Some pieces for jazz orchestra - John N MacNeill

These pieces are for a standard jazz big band: trumpets; saxophones (altos & tenors & baritone); trombones (tenors & bass); electric guitar; piano; bass guitar (4 strings enough) or double bass; drums.

The written parts provide a context for improvisation. There are places in the scores that require solo(s), piano accompaniment and bass/bass-guitar line to be improvised (in most cases on a chord sequence), and an improvised drum part.

Parts are not available for download. If you want the parts (PDF files), then please request them via the feedback email on the home page of this website. Please allow for delays before you receive a reply or the parts.

Audio files of just the written parts would of course suffer from big gaps where improvisation is expected. For the audio links offered, as-if improvised solos have been provided, along with some basic piano accompaniment (mostly just one chord per bar) and bass lines but, regrettably, much of the required drumming is absent. These as-if improvised parts (especially the drumming) are more repetitive, less creative and less musical than can be achieved by first-rate improvisers, but it it hoped that they will be of some help in giving an overall impression of each piece. The audio files will not clarify the extent of the written parts, but there are clues in the descriptions of the pieces.

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Three Down and Four to Play
Copyright 2010 John N MacNeill

Three Down and Four to Play is the least jazzy of these pieces - and the least likely to resemble anything else in your repertoire. It has two themes that use the same chord sequence, and each of these is played as a cannon, with each entry being a minor third lower than the one before. So the harmonic sequence goes all round the block, but there is just one chord per bar. The bass trombone has more responsibility than usual.

Arrangement overview:
Intro: Piano. 4 bars.
Theme 1: Piano, bass, drums.
Theme 1 canon: Stops when the first voice has played the theme twice.
Tacet bar: Except that the first soloist may choose to start therein.
Solo(s) 1: In the audio file it's guitar then tenor sax. The last chorus of each solo has a brass background.
Theme 2 canon: Bass guitar tacet. Bass trombone does bass line. Stops when the first voice has played the theme twice.
Tacet bar: Except that the next soloist may choose to start therein.
Solo(s) 2: In the audio file, it's a bass guitar solo, as this is a good place for one. Again the last chorus has a background, but a different one, and by the saxes.
Themes 1 & 2 canon: Builds up then eases down as instruments drop out. Bass trombone holds the last bit together.
Final note: Bass trombone.

Audio (10:25)

Cautious Daybreak
Copyright 2011 John N MacNeill

Cautious Daybreak uses an extended minor-key blues progression with altered chords. The previous version in the audio file was for nine or ten musicians only, but this one is for a full band.

Arrangement overview:
Theme: With a slight question-and-answer feel.
Theme: But with trumpet ad-lib replacing the "answers".
Theme: But with trumpet ad-lib replacing the "questions".
Solo(s): In the audio file it's alto sax then trumpet.
Final chord
Before each theme a simple piano motif signals that it is a theme statement next. Before each solo a simple guitar & piano motif signals that it is a solo next.

The structure of each solo:
Prelude: Bass guitar improvisation (including double stopping - guidelines provided) over a long chord from guitar & piano. Soloist enters and has interplay with bass guitar.
12-bar minor-blues choruses: With a background for the final one.
Postlude: With the background continuing.
Once through the theme has the same number of bars and the same chords as one 12-bar chorus plus the solo postlude.

Audio (6:47)
Last amended August 25 2011

Copyright 2011 John N MacNeill

Monkflower is named in honour of Thelonious Monk, aspects of whose music are reflected in the piece. It was originally called Monkfish, but that title was found to be already in use. The composer has tried in some places to emulate Monk's deadly seriousness about having boisterous fun, and in other places to emulate his quiet hauntingness.

Arrangement overview:
Intro: Over a repeating 8-bar harmonic sequence, call-and-response patterns are established, building to some counterpoint for the whole band.
Intro tail: 4 bars a chord from the band, an argument between baritone sax and bass trombone, and then a chord that fades away.
Theme: Solo trumpet, then trumpets and tenor saxes.
Theme: Most of the band.
Solo(s): In the audio file it's tenor sax then trumpet.
Intro: As before.
Intro tail: As before.
Theme: Whole band.
Final chord

The structure of each solo:
Part 1: Chords for 8 bars of intro plus intro tail. Background features guitar, baritone sax and bass trombone.
Part 2: Just once through the chords for the theme. Trumpet & sax background for last 8 bars.

