Memories of Manny Albam

In the summer of 1987 after spending about a year arranging for big band at what is now Baldwin Wallace University, Rayburn Wright admitted me to an intermediate summer jazz arranging course at the Eastman School of Music.  He felt that I would only benefit from the experience than sitting at home trying to figure things out on my own based on my limited time composing. He was correct. My teacher for the two weeks was Manny Albam. The highlight of the class was hearing his music with the scores in front of us. Manny held up a pencil on the what was probably the first day of class and reminded us as arrangers that this was our instrument and we needed to practice everyday. At some point in his career he set his saxophone down and focused exclusively on composing. Manny was prolific as a composer.  At one point in his career from what I can recall he mentioned that for a period of five years he had composed two charts a week.  During one class he recounted the grueling work schedule surrounding the making of his West Side Story album.  Manny wrote all night long in order to make recording sessions each morning followed by mixing in the afternoon. By evening, work began writing once again for the next days session.  The album was completed in a week. Manny’s copyist had a dual role of preparing parts from his score and keep him from nodding off before each nights work was done. I gathered from hearing him tell the story that very little sleep of any kind took place that week.  Leonard Bernstein was impressed enough by the recording to invite him to write for the New York Philharmonic.   His Westside Story recording is a nice contrast to the work of Johnny Richards version for the Stan Kenton Orchestra. One day Manny put a score in front of us and described what we were about to hear on the recording. The recording pretty much put my jaw on the floor. He had the three horn sections of the big band playing all 12 notes of the chromatic scale within the range of an octave and they were swinging hard through a series of phrases. It was not as dissonant as I would have expected. His orchestration of each section of the band made that possible. His use of colors in orchestration show great attention to details and sensitivity to his arrangements as a whole. If you are not familiar with his work, I recommend in addition to the West Side Story Album, that you listen to the Brass on Fire  album in which the sax section of a big band is replaced by a french horn section and The Drum Suite which featured four drummers whose parts were mostly written out. You can read more about these albums as well as The Blues is Everybody’s Business and  The Soul of the City on the Thursday, December 29, 2011 entry of jazzprofiles.

Those interested in studying his scores can purchase some of his works from or approximately 500 holograph scores and parts for small groups, big band, Studio, Symphony and Chamber Orchestras at the Institute of Jazz Studies at the Rutgers University Libraries. An appointment with Collections Specialists is necessary.

Jazz Composition Blog

Allen Myers – Poster Presentation “Inspiration in the Development of Form”

Brad Mehldau DMA Program Notes of a piano recital – discussion on his use of consonance and dissonance

BMI Jazz Composers Workshop

Bill Holman Interview

Earl MacDonald Blog:    Composing       Bob Brookmeyer rehearsing Vanguard Orchestra,     Arranging for Westchester Jazz Orchestra    Stealing from McNeely

George Handy arranger and composer of Boyd Raebrun Orchestra, Dissertation by Benjamin Biermann

Gil Evans Arrangement of “My Ship” w/ Transcription by Jim Martin

Herb Pomeroy – The Pocket Herb (notes from Herb Pomeroy’s Line Writing, Duke Ellington and Jazz Comp Courses and a second set of notes from Pomeroy’s Line Writing and Ellington classes)

Inside the Score in the 21st Century: Techniques for Contemporary Large Jazz Ensemble Composition by Tyler Dennis

International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers

Jacob Collier – Music Theory Interview

Jazz Continuum Collected Writings – Keeping the Peace by Graham Collier

Jazz Arranging and Composing Books

Scott Healy’s Jazz Composition Blog: Writing, Arranging and Listening

Scott Healy Blog

Tim Davies  – jazz part 1, jazz melody and voicing part 2,

UNC Jazz Press

 Bob Brookmeyer

The Life of Bob Brookmeyer 

A Study of BobBrookmeyers’ Compositional Stytle for Large Jazz Ensemble dissertation by Stephen J. Guerra Jr.

