21M.342 | Fall 2008 | Undergraduate

Composing for Jazz Orchestra


This page describes selected assignments for the class, and includes videos and complete scores for two examples of the final composition project.

Assignment 3: Analysis

There are three parts to this assignment, all based on concepts discussed in class. Please follow the approaches introduced in class as you complete the assignments requested.

Part A. Three Horn Arrangement of “String of Pearls”

Reference score: commercial arrangement on library reserve (publisher unknown).

Please analyze mm. 5 - 13, 19, 20, and 28
1. How do the two harmony parts function in relation to the melody part?
2. How do mm. 19, 20, and 28 differ from mm. 5 - 13?
3. Finally, peruse the overall form of the tune. Describe this form.

Part B. Full Score Arrangement of “String of Pearls”

Reference score: commercial arrangement on library reserve (publisher unknown).

Please convert transposed sax section on score to Reduced Score Format (RSF), which is in concert key, written on treble and bass clefs, with all chord symbols indicated above the block harmony.

Part C. Four Part Saxophone Harmonization of Count Basie’s “Sent For You Yesterday”

Reference score: Mark Harvey arrangement (unpublished).

Write chord symbols (chord identifications) for all the notated chords on this example. Do this in RSF in concert key.

Assignment 4: Composition

Please write an original melody for the basic chords on the AABA form of “I Got Rhythm.” If you are experienced with this form, you may use some altered and/or substitute chords. If less experienced, you should stay with the basic chord progression.

Write a full harmonization for one of the A sections, assuming you have four saxophones. (One of these will be the main melody, the other three are supporting voices.) For a second A section, write a four part comping pattern. For the B section, please write a counterline of some sort. (The melody is one voice, the countermelody is given to a second voice.) Do this in RSF (two stave, concert key format).

Assignment 5: “Early Autumn”

Reference score : Burns, Ralph. “Early Autumn.” Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corp., 1996.

This assignment relates to a classic swing era composition, “Early Autumn,” written by Ralph Burns for the Woody Herman Orchestra of the late 1940s. Please do the various parts of this assignment as indicated. The model for your work will be what we have done today in class with another Herman classic, Jimmy Giuffre’s “Four Brothers.”

1. Transpose the saxophone parts (“Tenor Band” version) to concert score format. Your score set-up will have five staves, four for the individual saxes, and one for the guitar part with the chord symbols. Do this transposition only for the sections indicated.

  • Pick up notes, and mm. 1 - 3, in their entirety.
  • mm. 4: only the first sixteenth note, right on beat two & both eighth notes on beat four
  • mm. 5: the full measure
  • mm. 6: only beat four
  • mm. 7: only beats one and two (the half note)

2. When the transposed sax & guitar score is completed, then analyze and identify all the chords—“post” chords and all passing chords. Please note these above each vertical configuration on your score.

Midterm Composition Project

A thirty-six measure original composition written for five saxes, piano and bass. (Drums may be optional.) Full Score in concert key. Parts transposed as appropriate. All sketches should be in RSF for review and discussion with instructor.

For Saxes

Minimum of 8 mm of block harmony (note for note), 8 mm of support-style block harmony, 8 mm of countermelodic writing, and if you wish, no more than 4 mm of unison.

For Piano and Bass

Rhythm section support role primarily. Any specific notes should be kept to a minimum. Parts will be primarily hash marks with chord symbols.

Solo with Background / Optional

You have the option of writing 8 - 12 mm of this piece as a solo for one instrument, during which the others play backgrounds of some sort, e.g., riffs, pads, etc.

AAB Blues Your original tune will be 12 mm long. Two more choruses will be variations on the original tune. Total of 36 mm.
AABA Your original tune will be either 16 (AB) or 32 (AABA) bars long plus an introduction of 4 mm. Total of 36 mm.

Reports on Big Band Rehearsals and Performances

These reports are to be one or two page reflections on what you have seen and heard when attending these sessions. You should comment on any pieces that we have studied in class, noting aspects that you perceive in rehearsal or performance that deepen or extend points discussed in class. Note how the sections work, how various techniques and approaches discussed in class are used in various compositions and arrangements, as well as other aspects that you observe.


  • One rehearsal and one performance by the Festival Jazz Ensemble
  • One rehearsal and one performance by the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra

Assignment 7: “Kids are Pretty People” and “St. Louis Blues”

Following the principles discussed in class, please do the following as indicated for these two pieces.

Part A. “Kids Are Pretty People”

Reference score: Jones, Thad. “Kids Are Pretty People.” In Wright, R. Inside the Score. Kendor Music, 1990.

p. 86 INSET

(a) Identify all tones in the sax section that are not included in the chord symbol given in piano part, i.e., extensions, etc.

