EXPLORING JAZZ ARRANGING
Using Garritan Jazz & Big Band
ONLINE INTERACTIVE EDITION
by Chuck Israels



Lesson 6 - Form




Considerations of Form:

Compositions and arrangements in jazz styles have grown out of traditional forms. Early Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton compositions were in multi-sectional march form. Those early forms soon gave way to simpler blues and popular songs as the basis for jazz compositions. 12-measure blues form, 16 measure songs, and 32 measure AABA and ABAC forms prevail as foundations for jazz composers and arrangers. It is important to understand how these forms function as a vessel for communication. They provide the necessary predictable background on which expressive and spontaneous surprises can be built. Without the built in expectations that familiar forms provide, dramatic and interesting musical surprises become more difficult to create.
(Using new forms effectively requires making that new form sufficiently clear to the listener, usually by repetition of obvious surface material, that enough of it can be remembered and expectations can be inferred – otherwise there can be no surprises, just irrationality and chaos. The listener’s familiarity with traditional forms considerably reduces the need for this kind of preparatory repetition.)
Most attentive listeners to American music are at least subliminally aware of how these forms work, and understanding of their main characteristics is taken for granted for the purposes of this study. However, it is a good idea to begin exploration of jazz arranging using these forms until deep familiarity becomes second nature. Filling in and replenishing song form “templates” helps to assure the success of basic communicative musical function. As creative musicians become comfortably familiar with traditional forms, logical alterations of them can become part of the composer’s personal expression.

Here are some helpful observations about the internal workings of the familiar AABA, 32- measure form and ways to take advantage of some of these observations:

Often, the A sections are not strictly identical. Their endings might differ. One might end in a semi-cadence, another in a full cadence. Even if all the A sections are the same, it can be useful to treat the second or third occurrence of the material with slight variation. Rhythmic changes are the most noticeable way to renew the listener’s interest, but harmonies can also be changed in order to refresh a perspective on repeated melodic material. Repetition is an essential element of form. Without it, there is no expectation and therefore no surprise. Balancing the proportion of predictability with the flavoring of incremental change is a delicate matter that deserves sensitive and detailed consideration.

There is another, often overlooked, aspect of typical song form that affords opportunity for dramatic control, and that is the cyclical nature of the use of these forms. The fact that we repeat them chorus after chorus provides overlapping areas that seem to belong to the part of the form they are in (typically the last 7 beats of the form), but are more usefully used to introduce an element identified with the following chorus. This can be done in a variety of ways, and experienced improvisers do it often. Soloists can enter early or late, but rhythm section textures almost always foreshadow the entrance of new material or timbre. Think like a cabinet-maker. Dovetail joints are stronger than butt joints. Overlap the seams. (There’s a parallel example of this in “The Rites of Spring” where a bassoon figure interrupts for one measure slightly before the end of a section, seemingly irrationally. A moment later, when the new section begins with that bassoon figure, the drama is understood in retrospect.)

Here is an example of the end of a trombone solo section and the beginning of the last chorus where the unison brass entrance overlaps the trombone solo and introduces the new material three full measures before the end of the solo chorus:








Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:


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Understanding Chord phrases

Students of jazz composition/arranging usually begin learning about harmony one chord at a time. This is an inefficient and misleading way of understanding music. Chords are better understood as momentary vertical alignments that occur in harmonic phrases. There are typical patterns and progressions that connect one part of the larger harmonic phrase to another, and learning to recognize them, how they work, and how they can be adjusted and modified to fit specific situations, is an essential part of learning to write expressive and fluid harmony.

Here are some ways of thinking that will lead to deeper understanding of jazz harmony:

Think of at least two chords at a time, and apply a temporary designation of “I”, or “i” to the second chord. Look at the first chord as some kind of dominant harmony that will resolve to the second chord. A partial list of possibilities would include:




Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:


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The target chord may be major, minor, or dominant, and there are other possibilities for the first chord as well, including diminished chords, augmented chords, minor chords with added 6ths, and chromatic “planing” chords. A basic principle is that the target chord should contain pitches that are not present in the preceding chord. (This is why a dominant chord with a suspended 4th resolves attractively to a major 7th chord. The 3rd is not present in the dominant chord, so it doesn’t foreshadow the major 7th in the chord of resolution [the same pitch]. The suspended 4th resolves chromatically to the 7th degree of the target chord.




Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:


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If the dominant chord is a true dominant 7th chord, the strongest resolution will occur when its 3rd resolves to the 6th degree of the target chord.



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Another useful concept is that intervallic symmetry produces ambiguity. Equal intervallic subdivisions of the octave produce chords that can resolve in multiple ways. It is the (symmetrical – it inverts to the same interval) tritone between the 3rd and 7th in dominant 7th chords that produces its energizing power and need to resolve. Diminished 7th chords have two of these tritone pairs – providing even more possibilities for effective resolution. Typical diminished 7th chord resolutions maintain a pair of common tones while the other two notes move in the same direction by half step. In the following example, the diminished chord uses the same pair of notes moving either upward or downward by half step to resolve to two different places. Each of those chords of resolution can be heard as a major 6th chord or a minor 7th chord, so there are now 4 possible tonalities to which this diminished chord can resolve. Since there are three other pairs of 3rds in the diminished chord, there are 12 more possible resolution tonalities – 16 in all, and each one is a satisfying resolution. These are only some of the ways diminished chords resolve. The magic of symmetrical intervals in chords!





Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:


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These rudimentary principles can guide the exploration of ways to move from one harmonic spot to another and can lead to the recognition of recurring patterns. Using the seventh and eighth measures of Satin Doll as an example, we can apply increasingly complex progressions to move logically from the C major 7th (or C6) chord on the downbeat of the seventh measure to the D minor 7th on the downbeat of the ninth measure.

The simplest thing to do is nothing; just use diatonic planing. But the addition of a chromatic passing tone in the bass in the eighth measure makes possible a diminished chord (with an internal tritone) that makes a more compelling resolution. The voice leading remains parallel, since the bass-line moves by step (all voices rise, except the melody, which remains on G, resulting in oblique motion until the ninth measure where the melody note changes to A and it becomes parallel again).

Here is that example and a succession of others; each one showing small variations in the bass line and inner voices. Many of them would be useful in connecting to a D7 target chord, as well as the Dm7.
(No matter how they leave the C major chord at the beginning of the phrase, each phrase ends by connecting to the Dm7 with a chord that contains the same tritone interval, C#/Db– G.)





Score References & Musical Examples Using JABB:


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Think of these chord groupings as if they were missing jigsaw puzzle pieces. Each one has the same left side, a right side that has enough similar characteristics to fit the spot in the puzzle, and a top contour (melody) that exactly fits the specific puzzle spot. The patterns printed on the puzzle piece (the inner voices) vary slightly, and the contours on the bottom (the bass lines) show the most variation. Soon, recognizable patterns that fulfill the requirements of different harmonic and melodic circumstances will begin to emerge.



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Coming Next Lesson: Lesson 7 - Form (Continued)