Darce James Argue

Darce James Argue’s Blog – Part of the Carnegie Hall Musical Exchange

Darce James Argue Interview

Performance at Berklee with the Rainbow Big Band

Duke Ellington

Smithsonian Online Virtual Archive

Duke Ellington Jazz Composition Study Group Los Angeles

Duke Elington and Billy Strayhorn Jazz Composers (Smithsonian Albert H. Small Document Gallery)

The International Duke Ellington Music Society 

Arranging Ellington: The Ellington Effect by Darcy James Argue – Article discussing the unusual voice leading in just a few bars of Ellington’s Mood Indigo.


John La Barbera

John La Barbera Jazz Arranging Interview Part 1

John La Barbera Jazz Arranging Interview Part 2

Jim McNeely

“Lickety Split”: Modern Aspects of Composition and Orchestration in the Large Jazz Ensemble Compositions of Jim McNeely: An Anyalsis of “Extra Credit”, “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and “Absolution”

Jim McNeely Website – Study scores can be purchased in the store section

Mostly Music Blog – interview with Jim McNeely

OmniTone Interview

Village Vanguard Orchestra

Maria Schneider

Maria Schneider Website

Maria Schneider Videos includes advice to young composers, composer’s block and more

Introspection (2011)

Introspection was improvised using Synthology’s Ivory piano sample. The midi data was copied to two additional midi tracks where I improvised the mixing/orchestration of two different synth pads that come available with Ivory.  While the piano midi track played back, a synth pad was brought in and out at varying dynamic levels.   The next step was to muted the pad and added a different synth pad to the captured improvisation and once again begin mixing with various dynamic swells.  I was unsure what the result might be since I was not reacting in my decisions to the dynamic shifts of the first synth. The final step was to unmuted the first pad and adjust the various levels of the two synths to reach the end result.

Searching (2008)

Musicians learn as they come into my band not to rely on when or what the player next to them is playing. My band only has two trumpets, two trombones and in the saxophone section an alto, tenor and bari sax along with the rhythm section. Those sight reading sometimes begin to second guess their entrances.  the horn writing maybe cross-sectional writing, thank you Duke Ellington, or passages may be soloistic.   One fellow in the trombone section of a big band sight reading one of my arrangements happened to pick up a different  mute than the guy next to him, thank you Manny Albam, and began to question if he was in the right place. What does this say about the predictability of a lot of big band writing?

Occasionally lead lines are passed around shifting quickly.  At the climax of Searching, a bossa nova, motives are layered as well as passed around the band quickly.  Each persons part is like one piece of a puzzle and it is not until all the pieces are laid out next to each other that you can see the entire picture, or in our case hear the intended musical outcome. With so much shifting taking place, and every part being important, I have dropped the indication “lead” with a dotted line over the important section I would normally notate in a players part.

Starting in bar 197 there are four and five note motives. The contours to the continuous eighth note phrases differ slightly and slowly start to overlap each other. Some are ascending while others a descending.  At letter K the music shifts rhythmic gears with the introduction of sixteenth notes. At bar 211 imitation takes place with these quicker moving lines. The arrows in the score indicate four and five note motives and the boxes show the phrases in imitation. Click on score pages to enlarge.

Start of the climax

Start of the climax

Searching p. 28Searching p. 29

Shades of Grey (2013)

shades of grey first page photoMany Shades of Grey is a quasi Latin modal composition that seeks to explore half steps and leaps for chromatic and colorful effect. Click on the score for a larger view.
shades of grey chromatic theme
Further exploration of color, or shades of grey, occur on the repeat of the first solo section. I have the soloist anticipate chord changes one and sometimes two bars ahead of time while the rhythm section stays with chord of the moment.  Changes for jumping are marked in [   ].  With the brackets, the soloist will know to avoid using them on the first time and the rhythm section will know when the jump has occurred on the repeat.   The harmonic tension between the soloist and the band are resolved at each point the band catches up with the soloist. Resolution is brief, as the soloist will soon start to anticipate once again the next  chord change or mode.
Somewhere in the late 80’s – early 90’s I had a chance to hear the Either Orchestra in Cleveland Ohio at the Tri-C Jazz Festival.  I was surprised by the cross rhythms achieved by the trumpet, trombone, sax and the rhythm section. I was amazed that a band with just half the horns of a big band could sound so big. In the following score segment the passing of the lead line amongst the various horns is done for colorful effect. The textural growth from this additive approach with its shifting perspectives is also an attempt at creating the illusion of a much larger ensemble achieved by counterpoint of melodic lines.
Passing Lead in Shades of grey

