What do you suggest I do with an instrumentation of trumpet, alto sax, bari sax and guitar?

In addition to this mismatched quartet, I have a drummer who can attend once per week and I am playing bass lines on the piano. We are currently playing Bob Turner arrangements, from Magnolia Music Publications, but I question if the sole focus of our daily rehearsals should be practicing these charts in preparation for the concert.

Having never heard of Bob Turner or his publications, I “Googled” Magnolia Music Publications. I can see the lure of what Turner is offering, as described on his site:

His newly created “Flexible Instrumentation” jazz charts were created so that band directors would have the opportunity to create a jazz ensemble of their own choosing rather than being tied to one format of instrumentation.

As tempting as it might be to buy combo arrangements that instantly give your group a polished sound, I don’t personally endorse this approach. Given that you have daily rehearsals, there a many things you could do with your students which will develop lifelong, transferable skills, rather than merely learning to read yet another piece of printed music.

In contrast to rehearsing a big band or concert band, the process and desired outcomes of rehearing a jazz combo can and should be very different. It is within a small jazz group that skills like improvisation, accompaniment, group interaction, spontaneous arranging, harmonic analysis and repertoire memorization are learned.

Because your program is in the building stages and you don’t yet have a consistent bass player and drummer, I suggest using Jamey Aebersold play-a-long recordings, at least initially. With over 130 book/CD sets to choose from, I would recommend beginning with his starter pack, consisting of:

Vol. 1 “How To Play Jazz And Improvise” book and 2 CDs
Vol. 2 “Nothin’ But Blues Book and CD
Vol. 21 “Gettin’ It Together” Book and 2 CDs
Vol. 24 “Major and Minor” book and 2 CDs
Vol. 54 “Maiden Voyage” book and CD
plus: A free copy of the DVD “Anyone Can Improvise”

If I were to choose just two books from the above, I’d go with Vol. 1 and Vol. 54. Volume 1 has many excellent arpeggiation exercises which can be applied to almost any jazz tune. This is a great way to introduce students to the concept of outlining harmonic progressions in their solos.

All of the Aebersold play-a-longs are recorded in stereo, with the bass panned to the left and the piano panned to the right. If (for example) your band has a bass player, but no pianist, you could turn your audio system’s stereo panning dial to the right to remove the recorded bass entirely.  If you don’t have a panning dial, just unplug the left speaker temporarily.

This is a great solution in the interim, but over time, I’m sure you will be successful in recruiting a full band. At that point, perhaps you could encourage the students to start copying simple head charts from recordings, by ear or to start working from a fake book. I recommend “The New Real Book” by Sher Music Publishing.

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