Q. When is a big band not a big band?
A. When it’s a jazz orchestra, a large ensemble, a brotherhood of breath, or a brass fantasy.
Although big bands are often stereotyped as purveyors of 1930s–1940s dance band music, many composers have continued to be fascinated by the play of composition and improvisation inherent in large jazz based ensembles.
The range of contemporary music that stands on the shoulders of pioneering big band artists such as Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington is dazzling. In the pop world you can think of Björk’s ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’, Frank Sinatra’s many collaborations with Nelson Riddle, Frank Zappa’s The Grand Wazoo and Joni Mitchell’s ode to a modern day Midas (in a polyester suit) ‘The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines’. Classical composers have also been similarly influenced; Bernstein’s Prelude Fugue and Riffs and Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto were both written for Woody Herman’s band, and more recently Mark Anthony Turnage wrote Silem (his tribute to Miles Davis) for solo trumpet and big band.
But this project will primarily explore the different ways in which the big band has been (re)imagined by contemporary jazz artists. Various techniques and structures employed by composers in the United States, Africa, Europe, Scandinavia, Latin America and Africa will be examined with a view to gaining a practical understanding of the creative possibilities of the contemporary big band.
Project sessions will be a mixture of lectures and practical workshops. Please note that some project sessions will take place on a Monday evening (5pm-7pm) to coincide with Jazz Orchestra rehearsals. Selected compositions from Assessment Option 2 will be performed by the University of York Jazz Orchestra in a public concert in the spring term.
By the end of the taught part of the project all students should:
Second years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes B1-B6, and B10
Third years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes C1-C6, and C10