Guest Post: Choose the best tunes for YOUR jazz band

Here's a guest post from veteran music educator Rich Victor. He offers some excellent food for thought as you try to determine the best choice of music for your jazz band's adjudication festival performances. His suggestions are educationally-sound and pragmatic, as you'd expect from a teacher with a track record like his.

Rich just retired from a 36-year teaching career at State College Area HS (PA), during which his Jazz Band One earned national recognition as a multiple-occasion finalist in the Essentially Ellington contest.  RICH VICTOR BIO

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"How do you select jazz ensemble repertoire for adjudication festival performances?"

by Richard Victor

Selecting the right repertoire is, in my opinion, the most important job for the High School Jazz Band Director.  Directors need to take the time to find music that “fits” their band perfectly.  The brass ranges and other technical demands on every player must be considered.  Select the most challenging arrangements that the band can play well.

The music should include opportunities to feature the best players or sections while at the same time reducing exposure of the weakest players or sections.  If a band doesn’t have ALL the horses to play a specific piece well at a festival, then don’t play it there!  Of course, it is desirable to include arrangements that “push the band” in their repertoire for other performances - just don’t use them in an adjudication festival!

Directors always need to keep in mind that they are preparing for a JAZZ festival.  The music should be the highest quality JAZZ repertoire.

I always recommend opening with a swing-style chart that the band can play with great confidence. 

When performing three selections follow that with a ballad.   Make sure the ballad is a big band style arrangement, and not just a jazz ensemble performance of a recent pop song.  

The last song can be the “director’s choice.”   It should be the piece that the band plays the best and can be latin or rock influenced as long as it demonstrates appropriate big band ensemble characteristics rather than sounding like a small marching band!

Finally, always remember that the essence of jazz is improvisation.  Every song should feature players who are improvising!   Select music that provides band members with improvised solo opportunities that they can perform well.  It is unusual for a player to win an “outstanding” soloist award when they perform a written solo – no matter how good they sound playing it.   Arrangements that have “suggested solos” are fine for teaching purposes, but by festival time a player should have altered enough of the written solo to make the performance their own!

Richard Victor is a retired State College Area High School (PA) Band Director, member of the NAfME Council for Jazz Education, and President of Professional Development Services for Music Educators . . . and More! 

Posted on January 24, 2012 and filed under Guest Post, Teaching.