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Elements In Chris Potter's Big Band Writing Style: The Application of The Rayburn Wright Method to Chris Potter's Compositions, “New Year's Day” and “Narrow Road” HESHAM GALAL

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  • Elements In Chris Potter's Big Band Writing Style:

    The Application of The Rayburn Wright Method to Chris Potter's Compositions,

    New Year's Day and Narrow Road

    H E S H A M G A L A L

  • C H A P T E R 1

    Chapter One:


    In the last ten years big band music has drawn the attention of music researchers. The idea of modernizing the big band style to suit the twenty first century is introduced in more than two recent dissertations, written by Scott Brian Belck and Tyler Dennis. Contemporary jazz composers are the subject of analysis by the aforementioned researchers. Arranging and compositional techniques are discussed and compositions are being analyzed, to explore the elements present in contemporary big band writing style. Compared to other jazz styles, the number of contemporary big band composers is limited, yet there is a gap in the academic knowledge regarding their writing styles. Chris Potter's big band works, for example, have never undergone any academic analysis. Other works by jazz composers have been analyzed briefly, without comprehensive analysis of their scores, to identify elements which characterize their writing style. Maria Schneider is an example of the second category. This paper will attempt to fill in this gap in academic knowledge by analyzing Chris Potter's writing style. Two big band compositions from his album with the Danish Radio Big Band titled Transatlantic (Chris Potter & DR Big band, 2011) will be examined. The results of my analysis will be summarized in the conclusion of this paper.

    Chris Potter is an established American jazz artist admired by critics and audience. His musical background is in writing and performing in small jazz groups format. As a leading contemporary jazz practitioner, Potter's big band com-positions reflect the new soundscape big band music. Scott Brian Belck traced this new sound in Jim McNeely's com-positions and introduced the term soundscape to describe it (Belck 2008, P.129). This paper will use this term sound-scape hereafter when referring to the contemporary big band trend.

    The Danish Radio Big Band is one of the lead big bands in Europe. The band was formed in 1964. The Danish Radio Big Band worked with bandleaders such as Ib Glindeman, Ray Pitts, Palle Mikkelborg, Thad Jones, Ole Kock Hansen, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely, and Chris Potter. The band worked with guest artists such as Miles Davis, Van Morrison, David Sanborn, Stan Kenton, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, George Russell, Manhattan Transfer, John Scofield, Toots Thielemans, McCoy Tyner, Maria Schneider, Oliver Nelson, Martial Solal, Tom Harrell and Benny Gol-son.

    The history of big band music is essential to understand soundscape music and how it has evolved from the clas-sic big band style. Big bands emerged in the United States in 1910. They flourished in the 1930s, and declined in mid 1940s. There was a strong debate among jazz critics in the 1950s on the value of big bands, where some considered it not real jazz music due to the minimization of improvisation in big band arrangements (Stewart 2004, P.174). The unique orchestration and voicings of big band music keep the style in the heart of jazz musicians and audiences. This idea is supported by the emergence of historically famous bands such as Count Basie Big Band, Duke Ellington Big Band, Glenn Miller Big Band, and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. These bands are still per-forming today as Ghost Bands, long after the death of the band leader.

    Big bands played an important role in jazz history and education. They helped young wind players to acquire ex-perience from older jazz musicians and helped in the passing of the jazz knowledge from one generation to another through the interaction between band musicians. The practice of matching articulation, sound and pitch is the core of this learning process (Tong 2007, P.5). Big band harmonies and voicings are unique, some of these voicings are exclu-sive to the big band style and some share similarities with choral writing (Wright 1982). The big band style is a rich and


  • important subject. The knowledge gained from this research can be applied to school, part-time, amateur and profes-sional big bands. The voicings, orchestration and contrapuntal techniques in this paper can be used in any formation with more than four horns.

    The Purpose of this Research project:

    Big bands are back (Stewart 2004), this opening statement quoted by Stewart reflects an increased attention to big band music in the early 2000s. Soundscape arrangers/composers and big band albums appear to support this claim. Composers such as Maria Schneider, Jim McNeely, Darcy James Argue and Chris Potter are contemporary and active composers helping Keep the big band idea alive by using the big band vehicle to deliver a fresh contemporary sound to a new generation of jazz artists. Are they following the traditions of the big band golden era? Are they similar to each other? This research will provide answers to these two questions by reviewing current big band literature and the analysis of works written by the aforementioned composers. In addition, this research will conduct an analysis of two compositions written by Chris Potter.

    How to identify Contemporary Big Bands? The term contemporary does not refer only to the present time. New big band arrangements written in the style of traditional 1930s and 1940s style are available today, being produced and sold to school and community big bands. Contemporary composers, Bob Mintzer, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Tom Kubis, Gordon Goodwin, Bob Curnow, Slide Hampton, John Fedchock and Bill Holman are examples of the neo-classic big band style (Belck 2008, P.129). The scope of this research will focus on the content within contemporary big band mu-sic. I will also define the term Contemporary Big Band and review the literature written about contemporary big band music. There is a gap in the current knowledge where contemporary composers such as Chris Potter have not under-gone any intensive academic investigation.

    The success of The Danish Radio Big Band, known as DR Big Band can be attributed to the collaboration with many jazz arrangers and composers. Thad Jones, who was the co-founder of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra worked as music director for the DR Big Band. Jones wrote arrangements for Count Basie Big Band and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. His writing style is analyzed in Rayburn Wright's master work Inside The Score. The Danish Radio Big Band worked with a number of the aforementioned contemporary composers, Jim McNeely and Bob Brookmeyer. Maria Schneider wrote compositions for the Danish Radio Big Band. Chris Potter worked as music director for the Danish Radio Big Band. In 2011, Chris Potter released his first big band album Transatlantic in collaboration with the Danish Radio Big Band. New Year's Day, and Narrow Road from this album will be analyzed. One of the objec-tives of this paper is to compare the results of this analysis to literature on contemporary composers, Maria Schneider and Jim McNeely. A limited comparison between the three composers will be conducted. The main reason for not con-ducting a comprehensive comparison is the different interpretations of Rayburn Wright's method in the contemporary big band literature. Although current researches have introduced revisions of Wright's method, their applications do not follow the original method. There are no Dynamic Contours in any of the new applications of Wright's method. The absence of a Lead Sheet as an important part of the analysis of the melody in this method is missing from these applications except for Wee Small Hours arranged by Jim McNeely and analyzed by Belck (2008). Bob Brookmeyer is analyzed in Rayburn Wright's book, but he will be classified as a soundscape composer. The reasons for this classifi-cation will be discussed in the second chapter of this research.