Al Pearson featured soloist on Shades of Grey

Al Pearson featured soloist on Shades of Grey

Flexible Motifs

Motifs are the building blocks of music construction.  They help to define a theme and distinguish it from someone else’s music. Melodic, rhythmic, contours, articulation and timber all play a role in the defining of your themes.  Repetition of the motifs and the implementing of variation techniques allow our ideas to develop into strong musical identities. Contrasting motifs allow initial ideas to sound fresh once again as they return.  The more use of repetition of the melodic motifs and return of themes, rhythmic motifs, form, harmonic progressions or harmonic entities, the more the listeners attention can be brought into focus.

Expectations, delayed gratification of an expectations and the fulfillment of an expectation gives the composer or improviser tools for engaging the listener.  Too much change over too long a period of time and the average listeners attention may be lost. Expectations delayed for extensive long periods of time will put a much greater demand on the listener and once again may mean that you lose the listeners interest.  Both of these points of course depend on the listener’s musical knowledge and experience as a listener. Too much repetition with not enough variation or contrast may as a result bore the listener.

Consider for a moment contour, articulations and timber.  These elements of a motif or theme may provide a source of inspiration for varying traditional melodic motifs, linking contrasting motifs or become the seeds for new themes. As an outgrowth of what has come before, they can lead the listener into new directions. Utilized either individually or in combination, contours, articulations and timber may open up directions for your music to unfold, as you consider moving away from specific melodic, harmonic and rhythmic devices typically used to define a theme.

The shape of a contour that is repeated, possibly in the form of a sequence, will provide in time its own identity. Study Jimmy Rowles ballad “The Peacocks” for a good example strong contours.  When you focus on contour(s), the pitches of a motif, intervallic relationships and rhythm can change dramatically and yet still show a relationship to what has come before. The more repetitive and distinct the contour, the easier it will be recognized.  Consider the following motifs extracted from McCoy Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner” solo. Six distinct contours can be observed that help organize his solo. Most appear as four note groupings.  Whether consciously considered or not on his part, the repetition of these shapes cannot be denied as these contours occur throughout the solo and help define his improvisation. Having six to draw upon make their recognition less obvious to the listener. Considering the speed at which these improvisation occurs, I feel the organization of the contour motifs are sensed rather than understood on the part of the listener.



Up – Down

Down – Up

Up – Down – Up

Down – Up – Down

Articulation patterns do not really need to rely on melodic motifs, rhythms, harmony or contour. Altering of various articulation patterns over time can lead to new motifs. Use of repetition of the new alterations will allow the listener to sense the variation and organic development.

Timber motifs would not rely on melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, contours or articulations for identity. In my dissertation Kaleidoscope, based on Sebastien Japrisot’s novel “Trap for Cinderella”, many elements of music were used to define two characters whose identities were distinct. Over time the two themes, performed by the alto saxophonist, with their distinctive qualities become blurred by their combination. Timber becomes the final clue as to the identity of the main character, an amnesiac, for the listener. Rhythms from the main thematic statement have been altered to a point that they are no longer useful for determining the identity. As rhythms have been augmented in the first and last of these phrases, the contour, while present for the specific theme, is not recognizable either to the listener.

The following is an excerpt of the abstract from my dissertation that explains the role timber plays in the concluding phrases of the piece.

