Sections of a Jazz Band

Many different instruments can make up the sections of a jazz band, the mix being very much related to the period of jazz. The Saxophone, as in this saxphone quartet is a major jazz instrument, in part that it technically it's easier to play than many (this is not suggesting that the musicians are less able musicians, but perhaps just that they can concentrate more the effort on playing the music and less on trying to find the instrument. (The most ridiculous instrument of all time, and with the string quartet you have in effect 3 of them, as the violin and viola. I've mentioned this in another of my ramblings, but being a violin player, it's dear to my heart. It's such a crazy instrument to play, from the ergonomic point of view, and from the installation point of view, that vileness spends the first 10 years of their life just learning to fight the instrument before they get onto much music at all.)

You talking about? I guess, the saxophone. Being at the opposite end of the spectrum of difficulty of playing, it's interesting that if a jazz violin, as in this violin and piano duo, is included in a jazz band, it tends to take the same part in the ensemble saxophone, as it can perform lightning fast articulation yet play long legato passages of rapidly varying intensity.

The rhythm section is called that because their primary function, when playing rhythm as opposed to when playing solo bursts, is to provide the rhythmic foundation of the jazz band itself, that is the normal or fundamental rhythm upon which the syncopations and cross rhythms are superimposed. Most people don't think of a piano as a rhythm instrument, being used to its use in classical piano concertos. But in Stravinsky's rite of Spring and other works, he scores the piano as a percussion instrument. So, when used as part of the jazz band, the piano has the drums capacity to mark rhythm with incisive calls, and these chords can be played with an infinite range of volume, so that the settlers contrasts in accentuating rhythms is possible. Furthermore, the piano can play 2 or more rhythmic warm melodic voices at one time. It also has many operatives of scale, giving an amazing range of melodic and harmonic variation.

When being played as part of a jazz band, as opposed to a soloist in a jazz ensemble, it's a far less emotionally charged instrument than the trumpeter trombone. It is also absolutely limited to a fixed scale, and can't produce the in between the black notes and white notes into nation that is so important in the vocal and trumpet style of jazz playing.

The banjo is also a common instrument in the earlier period of jazz. Presumably, it was a much cheaper instrument than the piano, and was also highly portable but produce lots of volume and could play chords. Amongst jazz musicians, the banjo is the butt of many musician jokes. This is akin to the viola in the string quartet, where there are masses of cruel and cutting viola jokes, (of course, viola players deserve everything they get!) I think the banjo is a much maligned instrument. Not only is it a rhythm instrument, but can play tunes at an amazing speed. When I was a student, I worked for one of the large photocopier manufacturers during my holidays, as a student job. This company had several huge environmental chambers for testing their machines. These were effectively stainless steel houses, without windows, just a big door so that you could wield a photocopier into the room. The test chamber, or room, could be controlled accurately in temperature and humidity, the fire remember correctly light and the UV levels. The idea was you'd put a photocopier, plus it's very water absorbent paper, into the test chamber and operated their, simulating the conditions of using it in an igloo in the Arctic, in the Sahara desert, or in a humid tropical swamp. The guy who was on top charge of these test chambers just happened to be a superb banjo player. When you discover that I played a fiddle, he suggested that I took it along to work, and at lunchtimes, and indeed at other times when we shouldn't have done perhaps, we would retire to an empty test chamber, he would set it to a balmy tropical evening temperature and humidity, and would play folk music. I can still remember the amazement at the speed he played with seemingly no effort, and hardly any movement of the fingers of his right or left hand. The right hand was fingerpicking with all fingers, but finger movements are small and the notes were shared amongst 5 fingers. The left-hand was playing between frets, so the position could be optimised for what was comfortable for the muscles of the hand and did not have to be precisely positioned, as on the violin, to produce the note. This enabled much faster finger movements. An amazing instrument, and of course an amazing musician. Some ceilidh bands include the banjo, predominantly Irish bands and American hoedown or American barn dance bands. I don't think I've ever come across one in an English barn dance band or a Scottish ceilidh band, and I can't quite imagine the sound footing well, but I'm sure there will be some somewhere.

Another advantage of the banjo playing in a jazz band, is that they can to an extent bend the notes, unlike a piano, and play off key to match the bending of notes of instruments like the trumpet or the voice.

Particularly in modern jazz, or lounge jazz bands, the guitar usually takes the place the banjo, where tends to be played as a rhythm instrument. However, using some of the techniques of classical and flamenco guitar playing, the guitar can also be a solo in tune instrument, particularly in modern jazz.

The drama, when playing early jazz, normally limits themselves to a bass drum, snare drum and one or 2 other bits and pieces to bash and rattle. As jazz developed, then the subtleties and complexities of drumming have become an integral part of jazz, and a complete drum set is normally used. As jazz is very much about rhythm, the drama is a vitally important part of many ensembles, and gives an incisive, absolutely precise and heavily accented and emphasised rhythmic base to the jazz band. What the pianist can do as a counterpoint of rhythms, a good drummer is able to do within a single rhythmic voice, even without a full drum set, by differences in accident and tonal colour, much as the Tabler player and Indian music can do. Some years ago I had the great pleasure of playing folk music on my fiddle together with an Indian Tabler player. Sitting cross-legged with this tiny little drum, it seemed at 1st to be a ridiculous concept. Then we started playing, and oh my goodness, wasn't it amazing what he did with his drum and how it brought the music for life that is never achieved before. Unfortunately he didn't live anywhere near me, so this was a one-off event, otherwise he would have been an integral part of our ceilidh band.

A close parallel with the drama is the tap dancer, and many of the old films include tap dancing with jazz. It's rare that you see such films these days, when I was a child they were fairly common on television, and I'd watch and listen absolutely mesmerised by the music and the "drumming" of the tap dancers. The instrument may be different, but the effect of syncopation and polyrhythms created by drum skin and stick or tap dancers feet and tap dancing shoes, or equivalent. Tap dancing effects are even part of Celtic's folk music. Many years ago I saw some old footage of Shetland fiddle players, and mouth music performers, performing jigs and reels and creating the accompanying rhythm by tap dancing on the special board. They were seated as they play their instruments or sang their mouth music, and the board was at the foot of the chair. They wore clogs or shoes with metal inserts, much as tap dancers do. Rhythms were extremely complicated and brought the music to life, but the whole setup was so very simple. It enabled a single fiddler to bring the music to life with this tap dancing feet. I've tried creating a tap dancing board, but with inbuilt microphone. (The Shetland fiddler's would have been performing to a very small group of people in a small pub room, when somebody's house, quite different to performing 200 or more people in a wedding venue or village for, so you need amplification if you stand a chance of being heard. I got it working quite well as prototype, but I wasn't really using the right kind of microphone, and I hadn't built the footboard to withstand the constant hammering. I meant to then build a robust final version, have been meaning to do it for many years now, but hopefully one day I will do it and learned of fiddle and tap at the same time. With my ceilidh band I tried it on a couple of occasions, before the wooden board fell apart, and it wasn't too bad. When the guitar is in the barn dance band tried using a simplified version of it, and it sounded quite good except you could only use 1 foot on it, so the rhythms were inevitably very simplistic. When seated playing in a proper board, you can use the heels and toes of both feet, so can achieve syncopations and polyrhythms similar to those used in jazz.

Then we get to the double bass. Yes, it's included in the rhythm section, just would be a tuba or sousaphone, which was sometimes used in the early jazz bands, it is format popularity and is mostly domain of either the early jazz band, the military band, when the case of the tuber with the Symphony Orchestra.