    The term Big band is used to describe different phenomena in music. For example, historians use the term to refer to the big band era (Steinman 2003). Music text books define big bands by instrumentation, the style of music in


  • the swing / big band era and the specific instrumentation that is associated with it. This research will acknowledge the swing era as an important chapter of jazz music history, but the focus of this paper is on soundscape music. This par-ticular style emerged after the deterioration of the traditional big band in the mid forties, and has developed over time to the present day.

    The instrumentation of the soundscape band is the same as the traditional big bands. The term Jazz Orchestra is often used to describe big bands, however, it may also refer to different large jazz ensembles with french horns and tuba, Gil Evans Jazz Orchestra for example. The most common instrumentation of big band is four trumpets, four trom-bones, and five saxophones known as 8 & 5 (Lowell 2003). There are other less popular formats of big bands such as: three trumpets, three trombones and four saxophones or two trumpets, two trombones and three saxophones. All the aforementioned formats are accompanied by four piece rhythm section; piano, bass, guitar, and drums. The smaller instrumentations can be achieved within the standard big band instrumentation by writing for a smaller number of musi-cians, three trumpets, three trombones and four saxophones known as 6 & 4 is an example of this technique. The writ-ing techniques for these sub groups is discussed in detail by Lowell (Lowell 2003).

    Doubling of instruments is an important characteristic in big band music (Lowell 2003). In some compositions the four trumpets are replaced by Flugelhorns. The Flugelhorn has the same fingering and transposition as trumpets. Trumpet parts sound a major second below written parts. The conical bore of flugelhorn makes the instrument darker and mellower than trumpet. In contemporary big bands a combination of trumpets played with mutes and flugelhorns can be found. The reed section (saxophones) are replaced by flutes and clarinets or a combination of saxophones and flutes or clarinets. In Maria Schneider's works, bass clarinet replaces the common baritone saxophone.

    The trombone section consists of three tenor trombones provided with F trigger for the lower notes, and one bass trombone with F and D triggers. F trigger notes are avoided in tenor trombone writings, it is used mainly for pedal notes. Trombone parts sound as written. In contemporary big bands a tuba is used in some arrangements instead of bass trombone.

    The saxophone section consists of two alto, two tenor and one baritone saxophone. Together they are referred to as the Reed Section. Jim McNeely refers to this section as Reed I, Reed II etc.. The three types of saxophones share the same fingering; different fundamentals are responsible for the different range of each instrument. Alto sax parts sound a major sixth below written notes, Tenor parts sound a major ninth below written notes, and baritone sax parts sound an octave plus a major sixth below written notes. Arrangers often write for two flutes, two clarinets, and one bass clarinet for this section. The fingering of clarinet is close to saxophone, however clarinet over blows on the twelfth interval. This means the thump (octave) key in saxophone is replaced by a register and thump keys which transpose an octave plus a perfect fifth in clarinet. In contemporary big bands a combination of saxophones, clarinets, flutes, and bass clarinet is found.

    In a typical transposed big band score, it is common to have three different key signatures. In soundscape style the music is written atonally in an open key (Lowell 2003. P.27). It is important to write clearly on the score whether it is in concert pitch or in transposed keys. The atonal characteristic of soundscape scores requires more attention from players who are used to read in diatonic keys.

    Research Methods Overview:

    The research will adapt Rayburn Wright's methodology in the analysis of big band scores. Wright's book Inside The Score is a standard reference for arrangers and music schools (Belck 2008, p.91). This method is used by big


  • band researchers in the analysis of soundscape charts. This paper will consider the different interpretations and revi-sions of the method done by Dennis (2012) and Belck (2008).

    Who is Rayburn Wright?

    Rayburn Wright worked as an arranger, composer, producer, music director and educator. Wright's students are lead soundscape composers, Maria Schneider for example, studied with Wright (Sturm 1998). Wright's book Inside The Score is widely acknowledged by music schools and researchers. In this book, Wright examines the works of Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones and Bob Brookmeyer. My study will review three adaptations of Rayburn Wright's method used by Dennis, Belck and Bozich.

    The study of Rayburn Wright's method will lead to the analysis of Chris Potter's big band compositions New Year's Day, and Narrow Road. The analysis will focus on the differences between Chris Potter's arranging tech-niques and the previously studied contemporary composers. The study will compare contemporary arranging tech-niques to the more traditional techniques mentioned in Wright's book.

    During the course of this paper, the scores of Chris Potter's album, Transatlantic, were offered on sale by the composer. This extends the range of scores to be analyzed and focuses this paper on the style of Chris Potter's big band writing. The comparison between Chris Potter and other contemporary composers will not be conducted due to the difference in the application of the method of analysis in the other papers. The literature review will discuss this topic in detail.

    The conclusion will answer the question: What are the differences in arranging techniques between contemporary and traditional big band music? And how do these techniques affect the style? This study will review a possible rela-tionship between the contemporary big band style and the general development of the jazz genre after the big band golden era. Are contemporary arrangers using elements from contemporary jazz in their compositional works?


