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4

The Swing Era

footnotes

10. The trumpet and trombone sections together is called the brass section.

11. Background parts were generally written by the arranger as part of the arrangement, however sometimes simple background parts would be improvised in some bands (e.g., Count Basie Orchestra).

II. Performance Practices

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alto saxophone

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tenor saxophone

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baritone saxophone

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trumpet

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trombone


A. Size

   

The typical big band had (has) four sections 

      

1.

sax section: generally five saxophones (two altos, two tenors, and one baritone); saxophonists usually also played clarinet 

      

2.

trumpet section: generally four trumpets 

      

3.

trombone section: generally four trombones10 

      

4.

rhythm section: generally four pieces: piano, bass, guitar, drums 


B. Typical arrangements

      

1.

melody played by entire band (or selected members) in unison (all playing the same notes) or in harmony (some playing the melody, some playing notes that harmonize the melody); rhythm section provides accompaniment throughout 

      

2.

melody and accompaniment parts would often be played in turn by various sections in the band (determined by the arranger; e.g., saxes play the A sections, trumpets play the B section, brass section plays a background part behind a sax solo, etc.) 

      

3.

sometimes sections “talk” back and forth, i.e., the saxes play a short passage that is “answered” by the brass and vice versa; this technique is called call and response 

      

4.

after melody is played, jazz improvisation follows (accompanied by the rhythm section); background parts played by other band members in unison or harmony11 (listen to Fletcher Henderson’s "Wrappin’ It Up" on IHJ; see listening guide

      

5.

simple musical phrases played over and over are called riffs; riffs would often be played by various sections one at a time; entire arrangements could be based on riffs (listen to Count Basie’s "One O’Clock Jump" on IHJ; see listening guide, section "B".) 


C. Rhythm Section

      

1.

drums  

            

a.

played simply (played simpler rhythms than Dixieland drummers), making the beat obvious for dancers 

            

b.

swung, emphasizing second and fourth beat of each measure (where one would snap their fingers) 

      

2.

bass 

            

a.

kept time (along with the drummers) 

            

b.

played notes on the first and third beats of each measure (two beat style) or on each beat (walking bass) 

            

c.

notes played outlined the chord progression (i.e., the root of each chord was usually played on the first beat of each measure 

      

3.

piano 

            

a.

played chords stride style, on every beat, or on every other beat 

            

b.

comping (i.e., playing chords in a syncopated fashion as to compliment improviser) was not common as it was to become in later styles 

            

c.

occasionally played melodies and melodic embellishments 

      

4.

guitar 

            

a.

played chords, percussively on each beat (listen to the guitar on Count Basie’s "One O’Clock Jump" on IHJ, especially the piano solo choruses) 


D. Swing differs from Dixieland

      

1.

more use of written arrangements 

      

2.

wider range of compositional styles; fewer ragtime-like tunes 

      

3.

more solo improvisation, less collective improvisation 

      

4.

more use of string bass, less use of tuba 

      

5.

more use of guitar, no banjo 

      

6.

saxophone is the predominant instrument (replacing trumpet and clarinet) 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer Jumpin' At The Woodside - Count Basie
speakerspacer Main Stem - Duke Ellington
speakerspacer Sing Sing Sing - Benny Goodman
the thelonious monk institute of jazz
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