Commercial Jazz Band Orchestration

Also think about the difference in background of the music was being played in Europe, for which the old-fashioned cafe or theatre orchestra was designed, compared with the sorts of places that would be appropriate for the new jazz idiom. The European style theatre orchestra or pit orchestra, with its fairly complete sections of strings, woodwind and brass, met the needs of a type of music whose structure was to some extent contrapuntal. The music of the Viennese and the Parisian operetta, and the Anglo-Celtic music-hall and folk band tradition through from the polyphonic styles of the more complex forms of European composition (or perhaps, should I say was the other way round, when the folk music, be it folksong or folk dance with a ceilidh band or barn dance band, was the starting point from which symphonic music developed. This was certainly the case with people like Bela Bartok and Ralph Vaughan Williams, who both collectors and users of traditional folk tunes for their starting points in their musical development). Jazz, on the other hand, is not a contrapuntal type of music—not, at any rate, in the sense that the term applies to European music. It tends not to use a conventional four-voiced harmonic structure that is the basis of classical European composition. The white American music style didn't involve any "inner voices" or complex melodic basses. It consisted basically of a sustained melody played to a throbbing rhythmic background, with just enough harmonic material thrown in to define a simple sequence of chords. Of course, with the big band era and integration of the Afro-American root music with European classical styles, the harmonies became incredibly complex, much more complex in fact then the majority of classical music. This is something that makes it so difficult to play, in the sums according is so complex that the slightest error can make the whole thing collapse to the listener's ear, in disarray.


This meant that the polyphonic balance that the old-fashioned popular ensemble were used to achieving became obsolete for jazz players. The new jazz idiom required a few melodic instruments of dynamically flexible quality, backed by substantial section of accompanying rhythm-makers. The trumpet, trombone, clarinet and saxophone supplied the melody; the piano, guitar, string bass and drums the rhythm and harmony. Melodic counterpoint—what there was of it—was limited to upper voices. The piano and guitar added all that was needed in the way of harmony.


The commercial jazz orchestrators of the 1920s followed the style of the then popular Ralph Whitman, tried to convert the simple jazz band into an orchestral variety show. In doing so, they overlay the original jazz style with so many Western European musical styles that the result hardly resembled jazz at all. This is called the "symphonic" jazz era, with numbers like Whispering and Song of India, that used huge orchestras brass instruments that just blew the mind of the audience. "Auxiliary" instruments without number were added to the band. The celesta (really just an orchestral instrument, though really used,), with its sentimental tinkling chords, became almost a standard instrument in the larger bands. So did the oboe, orchestral bells, xylophones, vibraphones, vibraharps, piano accordions, Hawaiian steel guitars, even bassoons, flutes and French horns and just about everything else including the kitchen sink were added to the variety of jazz orchestration. Some bands even had fairly complete string sections.


The jazz arranger, rather than the improvising musician, became the most important person in the creation of music, and this is still the case in what can be considered now, as then, as the commercial, sweet style of jazz. The Ranger was technically proficient and resourceful. It is largely the ranges skills in creating instrumental, melodic and harmonic variations and modulations, in evolving clever and striking orchestral textures, that makes Tin Pan Alley's and Hollywood's tunes survive as well as they do. This apparent even with arrangements of such music for string quartet, which is quite popular for wedding string quartets, which are gems of craftsmanship. It was perhaps the change in style to arranged and written music, attracting different kinds of musician perhaps, or just letting musician focus on playing rather than inventing, that led to a remarkable development in instrumental technique among the sweet jazz artists. Saxophones, clarinets, trumpets and trombones were made to do things they had never done in the hands of European-style symphonic musicians.


However, the music had little to do with jazz as it originated. It is not surprising that "symphonic" jazz shortly fell from fashion. The big band competitions played by huge bands that were carefully rehearsed, destroyed any impulse its players may have had towards the freedoms and inventions of improvisation. As true jazz it was dead and fossilised. Too many it was considered vulgar and in bad taste. Meanwhile, in less fashionable and theatrical surroundings, good jazz, i.e. improvised jazz in its original sense, continued to be played. Much of it was played by small jazz bands and jazz trios, but much was also played by large bands of the standardized type described above. Practically all the leading hot players of the 1920s were capable of performing spectacular improvisation is with combinations of from ten to fifteen players. The music that is on record today from the original "New Orleans style" was recorded in Chicago and New York during the 1920s; and virtually none of it was played with the original New Orleans type of instrumentation.


Small jazz bands featuring a piano remained popular throughout the Chicago period, and by 1935, with the rise of the "swing" craze their popularity increased all over the country. Unlike the large bands, these small jazz bands were not standardized except in the rhythm section, which usually consisted of the piano, guitar, string bass and drums. To these were sometimes added a trumpet and a couple of saxophones; or a trumpet, trombone, clarinet and saxophone; or two trumpets and two saxophones, et cetera. Small ensembles also became popular, such as the trios, quartets, sextets, etc.—which performed some of the most delicate and freely improvised jazz that has ever been played. This is the size of jazz band that is most common today, and which The Midsummer Music Agency provides for weddings, parties and anniversaries right across the country. Some of the best of these smaller jazz bands have had very unusual instrumentation. The Adrian Rhythmic Trio consisted of a vibraphone, a guitar and a string bass; the famous Hot Club of France Quintet, was made up from three guitars, a violin and a string bass.

Jazz played in these ensembles was a long way away from the arranged jazz of the jazz big band. It's clear that Jazz can be played with the simplest and most eccentric of instrumental combinations, which isn't really surprising considering that it started off as a American folk music. Whether you're talking about an Irish ceilidh band, an English barn dance band or a Scottish ceilidh band, the instrumental lineup can vary considerably. Is the variety of instruments that gave each band it's specific,, and in the good old days the band would have been made up by whatever people in the village had learned to play, and that would have been very dependent on which instruments happen to be kicking around the village and had been passed on from generation to generation. Thomas Hardy, the great novelist, considered himself a fiddle player and played in the local barn dance band and local church band, which in many ways were much the same thing.   Often in jazz, the simpler the combination, the better the jazz sounds – from the point of view of jazz as it traditionally was. This is hardly surprising I suppose, as you can't have a large jazz orchestra improvising freely as everyone's idea of improvised line is different, there's no coordination. The act of having a jazz composer or arranger is in effect limiting the creations that jazz to one person's mind, that of the composer or arranger. Musical notation is a means of passing that single brains decisions on the music to a group of people with their own independent brains. In a jazz band, the person taking the lead dust improvisation, everyone else follows and fills in. In the Eastern European gypsy band, there is a single soloist or leader who will define the tune, and everyone else fills in. The Irish ceilidh band or pub session band, typically one person please tune, they then repeat tune and everybody joins in and tries to get a handle on what the tune is, whether it's one they've heard on before learning a new, then the third time round people can play confidently or improvise round the tune. They then move onto the next tune which is led by one person. Until there is a way of getting an Internet system between plugged in brains, improvisation is going to be down to small ensembles. The only ensemble where this doesn't apply as the string quartet, where traditionally they always play from music and if you would suggest that they were expected to improvise round a Mozart string quartet, they would probably all have heart attacks. In some ways this is wrong, as Mozart expected people to improvise on his music, and from what knowledge there is, improvisation was often part of the performance the string quartet. Most musicians on that clever these days.


The instrumentation of jazz might not be its most defining factor, but the America of the post-World-War-I period is what developed the jazz band as we know it today, and extensions of it effectively developed into much of the pop music of today.