  • C H A P T E R 2

    Chapter Two:

    Definitions and Historical Background

    The term Big Band is broad. There is more than one definition to the term Big Band. Each definition reflects the method used in approaching the same phenomena. The historical definition of big band limits the scope to the jazz style that was popular in the period from 1930 till 1946. For example, in Steinman (2003), the term is used to describe the dance bands from 1910 in the United States of America. The date of the beginning of big bands is undetermined, it can be traced in Chicago as early as 1910. The 1930 starting point refers to the golden era of big bands. The end date refers to four weeks in 1946 when seven of the most prominent big bands ceased to exist. Jazz text books define big band by the orchestration (Lowell 2003). It is the band that consist of seventeen musicians, four trumpets, three tenor trombones, one bass trombone, two alto saxes, two tenor saxes, one baritone sax and a rhythm section that consists of piano, bass, guitar and drums. This basic formation is altered when the trumpet section or individual players change to flugelhorn and when the reed section (saxes) or individuals change to flutes and clarinets. Orchestration is the fo-cus of this definition. Another definition focus on working big bands as entities, for example: Count Basie, Duke Elling-ton, Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman big bands.

    The above definitions describe the big band phenomena. The three definitions of big band will be used in different chapters in this paper. The historical definition is used in the introduction and discussions of the emergence and devel-opment of big bands in the USA. The instrumental definition is used in the discussions of the writing techniques used by arrangers and composers. It is used also in the dynamic contours and harmony in the analysis section. The term Big Band is used often to describe the working bands in the discussion of the current contemporary big bands.

    The main objective in this study is to provide a definition to the term Contemporary Big Band. The term Sound-scape big band will be used to describe the aforementioned bands. To achieve this goal, I will study the characteris-tics of big bands using Rayburn Wright's method of analysis from Inside The Score and the contemporary applica-tions of this method to soundscape compositions, analyzed by Dennis (2012) and Belck (2008). Soundscape definition will include elements responsible for making this jazz style distinctive in comparison to the traditional (previously de-fined) big band style.

    Historical Background:

    According to Steinman (2003) the first big band was formed in the United States in 1910. Steinman studied the case of Madura's Danceland (a ballroom in Chicago). The emergence of more than one hundred new dances in 1912-14 (foxtrot, camel walk, monkey glide, and turkey trot among them) led to the formation of full-time big bands to play in ballrooms where dancers would socialize. The significance of the Madura's Danceland is in the period it had operated (1925 - 1967) playing four nights a week twelve months a year. The ending date is past the golden era of big bands (1946). December, 1946, is significant in big band history, during this month seven prominent big bands ceased to ex-ist (Stewart 2004).

    In 1920 jazz music began to develop from its earlier forms of New Orleans style where artists like King Oliver were performing in the 1900s iand developing into the big band format. Elements of Ragtime, Blues and European mu-


  • sic merged into a new style. Early big bands, such as Duke Ellington, Ben Pollack, Don Redman and Fletcher Hender-son, worked as examples for the next generation of bandleaders such as Colman Hawkins, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Red Allen, Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter and John Kirby.

    Dance bands of the 1920s such as Paul Whiteman, The California Rumble, Ted Lewis, Jean Goldkette and Vin-cent Lopez helped to elevate the popularity of big band music and the associated dances of this era. (Parker, J. n.a)

    Benny Goodman's last stop in his tour in 1935 is considered the beginning of the big band golden era. His suc-cessful performance at The Palomar in Los Angeles drew attention to big band music and led to the increased inter-est in the already established big bands led by Count Basie, Fats Waller and Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. ( trends of 30s 40s)

    The media treated big bands in the 1930s and 1940s in the same manner as the media deal with pop stars to-day. Radio shows were dedicated to big band music, and live radio shows from ballrooms were broadcast, replacing records.

    The increased number of musicians in big bands made the arranger's role important in shaping the music. The craft of arranging was continuously developing in accordance with the art of this big band.

    Be-bop dominated the jazz scene from 1946. The influence of this era appears in arrangements played by Super-sax. Be-bop lines associated with the saxophonist, Charlie Parker, are written for the saxophone section. By the 1970s, the fusion style was introduced in jazz. Big band arrangements of this era were influenced by fusion rhythms and harmonies. The compositions/arrangements of Don Ellis contain examples of fusion influences in big band music of the 1970s (Fenlon, S. 2002).

    Soundscape concepts started to emerge in the 1980's. Bob Brookmeyer is an example of the early soundscape composers. Some researchers consider Duke Ellington's big band the real beginning of soundscape bands (Belck 2008). Ellington wrote for particular individuals in his band. However, harmonic, melodic and voicings of Ellington's band belong to traditional big bands.

    In 1994, Maria Schneider released her debut album, Evanescence, featuring her original compositions and or-chestra. Schneider studied with Rayburn Wright and Bob Brookmeyer, and was an assistant to the noted jazz com-poser Gil Evans. Schneider is one of the lead soundscape composers (Cowley 2013).

    Jim McNeely is also one of the soundscape composers. McNeely recorded with the West Germany Radio Big Band (WDR) an album titled East Coast Blow Out in 1989. McNeely worked with Bob Brookmeyer and Thad Jones (McNeely Bio n.a.)

    During the early 2000's the New York based tenor saxophonist Chris Potter worked with the Danish Radio Big Band known as DR Big Band. The DR Big Band worked with a number of leading big band composers and arrangers. Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider, Jim McNeely and Chris Potter are an example of the DR Big Band collaboration with soundscape composers. Transatlantic, released in 2011, is the fruit of the collaboration between Chris Potter and the DR Big Band. Potter has written soundscape compositions throughout the entire album. Potter's writing style is the newest addition to the soundscape style.


  • C H A P T E R 3

    Chapter Three

    Rayburn Wright Method of Analysis:

    According to Rayburn Wright, the study of big band scores reveals the trade secrets of great composers and ar-rangers. These secrets are not obviously seen by viewing the charts on a surface level. An in-depth analysis of the score is the only way to uncover the characteristics of individual composers.

    Rayburn Wright's study examines three mainstream big band writers: Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones and Bob Brookmeyer. The compositions analyzed by Wright are: Basie Straight Ahead and Hay Burner arranged by Sammy Nestico, Us, Kids Are Pretty People, Three And One and ABC Blues arranged by Thad Jones and Hello And Goodbye and First Love Song arranged by Bob Brookmeyer.

