity to hear how we're doing before applying what we know to a full-length big band chart. The project was due on Monday, and we recorded them all live in a two-hour demo session Wednesday afternoon (I got to play in the trombone section, which was both fun and repetitive).

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What little I know about writing transitions

Yesterday evening I spent a lot of time hammering out some new lead lines for various sections of my jazz arranging project. This is probably the longest piece of music I've ever written, so I'm finding it a bit difficult to keep my eyes on the big picture; instead, I'm discovering I have a tendency to "chunk" things too much, such that each successive section of the piece follows right after the one before it with very little transitional material.

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Everything I know

This semester in jazz arranging, I'm learning the basics of big band writing; in fact, the primary project for the whole semester is a single big band chart. The project is broken down logically into smaller assignments by chorus: for example, one week I might have to bring in the lead line for the head chorus, and the next week I'd follow it up with the melody for my sax soli. I like the approach; I think my brain is hard-wired to think of complex wholes in terms of small building blocks.

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First semester jazz arranging recordings

Well, my first semester of jazz arranging at UNT is drawing to a close; it's been a great experience, and I'm looking forward to doing some big band writing next semester. I feel like I've learned a heck of a lot, and gotten over some of the hurdles that usually get in my way when I want to write something. So that's good, right?

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