Audio (8:45)

Low-Angle Sunlight
Copyright 2011 John N MacNeill

Low-Angle Sunlight is a jazz waltz that grew out of an attempt to write something harmonically simpler than the pieces above. Some of it is based on a chord sequence and the rest on the dorian mode in two keys.
The title refers to the special appearance of things lit by the early-morning or late-evening sun. You may (if you can stomach the sentimentality) think of the piece as representing a journey at such a time of day, a journey that goes into and out of shadow.

Arrangement overview:
Theme 1: Whole band. Twice through a 16-bar chord sequence.
Bridge 1: 16 bars. Piano chords and repeated long simple trumpet chords establish dorian mode. Bass guitar enters and provides most of the interest.
Bridge 2: Just piano, bass guitar and drums playing a 4-bar figure.
Bridge 2: That 4-bar figure again.
Theme 2: Over repetitions of the figure just mentioned, instruments enter a few at a time, building to a chord. Then piano, bass guitar and drums complete their just-started 4-bar figure.
Solo(s): In the audio file it's alto sax then trumpet.
Theme 1: As before.
Bridge 1: As before.
Bridge 2: As before.
Theme 2: With an extra trumpet motif.
Final chord: Similar to Bridge 3 below.

Each solo uses dorian mode throughout and has this structure:
Bridge 3: Piano, bass guitar and drums. Chord held for 2 bars. Soloist tacet.
Sign-in: 16 bars. New key established by bass guitar accompanied by simple trumpet and piano chords. Soloist starts improvising after perhaps about 8 bars.
Main section: Indeterminate number of bars - in the audio file it's just 12 bars.
Sign-out: Starts when the background is cued in. Changes back to original key at bar 5. After the background comes the 4-bar figure again, during which the soloist plays her/his last few notes.

Audio (7:52)
Last amended September 1 2011

Blue Blow
Copyright 2011 John N MacNeill

Blue Blow gives some bluesy blowing for brass and reeds. It uses a 12-bar blues in 12/8 time (currently notated as 24 bars in 6/8 time) with non-standard chords, one of which (a major seventh with flattened fifth that occurs with different root notes) was the composer's starting-point. The theme is antiphonal, two trumpets in harmony being replied to by the rest of the band.

Arrangement overview:
Theme: The blues in F and then the blues in D.
Bridge: 4 bars. Resembles the start of the theme. Leads into a new key for the solos.
Solo(s): In the audio file it's tenor sax then alto sax. Each solo is choruses of the blues in Bb, the final chorus having a background based on the antiphonal responses in the theme.
Theme: As before, but with a slight differences at the start and finish.

Audio (5:54)
Last amended October 4 2011

Wee Dander
Copyright 2011 John N MacNeill

Wee Dander means a little stroll around, such as you might have after settling into holiday accommodation. The theme has one or two small spaces for improvised bass guitar or drum fills.

Arrangement overview:
Theme or at least the bare bones of it.
Theme fleshed out a bit more.
Theme full version.
Solo(s): In the audio file it's guitar then trumpet, alto sax then trombone.
Theme: full version plus a final chord.

The solos come in pairs. First, a 16-bar solo over long chords from the trombones and nothing but Gs from the bass guitar. Then a 16-bar solo over an intermittent saxophone background.

Audio (7:14)

The Middle Floor
Copyright 2012 John N MacNeill

The Middle Floor is a guitar feature with some tall harmonies, modal improvising and unprepared modulations. In some big-band jazz, the guitar is inaudible, or nearly so; not for this piece.