    The Analysis:

    Rayburn Wright's analysis starts with a lead sheet copy of the composition with no orchestration, voicing nor den-sity. The main objective of this simplified version of the big band composition is to reveal the basic melodic structure, form and harmonic treatment of the composition.


    Melody is pitched sounds, arranged in musical time in accordance with given cultural conventions and con-straints [and] represents a universal human phenomenon traceable to prehistoric times (Ringer, A. L. n.a)

    The study of melody in Wright's method includes the form of the melody, AABA for example. The dynamic level and expression changes and relates to the position where it occurs in the arrangement. This relationship between the melodies in different sections is examined to point out repetitions and variations of the same motive, if applicable. The rhythmic characteristic of melody is also included in Wright's method. A lead sheet of the melody with chords is pro-vided at this stage.

    Form of arrangement:

    Rayburn Wright uses a dynamic contour of the arrangement in which he illustrates the density of each section, orchestration used, and climax points. Dynamic contours are computer generated graphs which show the dynamic lev-els of composition with respect to the form, instrumentation, and time. The contemporary applications tends to skip this part of the analysis. The importance of dynamic contour examination lies in the relationship between the form and voicings used in the music. Wright explains arranger decisions to use certain voicings in blowing choruses for exam-ple.


  • By examining the for, Wright compares different sections of the same composition. For example his notes on Nes-tico's writing style:

    Sections of a composition are rarely identical. Openings of sections with similar melodies are varied while endings are identical. Wright names this technique pulling the form together.

    Nestico positions the climax of the composition around 98% of the song. Arrangements consists of breakdowns in the form of solos accompanied by rhythm section only, piano, and bass solos. Shout choruses are found in Nestico's style with the highest in density towards the end of the composition.


    Voice leading is described as That aspect of counterpoint and polyphony which recognizes each part as an individual line (or voice), not merely as an element of the resultant harmony; each line must therefore have a melodic shape as well as a rhythmic life of its own. In discussions of part-writing a distinction is made between linear or conjunct motion and movement by leap (i.e. by a 3rd or greater) in a single part, and between various types of relative motion between two or more parts: similar motion, two or more parts moving simultaneously in the same direction; parallel motion, two or more parts moving in the same direction and at the distance of the same interval or intervals; oblique motion, one part moving while another part remains stationary; and contrary motion, two parts moving in opposite directions. In good part-writing each part is shaped to a recognizable contour (such as an ascending or descending line, or an arc) having an identity in the poly-phonic fabric of a composition or passage. Conjunct motion is generally preferred to movement by leap in all parts except the bass; similar motion among all the parts (except in two-part writing), hidden (covered) 5ths or octaves between the outer parts and consecutive (parallel) 5ths or octaves between any parts are usually avoided. (Drabkin, W. n.a). The definition of voicing from the same source is un-related to the scope of this research.

    Voicing, as an element of analysis in Rayburn Wright's method, deals with the role of big band's instruments in spelling out the desired harmony. Wright presents various rules in big band voicings; Basie-four part writing, Choral voicings and a combination of these voicings. For example, Wright's notes on Nestico's voicings:

    Basie-style four part voicing is the technique used by Sammy Nestico in writing for Count Basie big band, trum-pets play a four notes chord within the octave and the same voicing is doubled an octave lower by trombones and saxes. Trombone voicings may be altered to avoid playing the root, the ninth and seventh are played instead if applica-ble. No overlapping is allowed between the brass section (trumpets and trombones).

    Basic ensemble (choral) voicings: this is derived from writing for choirs. The lowest interval of a chord should not be exceeded by the above intervals (the interval between bass trombone and third trombone is bigger than any other interval at any certain point of time.

    Combined voicings: this is achieved by combining four part writing and ensemble voicing techniques.



  • Harmony is a broad general term used in defining a succession of chords in a composition (Pease 2003). Dahla-hus defines harmony as The combining of notes simultaneously, to produce chords, and successively, to produce chord progressions. The term is used descriptively to denote notes and chords so combined, and also prescriptively to denote a system of structural principles governing their combination. In the latter sense, harmony has its own body of theoretical literature (Dahlhaus, C. n.a). These definitions do not cover the role of harmony in big band music accord-ing to Dennis (Dennis 2012). Harmony, as an element of analysis in Rayburn Wright's method, describes the type of passing chords, substitutions and reharmonizations used by composers and arrangers to expand lead sheet type scores into a 17 piece score. Voicings in the case of Jim McNeely's analysis is combined with harmony as one ele-ment (Belck 2008).

    Wright examines arrangers tendencies to use tension notes in melodies and chords. For example, his notes on Nestico's style:

    The use of extension notes as melodies such as ninth, flat ninth, or sharp ninth, eleventh, or sharp eleventh, thir-teenth ,or flat thirteenth while the harmony supports the melody is basic with no chord extensions.

    The use of chord substitutions when repeating the same section.

    Rayburn Wright's Method in Soundscape Writing Style:

    The development of harmonic devices in the big band style are related to the evolution of jazz harmony. The use of modal harmonies, slash chords, suspended dominants and the decrease of the tonal centre importance in the soundscape big band music is derived from the evolution of jazz harmony from the 1950's onwards.

    Modal influences appear in the use of non-specific chords (ambiguous harmony), which is described by Dennis as chords with no tendency to resolve, a series of minor chords moving in parallel for example (Dennis 2010).

    Another characteristic of harmonic devices in soundscape is the use of tension and resolution in voice-leading. This technique is similar to the suspension in classic music when a pivot note is held when moving from one chord to another when the note is not in the new chord; suspension occurs, when the note moves to the chord tone and a reso-lution occurs.

    Harmonizing a line with a part of a scale is another device. Tonal centre is created by a horizontal scale instead of a vertical chord. Maria Schneider's Allegresse is an example of this device (Dennis 2012, P. 55).

    The extensive use of cluster voicings is another harmonic device. It is similar to the previous device ,but applied vertically. This creates a thick harmonic texture in contemporary Big band style.