The organization of Kaleidoscope involves three reference pitches (B = amnesiac, C = Do, and E = Mi), as well as the three themes (Jeanne, Do, and Mi). After the presentation of themes and the saxophonist’s cadenza, a series of shifting variations reflects the amnesiac’s confusion by combining various parameters of the themes, and hence blurring our memories of the personalities that the themes represent. These parameters, which include rhythms, contours, synthetic scales (and their relation to either whole tone or octatonic harmony), and timbral indications for the soloist as either jazz (edgier or bright tone) or classical (dark rounded tone) are juxtaposed to confuse our perception of their relationship to the original state of the themes.

The final phrases reveal the soloist’s interpretation of the amnesiac’s identity through his/her application of the appropriate timbre to the concluding phrases or specific concert pitches.

Timber can also become apart of the process of revealing melodic motifs of a theme. The constant shifting of timbers becomes a motif in and of itself.  Listen to Jim McNeely’s arrangement of “The Fruit” on his CD Group Therapy to expereince how the orchestration of the timberal shifts in a pointallistic manner slowly reveals in fragments the theme amongst improvised lines. He engages the listener in discovering the the theme in a very spontateous way.

When used in combination with timber, any other parameter normally associated with a motif (contours, articulations, specific rhythmic, harmonic or melodic) become aural reference points as the composition evolves. The more distinctive the timber, the easier the aural signpost will be for the listener. This could be the sound of a trumpet in a harmon mute with a flute doubling it, a very low or high note by a single instrument that appears out of nowhere or a dissonant chord that is orchestrated the same or similar manner with each return.

A New Order Groove (2009)

Inspired by the big band writing of Chuck Owen while attending the International Jazz Composers’s Symposium several years ago, I set out to compose a work that paid tribute to one of his compositions.  The Jazz Surge big band was so impressive that I picked up every CD his band had available at the conference. My choice of composition was “Mo Leids” which is a sequel to his earlier work “Lieds”. I guess my composition “A New Order Groove” could be subtitled “Much Mo’ Leids”.  Though I am not sure if Mr. Owen would agree.

This piece was written for Kansas City based trumpeter Clint Ashlock and his New Jazz Order Big Band. The opening of the piece begins very similar to “Mo’ Leids”.  The “New Order Groove” is a funky jazz-rock style and explores the intervallic aspects of the blues scale.  Half step, whole step and minor thirds are exploited to achieve flexible direction for my phrases.

Improvisation functions for texture, transitions and in the traditional featured solo and collective sections. Texturally, various soloists interact with melodic statements in the opening section in an unpredictable manner to keep the listeners focus constantly shifting.  My goal was to knock the listener off balance a bit and yet still engage them. After an extensive set up leading into the main theme, two traditional solo sections follow featuring the tenor sax and Clint on trumpet.

Click several times on the score to enlarge.

At letters T to X featured soloists introduced one at a time. A vamp drum solo is followed by a vamp bass and drum solo.  Letter V introduces the bari sax into the mix.  Within four bars slowly the band starts to respond to the soloists.  Over time each new voice improvising interacts with the others to additively increase the density of the texture.

At letter X a heavy demand is placed on the 1st tenor sax, bari sax, trumpet 3 and trombone 2 to create and hold a groove without the assistance of the rhythm section. From Y to BB, once through the alphabet it was time to double up on the rehearsal letters, the whole band eventually joins in with ever increasing lengthening and overlapping phrases slowly overtaking the soloists. Each soloist one at a time take their place back into the interactive layers of their section in the band.  The same approach happens earlier during the tenor sax solo when prodding interjections by the band eventually swallowed up the soloist.

Another example of textural development occurs during Clint’s solo. The solo starts with trumpet and rhythm section. Each section leading up to letter T slowly increases rhythmic activity and background figures continue to extend into longer sixteenth note phrases. By letter S the whole band is backing Clint with call and response phrases heard from soprano sax and Alto 2, fast moving lines in the tenor sax and trumpet 2, syncopated figures by the trombones with trumpet 3 and 4, and a bass line outlined by the bass, baritone sax and 4th trombone.