Here is the list of repertoire I selected for the 2009 Massachusetts Central District Jazz Ensemble:
- "Brazil", arranged by Michael Phillip Mossman
- "Seven Steps To Heaven", arranged by Manny Mendelson
- "Keepin' Track of the Time", by Chuck Sayre
- "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most", arranged by Frank Mantooth
- "Groove Merchant", arranged by Thad Jones
- "Bad Dream", by Earl MacDonald
In this list I have not included the piece which I am being commissioned to write. The commissioned piece will replace one of the above selections. My educational justifications for the above selections are as follows:
I wanted to include at least one “Latin” selection in the program to provide variety, to generate excitement, and to expose the students to specific rhythmic and articulation nuances. The rhythmic syncopations within this samba will provide a fun challenge for all. Mike Mossman’s arrangement “packs a punch” and makes for a terrific, exhilarating opener.
Seven Steps To Heaven:
Part of my reasoning for selecting this piece is to steer students towards listening to the classic Miles Davis recording of the same name. Manny Mendelson’s arrangement is thoughtfully constructed, with powerful ensemble writing. The drums, tenor 1 and trumpet 2 are featured.
Keepin’ Track of the Time:
A blues is an important component of any well-structured jazz program. Within this F blues, Chuck Sayre has included an unaccompanied soli and solo section for each of the horn sections – saxophones, trombones, trumpets, thereby showcasing the entire ensemble. Dynamic contrasts are emphasized within this selection. Many improvisational concepts can be taught using the blues’ harmonic progression. When chops get tired towards the end of full day rehearsals, I have found that switching gears and teaching improvisation is welcomed by all.
Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most:
This ballad is the easiest piece to prepare on the program. It provides a nice contrast to the other selections. It features the group’s “star trombonist” throughout. The piece is a vehicle for teaching blending, listening, understanding one’s specific instrumental role, the art of accompaniment, and for the soloist -- melody interpretation, projection and clarity. I encourage students to listen to Ella Fitzgerald’s classic interpretation to familiarize themselves with the lyrics and mood.
I believe that Thad Jones is the quintessential writer for big band. The sooner students are introduced to his music, the better. His arrangement of Jerome Richardson’s shuffle includes solis for saxophones and brass which are beautifully written, well-constructed and challenging. The solo changes for improvisation are manageable and can be “opened up” for multiple soloists.
It is a rare, unique and valued experience when high school students can work directly with the composer of a piece they are preparing. My composition, “Bad Dream” includes the following musical concepts / challenges, to which (I would speculate) many of the students will be introduced for the first time: rhythmic hemiolas, metric modulations, and passages which incorporate atypical notation techniques requiring improvisational interpretation. Alto 1, drums and piano are featured as soloists.