  • The use of quintal and quartal harmony: Jim McNeely's, The Life Of Riley, is an example of this device. The use of fifth and fourth intervals non-tonally, especially in the lower register, is one of the characteristics of soundscape big band style.

    Dissertations by Belck and Dennis applied Rayburn Wright's Inside The Score method, and have attempted to extend the method to cover current composers such as Maria Schneider, Jim McNeely and Darcy James Argue. These attempts tend to jump to conclusions and observations without providing the evidence from the written score, nor the lead sheet of the melody, or the dynamic contour with the density and climax marked. Rayburn Wright pro-vided a comprehensive analysis of big band scores then presented the conclusion leaving the primary sources of the original scores available for readers to conduct their own research and examine Wright's observations. The compari-son between Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer and the soundscape composers is not possible due to the inconsistency of information although the same method was used to analyze their work.

    Jim McNeely:

    Jim McNeely worked as a pianist in the Mel Lewis Thad Jones Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Bob Brookemyer, and he also worked as music director for the Danish Radio Big Band which Chris Potter later directed. McNeely's composi-tions are atonal. Counterpoint is evident in his works. Quintal voicings are used in McNeely's work to harmonize melo-dies (Belck 2008). The reed section often doubles on soprano saxophone, clarinet and flute, and the trumpet section doubles on flugelhorn while trumpets play with mutes. Mixed mutes appear in the trumpet section. McNeely used cross section writing when the bass trombone plays in unison with the baritone saxophone, a saxophone compliment the four voices of the trombones.

    Maria Schneider:

    A student of Bob Brookmeyer and Gil Evans, Maria Schneider is one of the most predominant contemporary big band composers. The Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra achieved the number one position in the critics' poll in Down-Beat Magazine in 2012, 2011 and 2010 (Cowley 2013). Maria Schneider writes compositions not only for her big band, but also is commissioned to write works for Norrbotten Big Band, Danish Radio Orchestra and Metropole Orchestra in Europe.


    The use of shades of color in creating tension and release. The reuse of motives in original form.

    The application of the same motive over different harmonic modes and modes.

    Unifying elements throughout the composition.

    The use of ambiguous harmony as a development of modal harmony.

    Specific intention of the harmony requires extra care from rhythm section and less freedom in tension choices.

    Breaking the traditional rule of keeping the harmony lines at least a minor third away from the melody (the use of cluster voicing)

    The use of second inversion major triads over unrelated bass notes supporting the idea of tonal ambiguity.


  • Woodwind doubling, reed 1 and 2 double on soprano, clarinet and flute. Reed 4 doubles on soprano.

    Reed 5 double on clarinet. Flute and soprano sax are used to play lead parts, clarinets are used combined with trombones.

    Chris Potter:

    A world-class soloist, accomplished composer and formidable bandleader, saxophonist Chris Potter has emerged as a leading light of his generation. Down Beat called him "One of the most studied (and copied) saxophon-ists on the planet" while Jazz Times identified him as "a figure of international renown." Jazz sax elder statesman Dave Liebman called him simply, "one of the best musicians around," a sentiment shared by the readers of Down Beat in voting him second only to tenor sax great Sonny Rollins in the magazine's 2008 Readers Poll. (Potter Biography, n.a)

    New Year's Day

    New Year's Day is an example of the use of counterpoint in contemporary big band music.

    Appendix I is New Year's Day original score. The original score purchased from the artist himself through artist-share account, is badly cropped, the lower staves are missing. This is corrected in the reproduced score. Appendix II is an enhanced reproduced Sibelius score, created for the purpose of this research.


    A typical Rayburn Wright analysis starts with a lead sheet providing the melodic framework of the composition. The recent applications of the method tend to neglect this procedure except for the Wee Small Hour analyzed by Belck (2008). Soundscape style depends on counterpoint which makes a lead sheet unable to provide the full melodic framework of a composition. In the case of Chris Potter's arrangements, the choice of two staves illustrates the contra-puntal nature of the compositions.

    Appendix III is the lead sheet of New Year's Day.

    New Year's Day has two main melodic ideas in 4/4 which are A and B, and two melodic ideas in 6/4, which are C and E, with similar bass motif. A is two melodies played simultaneously by four saxophones in unison, occurring mainly, on the first two beats of the bar. Bass and baritone saxophone in octaves, play a counter melody, occurring on beats three and four of the bar. The two melodies intersect on beat four of bar three and beat two of bar four. The two melodies play the same rhythm in bar five, and beats three and four of bar 6. A1 is a repeat of A, with trombone sec-tion playing four note pad voicings. B is two melodies played simultaneously by four saxophones, four trumpets and three trombones against baritone saxophone, bass trombone, piano and bass. The eleven horns play in less than an octave range (major seventh and flat seventh intervals). Baritone saxophone and bass trombone play in unison.

    The traditional big band voicing tends to utilize two or more octaves when engaging the full band. Trumpets play a four note voicing in thirds, or triad, with an octave doubling as a part of an upper structure triad, and rarely in unison.


  • The saxophones play the same trumpet voicing an octave lower. The trombone section doubles the saxophones, while the baritone saxophone doubles the first alto saxophone an octave lower (two octaves below the first trumpet). This structure creates the sonority of the the big band, which is one of the characteristics of Sammy Nestico in his Count Basie arrangements. Nestico avoids minor seconds in his voicings by changing the major seventh chord into major sixth in his chord voicing. Thad Jones on the other hand used the minor second tension in his voicings. The open voicings of the saxophones is one of Thad Jones characteristics. Like Nestico, Jones spreads the harmony over two or more octaves, Jones avoids doubling the root by replacing it with the ninth and the seventh in the lower half of the voicing (saxophones and trombones). This creates more tension in the chord sound, but still within the triadic frame. Brookmeyer added to the voicings vocabulary the minor ninth interval known to be highly dissonant and are avoided in the previous arrangers. Brookmeyer utilizes the minor ninth in the shouting chorus as a climatic device.

