New original works for jazz ensemble – high school & college level

October 28, 2011 By Russell Scarbrough

I’ve completed two new original works for large jazz ensemble so far this fall:

Every Move In The Groove: For Hilton High School, Hilton, New York. I was asked to write a “Bob Mintzer-ish” funk chart, with a “strong bass line” and “maybe some mixed meters”. So this is what I came up with.

I don’t know if it fits the “Mintzer-ish” criterion; since I’ve never looked carefully at any of his scores, so I don’t know how I’d determine that. I certainly didn’t reference any of his recordings for this piece.

At any rate, the rhythm section has an unusual 10-beat pattern in the “A” section of the tune, which seems to cadence in the middle of the melody once or twice. I worked out a tune that fits rather well over the shifting meters, to the point that I don’t think it’s obvious that it’s not a simple 8-bar phrase.

There is a tango-like interlude for a sax soli (also requested). This is the latest in my ongoing series of attempts at sax solis that are not like all the others you’ve ever heard in your life.

The ending is a drum solo, which recalls, in my mind anyway, the Don Ellis drum routines where 2 or more percussionists would trade back and forth over a shifting pattern, and builds toward some kind of resolution.

Every Move In The Groove will be premiered at Hilton’s Day of Jazz in February 2012.

Promethium: For the Ithaca College Jazz Ensemble, Ithaca, New York. Here’s some of what is included with the score:

Promethium is element 61 in the Periodic Table of the Elements. Due to its unstable nature, it is extremely rare in nature, found only in trace amounts on earth. It has been made artificially in laboratories, however.

The element is named, of course, after the mythical figure Promethius, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind. As a byproduct of uranium enrichment during the Manhattan Project in the 1940’s, it was suggested that the scientists were “stealing fire from the gods,” as it were, and so the element was named Promethium accordingly.

It is an interesting fact that, due to its high radioactity, in crystalline form promethium literally glows green in the dark, spewing atomic particles at an enormous rate.

It is the mental image of tiny glowing crystals that I somehow associate with this music. Not that this piece makes any attempt to necessarily “draw a musical picture” of that image, but the spirit of something which is quietly unknown, lethally radiating away in its obscure beauty seemed to me to fit this particular piece.

Promethium features the most thoroughly-written out piano solo I’ve ever done for a jazz ensemble piece. It’s a stretch for me, as I’m not a pianist at all. However, the IC Jazz Ensemble has a pianist with fantastic classical chops, and I thought this might be the time to grow in that direction. Even though it’s not a virtuoso piece, there’s enough there to really set the chart apart from most others.