Junior High Band
Jazz Band Tips

Remember the Jazz Band Basics

I grew up in what might be called the dance-band era. Those of us who were interested in jazz got together and played for dances. There was no jazz instruction in the schools. Fortunately that has changed and jazz has become an important part of the music curriculum. Here are a few jazz band basics that often go untaught or are soon forgotten:

  1. Set up - The traditional set up is with the saxophones in the front. Behind the saxophones is the trombone section and behind the trombones is the trumpet section. The rhythm section is on the band’s right. In each of the horn sections the lead or first player is in the middle, putting the lead trombone and trumpet directly behind the lead alto sax. The solo parts (2nd trumpet and 2nd tenor sax) are placed near the rhythm section. The drum set is in the center of the rhythm section and is surrounded by the bass, piano, and guitar as if the bass were at the end of the trumpet section and the guitar at the end of the saxophone section. Sitting close together makes it easier to hear each other and play together.
  2. Playing position - In the concert band the trumpets and trombones point their bells at the music stands. In the jazz band the bells are pointed above the music stands. The trumpets usually stand so the bells of all the brass instruments can be seen. Putting the brass on a riser can be helpful. The amplifier for the bass should be aimed towards the center of the band.
  3. Piano - Take the lid and lower panel off an acoustic piano (and amplify it if possible) so it can be heard. Often the piano plays two-hand chords up high to add spice to the jazz band. Not using the sustain pedal creates a crisper, more articulated sound.
  4. Mouthpieces - Since a brighter sound is generally the goal, saxophones and trumpets often use different mouthpieces in the Jazz Band than in the concert band. To help play the high notes the trumpets use mouthpieces with shallower cups. To produce an edgier and louder tone the saxophones use mouthpieces with wider lays.
  5. Swing style - In the concert band the music is played exactly as written. A pair of eighth-notes divides the beat equally and each note is the same length. In the Jazz Band the eighth-notes are written the same but played according to the style of the music. Rock, Latin, and ballads are played the same as in concert band, with straight eighth-notes. In Swing (or Jazz) the eighth-notes are rolled or swung, meaning they are played like a triplet with the first note getting two-thirds of the beat. The second note is also accented.
  6. Basic skills - The basic musicianship skills of tone, intonation, technique, rhythm, and interpretation are just as crucial in jazz as in any other type of music.
  7. Releases - When an orchestra releases, the strings continue to vibrate and you hear a wonderful hum at the cutoff. To create that sound with a concert band the instruments release at different times, i.e., the high instruments first, the middle instruments second, and the low instruments (especially the tubas) last. In the jazz band you want a more knife-like cutoff. It is created by stopping the notes with the tongue and having the lead trumpet release last.
  8. Improvisation - Improvisation is a major part of Jazz. There are many ways to teach it. Listening to and imitating those who do it well are all important steps. (See Jazz Band Tips/Improvisation and Jazz Improvisation Study Guide)

Video Disclaimer

The attached videos are not perfect examples of how each tune should be played. They are recordings of junior high students, some of whom have had their instruments for only a few months. Also, they are not professional recordings. They were taken by band parents using home equipment and naturally focusing on their own children.

I include them for two reasons: (1) To give you an idea of what the arrangements are like, and (2) To illustrate the kind of performance you can expect from your junior high students.