    Potter's one octave voicing creates challenges for sections, the first trombone plays extreme high notes. Potter starts the first trombone from the second trumpet downwards. Conventional range for trombones is exceeded in New Year's Day.

    Potter plays with color and texture in his arranging techniques. Unisons and octaves are used to project the mel-ody clearly. The sections with unisons and octaves generally consists of two to three melodic lines played simultane-ously. Four way close is used by Potter in his trumpet voicings with the difference that it is doubled by trombones in the same octave, and not an octave lower like the traditional style. Potter's four way close writing does not follow the conventional triadic voicings.

    The saxophone pad voicings within Chris Potter's writing style are similar to those found in the writing style of Nes-tico where he doubles the trombones within the same range. However, the first alto plays a higher extension note. Pot-ter's voicings are not doubled an octave higher by the trumpet section.

    Potter utilities quintal voicings when writing trombone Solis. The fifth interval is used by Jones and Nestico as part of the open voicings, but only combined with upper triadic voicings. Potter writes pure quintal voicings for trombones in New Year's Day. Figure (1) shows Potter's use of quintal voicings.

    Figure (1)

    Potter ends the composition with a shouting chorus where the full band plays the same rhythm in closed voicings within one and a half octave. The climatic ending is a common characteristic in tradi-tional big band writing.


  • Form:

    As shown in the dynamic contour (Appendix IV), New Year's Day is primarily based on several 8 bar motives. The introduction is 8 bars of piano, followed by 8 bars of baritone saxophone and bass playing the counter melody of A section. Potter then reveals the main 8 bars melody after establishing the harmony and countermelody of the sec-tion. The second A adds the trombones reinforcing the harmony of the 8 bars section. B section is 8 bars of two me-lodic motives the first is voiced in four notes, the second is played in unison. Potter then repeats A section with the trombones reinforcement and trumpets playing the main melody in unison an octave over saxophones. C section is 8 bars of 6/4 where trombones and baritone saxophone play in unison with the solo tenor playing an octave above them. Potter then returns to 4/4 and develops the B section, plays it a half step higher with a different voicing tech-nique and adds a third melodic line played by tenors one and two. The 8 bar section is preserved in the tenor solo with the rhythm section and with indefinite repeats till cue. On cue, the solo continues, with trumpets and trombones as background, then the saxophones are added to the background texture. The solo ends with repeating the B section and its development. The composition then returns to 6/4 in a two trombone breakdown for 8 bars. The trombone mo-tive is developed by adding saxophones comping for 8 bars. Potter keeps developing the previous motive for 8 bars then introduces the trumpet solo with a brass background from the previous idea. Potter then returns to the indefinite repeats of four bars for the trumpet solo accompanied by the rhythm section, on cue the background motive returns to conclude the trumpet solo. Potter breaks the 8 bars building blocks at the end of the trumpet solo with one bar of 6/4, one bar of 3/4 and one 6/4 bar of drums break before returning to A in 4/4. After repeating A and A1, the closing mo-tive commences is a traditional shout chorus played by the full band in a four way close voicing in the reed section with the baritone saxophone doubling the second voice an octave lower. Potter also utilizes a four way close tech-nique in the trumpet and trombone sections. Appendix IV is the dynamic contour of New Year's Day. The dynamic contours created in this research are produced using Open Office applications. The method Rayburn Wright used to generate dynamic contours is not described in Inside The Score.

    Similar to the traditional dance big band compositions, Chris Potter tends to use 8 bar sections as a building block. Unlike other soundscape composers, who tend to develop their ideas without the 8 bar frame, Potter breaks this rule only once, after the trumpet solo and before returning to the main idea of the composition. Unlike the soundscape composers, Potter repeats sections as they are, without altering or adding new elements to them.


    Harmonic analysis is a major problem in the revised Rayburn Right method. There is a gap in the literature deal-ing with atonal jazz compositions. Unlike functional harmony analysis, there is no convention method to analyze atonal jazz compositions. Classical atonal compositions have more literature dealing with atonal analysis. For example, Allen Forte's 1973 book The Structure of Atonal Music. Pitch sets are used to understand the structure of atonal harmony in Forte's book (Forte, 1973).

    Although, Forte's method can be used to analyze atonal compositions, it does not reflect the tensions used in soundscape music, which is different from classical atonal compositions. During the writing of this thesis, I have tested the pitch set analysis on voicings of two seventh flat ninth sharp eleventh chords. According to the fortes method, it is not clear that the two chords are related, even after moving one chord to zero position (equivalent to transposing the two chords to one key in functional analysis).

    This thesis will not attempt to analyze the harmonic content of Chris Potter's atonal compositions because there is no clear method of analysis to such style.


  • The composition is written in an atonal open key. Accidentals are used, bar by bar. This reflects the lack of a key centre. New Year's Day cannot be analyzed utilizing functional harmony. The 8 bars block of A section consists of : one bar of C minor ninth, one bar of E seventh suspended fourth, F minor seventh, F# seventh, Ab Major seventh with G on bass, Db triad with D on bass, Gb major seventh sharp eleventh, and ends with G seventh with F on bass. The second building block is 8 bars of Eb seventh suspended.


    Counterpoint is the study of melodies played together simultaneously. Whenever two or more voices are played together, there is counterpoint. Unison and octaves are not considered two voices as they are regarded as melodic reinforcement. Counterpoint provides rules to maintain strong melodic effect when two or more melodies are played together. Parallel fifths are not recommended in classic counter point as they are considered harmonically weak.

    A perfect counterpoint keeps the interval between the voices moving between consonance and dissonance.

    The rhythms of counterpoint are: 1:1, 1:2, Combined, and Variable. A canon occurs when the same melody is re-peated starting on a different beat.