(b) Indicate the configuration of the voicing for each chord, e.g. 11 - #9 - 3 - 7 - R

p. 88 INSET

(a) Identify as above, for sax section, adding in brass at letter F (mm.73, 74)

(b) Also, note all “couplings” ** Please do this for mm. 67 - 70, 73 and 74

p. 89 INSET

(a) Identify as above, for sax and brass, noting couplings

(b) Please do this for mm. 75 - 78 and 80

pp. 90-91 Study letter H, note the approach used here

Part B: “St. Louis Blues”

Reference score: “St. Louis Blues.” Composed by W. C. Handy, arranged by Bob Brookmeyer. Rottenberg, N. Germany: Advance Music.

Diagram the entire piece, following examples in Ray Wright’s Inside the Score. Note the use of dynamics, rhythmic feels and shifts, articulations, orchestration, etc.

Voicing Analysis

pp. 9-10 For the full twelve measures given at rehearsal number 69, please transpose to RSF (concert) on three staves (two for saxes, one for chords) and give specific configuration for each chord.
p. 13 At rehearsal number 97, all of this music, same as above w/transposition. On five staves: two for saxes, one for trumpets, one for trombones, one for chords.
p. 25 At rehearsal number 197, the full chord at this measure, as above w/transposition.
p. 25 For mm. 197 - 200, what is the effect of these four measures?

Final Composition Project

This is to be a substantial original composition written for full jazz orchestra. The full score is to be in concert key. All parts are to be properly transposed. The piece should be about 5 minutes in duration.

Form and structure
You may choose to work with standard forms (blues, 32 bar song form) or a form of your own devising. Your structure should be well thought-out in terms of design, shape, orchestration, use of solo improvisational segments, and other aspects.
Texture and voicing
Monophonic texture Use of a single instrumental line, or of a unison line, are worth consideration and can often be effective. However, please be sure that any such usage is not excessive.
Homophonic texture

There must be evidence of full ensemble block harmony and a soli section, typically for the saxes. The minimum of block harmony required is 16 mm.

Analysis: One of these segments must have all chords, including passing chords, identified. The segment should be between 8 - 12 mm. long. Please do this on a separate page of music paper.

Polyphonic texture There must be evidence of countermelodic writing. This may be in terms of a melody line with one counterline, or, if you wish, a passage with three-part counterpoint. The minimum amount of countermelodic writing required is 16 mm.

In the block harmony sections, there must be evidence of attention to voicing considerations as we have studied them, i.e., you should be thinking in terms of the Basie or the Thad Jones approach, for example, or in terms of modal or other approaches we have discussed.

Analysis: One segment of your block harmony must have the voicing configurations identified as done in the “Moten Swing,” “Kids are Pretty People,“and “St. Louis Blues” exercises. The segment should be between 6 - 8 mm. long. Please do this on a separate page.

Other aspects
Any and all concepts, techniques, etc. discussed during the term should be observed, including the following:
Solo improvisation You should allow for some solo improvisation in your piece. With a standard form and structure (e.g., Basie, Jones, etc.) please include backgrounds as part of this solo section. With a different form and structure, please include something similar. In any case, do not have long stretches of solo improvisation with only rhythm section accompaniment.
Dynamics and articulations There should be varied dynamic markings in your piece. The use of crescendo and decrescendo effects are encouraged as well. There should be varied articulation markings in your piece.
Tempo and rhythmic feels Any and all meter indications must be clearly marked. You need not make metric shifts, but if you do, these must be clearly marked and carefully designed for ease of performance.
Meter In the block harmony sections, there must be evidence of attention to voicing considerations as we have studied them, i.e., you should be thinking in terms of the Basie or the Thad Jones approach, for example, or in terms of modal or other approaches we have discussed.
Horn sections There should be evidence of use of all of the sections as sections as well as the use of the full ensemble.
Rhythm section

The rhythm section will primarily perform a supportive function, e.g., comping for piano, walking or patterned lines for bass, and time keeping for drums. Hash marks and other simple, direct indications are preferred.

If you wish to have any of the rhythm section parts work with the other sections or full ensemble, this should be kept to a minimum and be clearly indicated. For example: bass doubling bari sax line; piano doubling horn lines; drums doing fills alternating w/full ensemble rhythmic support. All are possible but must be dealt with carefully.


There will be two sessions at which class pieces will be performed, in a sight-reading format. The performance of your composition is required. Following the performance session, there will one additional analytic assignment given, to be handed in within two days of your session.

Examples of Student Work

The following content is provided courtesy of the students and used with permission.

“Totality” by Chris Kottke

Concert (PDF)

Transposed (PDF)

Audio and video
“Empty Bottles” by Mike Lee


Audio and video

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2008
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Videos
Projects with Examples
Activity Assignments