Arrangement overview:
Theme intro: Most of the band except the rhythm section.
Theme: Guitar (loud and majestic) accompanied by the rest of the band except for the rhythm section.
Interplay 1. Eight improvised bars by the guitar, piano, bass and drums.
Motif 1: Trombones, bass and drums.
Interplay 2. As for Interplay 2.
Motif 2: Trombones, bass and drums again.
Interplay 3. Eight improvised bars by the guitar, piano, bass and drums, but with different instructions for guitar and piano.
Motif 3: Saxophones, bass and drums.
Interplay 4. As for Interplay 3.
Motif 4: Saxophones, bass and drums again.
Guitar cadenza. Entirely solo modal guitar improvisation of indeterminate length, starting and ending on a prescribed chord.
Drum fill: Two+ bars improvised.
Guitar solo. 34 bars (modal) with intermittent brass-chord background.
Theme intro: Most of the band.
Theme: Guitar (loud and majestic) accompanied by the rest of the band.

In an interplay, the musicians improvise together without a specified soloist. Each interplay here is modal in a specified key, with special instructions for piano and guitar. For the interplays, a less prominent guitar tone may be needed, as in the audio file.
Each motif is an eight-bar variation on part of the theme.
The cadenza offers the chance for the guitarist to use the full range of the instrument, as well as techniques and effects rarely heard in a big-band context. A looper?

Audio (9:44)
Remixed March 31 2012

Old Friends Remembered
Copyright 2012 John N MacNeill

Old Friends Remembered uses various modes and is in 5/4 time throughout. The locrian mode takes the composer and the improvisers into less usual musical territory where, for instance, the note that is a perfect fifth above the tonic is not available.

Arrangement overview:
Theme: AABA structure with the A sections in locrian mode (E minor, one flat) and the B section in ionian mode (Eb major, three flats).
Solo 1: 8-bar drum solo accompanied by chords from the brass and saxes. This is the only section of the piece that is not strictly modal.
Solo 2: dorian mode (D minor, no sharps or flats) 16-bar solo over piano figure, with intermittent sax background in the final 8 bars. In the audio file, it's a guitar solo that lets the piano figure be heard for quite a while before making its entry.
Solo 3: ionian mode (Eb major, three flats) 16-bar solo over a very similar piano figure, with intermittent trumpet background in the final 8 bars. In the audio file, it's a trombone solo.
Solos 4 and 5: dorian mode (D minor, no sharps or flats). 16-bar piano solo in single notes accompanied by guitar chords, bass and drums (and a trombone chord in the first bar), then 8 bars in which the roles of piano and guitar are reversed and then 8 further bars of the piano solo.
Solo 6: using the harmonic sequence of the A section of the theme and with an intermittent trombone background. In the audio file, it's a trumpet solo.
Solo 7: as for solo 6. In the audio file, it's tenor sax.
Theme section B: but a less legato version that gives opportunities for creative drumming.
Theme section A.

Audio (8:02)
Draft version June 16 2012

Where's my D-flat minor ninth?
Copyright 2013 John N MacNeill

Where's my D-flat minor ninth? takes the composer and the improvisers into less usual musical territory by using only the note-set F, F#, G, A, Bb, C and D. The forbidden notes would make the chord D-flat minor ninth.
Of these pieces, this is the one that makes lightest use of the band (there are no tutti passages) and the one that needs the least paper for printing the parts.

Arrangement overview:
Theme: 24 bars.
Solos: Improvisation is on the note-set and not on a chord sequence. Each solo is in two parts: [1] an eight-bar prelude over a repeated chord from guitar and bass; [2] a double-time section of no fixed number of bars. Two muted trumpets play a background (cued-in) that recalls the original tempo, and the solo ends two bars after the background. In the audio file, there are just two short solos - alto sax and trumpet.
Bridge: just four bars. It is the same as half of the accompaniment for a solo prelude, but with less drumming.
Final chord: Piano and bass play a long chord made of the notes that have been avoided so far. The chord is nearly D-flat minor ninth - it is D-flat minor seventh with an added second.

The arrangement makes much use of seven-note phrases (the solo background and most of the theme). Each of these seven-note phrases is made of the note-set in a particular order, and every parallel part is made of the note-set in some other order.

Audio (4:53)
Version 8 July 2013 - bar 4 of theme altered

Work in progress:

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