    Within this definition, big band music always contains counterpoint. Arrangements of Thad Jones, Sammy Nes-tico, Maria Schneider and Chris Potter can be analyzed from a counterpoint perspective. Rayburn Wright avoided dis-cussion of counterpoint in his book. This is explained by the nature of the counterpoint applications on traditional big band music. When two melodies occur in traditional big band music, it is always a primary melody and accompani-ment. Accompaniment also provides a melody, but it is always following primary melody. This can be regraded as pi-ano comping in a traditional jazz combo format. This is not the case in soundscape style. A theme in soundscape has at least two melodies interacting together and moving between main and second interchangeably in Potter's composi-tions. Figure (2) shows counterpoint is Chris Potter's composition New Year's Day.


  • Figure (2)Potter follows classic counterpoint techniques by alternating between consonants and dissonant intervals in his

    arranging style. However, contrary to conventional counterpoint, Potter uses parallel fifths in his voicings. The use of quintal voicings is common in contemporary jazz, for example, Bill Evans uses them frequently. Quartal voicings are also used in Potter's compositions. It is also common in post-bop jazz, for example Bill Evans', So What voicings (Sher 1989, P. 97).


  • The Role of The Rhythm Section:

    The role of the rhythm section New Year's Day reflects Potter's experience as a jazz combo player. Each instru-ment of this section plays the arrangements and interacts with the wind section, but when it is time for solos, the sec-tion comping becomes similar to that of a small contemporary jazz group. Potter reduces the background brass accom-paniment to the minimal in his tenor solo. Potter's solo section with the rhythm section is marked with Repeat till cue, and on cue the background brass comping starts and the arrangement is resumed. The Dynamic Contour (Ap-pendix IV) shows the importance of the rhythm section in Potter's writing. Piano plays the opening statement. The rhythm section accompany the tenor solo for eight bars before the introduction of wind section backgrounds.

    Piano, bass and guitar play lines in unison with trombones and baritone saxophone. The pianist is not permitted to play normal accompaniment patterns most of the time, no chord symbols are provided in the piano part. During solo sections the pianist is permitted to interpret, however, even then chord voicing guides are provided.

    The piece New Year's Day is an example of Chris Potter's big band style. Soundscape elements and characteris-tics are evident in this composition. The ambiguous harmonies, the lack of tonal center, the variable time signatures, and unique voicings are designed to project the counterpoint in the composition. Potter uses unison writing technique when two melodic lines are being played to avoid undesired intervals between the upper and lower voices. When the band plays chords against the melodic line, the chords are played within one octave while the melodic line is sepa-rated from the accompaniment by being performed in a different register. This makes the melodic lines clear even if played by two horns, piano and bass against the rest of the band. Figure (3) shows this technique.


  • Figure (3)


  • Orchestration

    Potter's big band in New Year's Day, is an 8 & 5 format. Potter is not part of the big band, a separate line is writ-ten for the solo tenor (Potter himself). I will refer to this orchestration as 8 & 5 + 1.

    Bass trombone, baritone saxophone and bass play unison in potter's style; the rest of the band plays in 6 & 4 style, which is three trumpets, three trombones and four saxophones. Unison and octave doubling are used frequently. Trombone pads are used to accompany saxophone melodies.

    Narrow Road To The Interior

    In Potter's composition, Narrow Road, the first alto is replaced by clarinet, and baritone sax is replaced by bass clarinet. The sound of the reed section is softer and the texture of the pads engulfed between the two clarinets (the topmost and the lowest voice is played by clarinets). This doubling is common in both the classic and soundscape big bands. Ballads and slower tempo compositions are more likely to have this different instrumentation. This results in an added blending of voices creating thicker textures. In classic big bands, the whole, or part of, the reed section takes older woodwind instruments. Two flutes, two clarinets and, occasionally, a bass clarinet, make the section sound softer and darker when playing chords. Glenn Miler's Moonlight Serenade is an example of this technique. The first alto doubling on Flute, and the first Tenor doubling on Clarinet is another classic doubling technique. In her soundscape writing, Maria Schneider replaces the baritone sax with bass clarinet, replaces the four trumpets with four fluglehorns, the result is a more blending texture. Tuba replaces bass trombone in some soundscape compositions.

    Appendix V is Narrow Road original score. There is a difference between the original score and the original re-cording of the same composition. The trumpets in the second half of A section are playing with a harmon mute, which is not mentioned in the full score nor the parts. Appendix VI is an enhanced reproduced Sibelius score, created for the purpose of this research. Appendix VII is a lead sheet of the melody of Narrow Road. Appendix VIII is the dynamic contour of the composition.

    The composition starts with a piano introduction, with rhythm section for two bars, in 7/4. The first A section is played by the rhythm section and solo Tenor only. On the repeat of the A section, the melody doubled by muted third and fourth trumpets, and bass clarinet doubles the piano left hand and bass. The A section is 18 bars in 4/4 and 7/4.

    The B section is first played by clarinet and alto sax playing quartal voicings and two trombones playing quintal voicings. The interval between the two inner voices is an eleventh (an octave plus a perfect fourth). The piano plays a contrapuntal part in this section. The sound of this section is unheard of in big band music previously. The section is played in 7/4 and 9/8. Potter adds the full band at the end of this section for the first time. So What voicing is played by the upper reed section and the four trumpets (So what voicing was introduced by Bill Evans in Miles Davis', So What. The voicing is based on three consecutive fourth intervals followed by a major third on top to replace a minor eleventh or suspended chords). The voicing is used in a major seventh sharp eleventh in this piece. Bass trombone and third trombone play a secondary melody harmonized in fifths; bass clarinet doubles the bass trombone an octave


  • higher. Trombone one and two play guide tones (third and seventh of the chord). Figure (4) shows Potter's Dmaj7(#11) chord voicing.

    Figure (4)

    The C section is played in 4/4 and 9/8. The section is two melodies played by the brass section against the reed section in a call / response style. Trumpets are voiced in a traditional four way close voicing playing upper structure; trombones play thirds, with bass trombone doubling the first voice an octave lower. Parallel motion is use in harmoniz-ing the melody in the brass voicing. The reed section plays in unison and octaves. Potter ends this section with a de-velopment of B section played in a different time signature, and different instrumentation. D section is a tenor saxo-phone solo. Accompanied by rhythm section only, Potter plays 8 bars, then four trombones play background harmony for 8 bars. The reed section plays different lines behind the soloist for 10 bars. The trumpet section joins the accompa-niment for the last 8 bars of the saxophone solo. The saxophone solo is followed by new motive played by clarinet and bass clarinet in octaves for 7 bars. Trumpet II and trombone I play a counter melody in octaves for the following 6 bars. Alto II, Tenor I and II play a third melodic line in a build up leading to the climatic point of the composition leading to the original theme played with different orchestration by the full band. Potter ends the composition with the opening theme with a low dynamic level and a tenor cadence followed by full band playing D-7/Eb-7 chord. Figure (5) shows Potter's D-7/Eb-7


  • Figure (5)

    Chris Potter's soundscape style

    Chris Potter's compositions are written in an open key. There is no key signature associated to compositions. This indicates the lack of key centre in the two compositions in this study. Potter's chord labels do not accurately describe chords qualities. This is common in contemporary jazz music, for example, Kenny Werner's voicings of F#7(b9) in his composition Trio Imitation (All Jazz Real Book, 497), where the seventh is not included in his written voicing see fig-ure (6). Brad Mehldau also writes voicings that do not follow the common voicings of chords .Los Angles from his al-bum Places is an example of ambiguous chord, see figure (7). This characteristic is commonly used in soundscape compositions and is referred to as ambiguous harmony.


  • Figure (6)

    Figure (7)

    Potter does not write chord symbols on his piano parts, except for solo sections.

    Potter displays counterpoint technique in all the sections of New Year's Day. Two or three melodies are played simultaneously in all of the sections of this composition. Voicings are limited to unisons or unisons against four note voicings.

    The following characteristics are shared by contemporary composers:


    Ambiguous harmony

    Modal influences

    Variable orchestrations

    Independence of rhythm section

    Atonal scores

    Variable compound time signatures

    Potter's style has additional unique elements. These elements are:


  • Extreme range for brass section

    One octave chord voicings.

    Potter, McNeely and Schneider write atonal compositions. The traditional role of piano as an accompaniment does not exist in their arrangements, piano parts are written to be played As-Is. The use of reed instruments is com-mon in the writings of the three composers. Potter tends occasionally to use shouting chorus technique as a climatic point, this technique does not appear in McNeely nor Schneider's compositions. Compositions are written free from the common AABA form. Potter repeats whole sections, Schneider manipulates motivic materials by using fragments of melodies without repeating sections and McNeely repeats motives with different orchestration.


  • C H A P T E R 4

    Chapter Four:


    Based on my research, I believe Chris Potter's big band writing style of New Year's Day and Narrow Road is closer to the soundscape style than the traditional big band writing style. The use of ambiguous harmonies, multiple time signatures, quartal and quintal voicings and orchestral instrumentations is utilized to suit the desired sound ef-fects, counterpoint and re-use of materials as evident in his compositions New Year's Day and Narrow Road. Clas-sic big band voicings, and traditional structures (8 bars themes) appear in these works, however, these traditional themes are not used as framework for his arrangements.

    The harmonic language found in Chris Potter's work reflects the development of harmony in contemporary jazz from the 1950's onwards. Non-functional harmony, and writing in an open key, supports this idea.

    Potter uses various instrumentations to create unique sound effects. This technique is evident in both classic and soundscape styles. The difference is in the use of bass clarinet, clarinet, flute and soprano saxophone within the ar-rangements, soundscape tend to use clarinet and bass clarinet in octaves.

    Potter's style shares elements with Maria Schneider. These elements are:

    Variable compound time signatures.

    Variable orchestration.

    Atonal (open key) scores.

    The use of counterpoint.

    Potter's one octave voicing used in New Year's Day from bar thirty three and throughout the entire B section is unique in both classic and soundscape styles.

    Potter is a master in writing and performing within a small jazz combo context with rhythm section playing an im-portant role in his music. Piano parts are rarely left to the pianist to decide the voicing or accompaniment style. Spe-cific lines are assigned to piano, bass and guitar without wind section accompaniment. Solos in Potter's work demon-strate the importance of a strong rhythm section.

    In theory, soundscape music can be performed by any big band with the same instrumentation. However, compos-ers of soundscape music write their music with particular musicians in mind, so the results of any band playing this mu-sic may not satisfy the composer's intent and meaning. To achieve the desired results, extra notes and instructions are needed.


  • The atonal nature of soundscape music makes it difficult for classic big band players to imagine its chord quali-ties. Special directions and notes regarding the harmony of the composition should be included with the score and parts. The harmonic analysis of Rayburn Wright's method needs revision. Harmonic analysis is based on the key cen-ter and how chords function within a given key, Imaj7, for example, is the first degree of the key, and the chord func-tions as one major seventh. In atonal compositions, chords cannot be labeled using this method of analysis. The im-portance of harmonic analysis in soundscape music, using the traditional functional analysis, is questionable. How does one justify the chords in a composition written without a key center? The answer to this question is beyond the scope of this study, however, it is crucial in understanding and playing soundscape compositions.

    During the course of this research an experiment was conducted by playing Chris Potter's Narrow Road by a professional traditional big band. This experiment revealed some of the challenges facing soundscape music. Sound-scape music is more difficult to perform than the classic big band style. Big band players develop an imagination of how chords and phrases should sound like through experience, however, they have no reference to how soundscape arrangements should sound. Unless soundscape composers find a way to explain and instruct players how to play their music, soundscape style will be trapped in specific bands who have this imagination through experience with soundscape pioneers such as Brookmeyer.

    In conclusion, there are some areas in soundscape style that need more investigation. Another revision of the Rayburn Wright's method is needed to expand the criteria necessary to analyze soundscape music. This includes the harmonic analysis which remains a point of weakness in applying this method to soundscape compositions. Maria Schneider's soundscape style needs more investigation to reveal her big band writing style.

    This research provides a step forward towards an understanding of the soundscape style and an educational re-source for the next generation of jazz arrangers and composers.


  • C H A P T E R 5


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