Solidifying and matching jazz articulation throughout the young jazz ensemble will take your band to the next level of clarity, tightness, and style. One of the biggest differences between a mature versus a young ensemble, aside from soloists, is their grasp of style. I’ll first address the common articulations that a director will encounter in jazz repertoire. I will also discuss how to teach your brass players to perform these articulations followed by articulations/ideas that can help your young ensemble swing.
There are several articulations that composers can utilize, however the most basic ones that you will see in young jazz repertoire are the following:That being said, there are quite a few ambiguities when it comes to what these articulations actually mean! Aside from the difference that these articulations may be played differently in the concert band setting versus the jazz band setting, interpretations by jazz musicians/composers have also differed slightly through the years. The biggest difference between classical and jazz articulation is what happens at the end of the note! Most jazz articulations will start AND end with the tongue.
Let’s start with articulation “A.” Even though there is no articulation present, unless otherwise indicated by the style or composer, quarter notes in swing are assumed as “short” notes. This also applies to two tied 8th notes. For example:
This leads us to articulation “B.” Staccato markings should be played short with a “dot” or “dit” articulation. This articulation should be crisp and clean. When the jazz staccato is placed on an 8th note, the composer generally wants a very clipped note with “bite.”
Articulation “C” should be thought of as a breath accent in the middle of the note. This articulation is generally used to emphasize swing style or to emphasize syncopation. Think “hey” in the middle of the note with “forward-moving” air.
Articulation “D” is a fat articulation in which the player should use the syllable “Daht.” This articulation should have a strong front the note and last about ¾ of the value of the note. It will be present mostly in shout sections and parts of the chart when the composer wants a big full sound with lots of impact. Again, notice the “t” at the end of the note that indicates that the note should be stopped with the tongue.
Lastly, and most seldom used, is articulation E. This definition of this articulation is the same as the classical counterpart. This note is to be played full value.
Disclaimer: I would suggest discussing the implementation of jazz articulations with your each director on staff. When teaching young students articulation differently in two different ensembles, it is important that everyone be on the same page. Students MUST understand that these articulation methods are only acceptable in the jazz ensemble setting!
As I mentioned before, most of the articulations above differ from classical playing in that the notes end with the tongue. Sure, this is something that you harp on all year long in beginner classes as something that should NEVER happen…and now it’s ok! Why do we stop notes with the tongue? To obtain a tight jazz ensemble sound, the use of the tongue is required so that phrases end exactly together in a unified, crisp manner. Therefore, brass players will touch the tongue back to the teeth at the end of phrases and notes such as the jazz staccato and jazz “housetop” accent; hence the phonetics of “dit,” “dot,” and daht.” Getting students to correctly end their phrases with the tongue will not be difficult, but it will take some reminders in each ensemble of the correct way to articulate. The director will need to keep an ear on their brass players to ensure that they are keeping their articulation appropriate for the ensemble setting.
One last note: using the breath accent (C) articulation can be useful in getting your whole ensemble to swing harder. When I am writing for young jazz ensemble, I generally try to include such accents to aid with this, however, not all music includes these “courtesy style markings.” In general, to help a line swing, you accent the first, highest, and last note. Adding slurs can also help smooth out the line and help it be less “square.” The following example is a typical bebop line that one might encounter:
Even though the chart you are working on may have great articulation markings, you may need to advise young jazzers of this simple rule if things feel a little square in the horn section. In general, slur marks are not used by composers, so this trick is something that you can teach your horn players and even have them write in.
Unifying and lining up articulations in your young jazz ensemble will definitely take them to the next level and will aid in creating those high impact moments and keep energy throughout the ensemble. Your students will certainly feel the difference, and you audience will hear the difference!
Chris Clark is a composer/clinician/performer/educator in the Dallas area, and is the associate band director at Renner Middle School in Plano, TX. He performs with the Dallas Jazz Orchestra, Crosswinds Jazz Band, Celebration Jazz Orchestra, as well as various Top-40 groups. He also leads and composes for the C3 Big Band.
Chris’ publishing company, C3 Compositions, offers works ranging from grade 1 jazz band to concert band and brass ensembles. His charts have been performed by numerous colleges, high schools, and middle schools across the country as well as by several professional bands in the Dallas area. Chris is also a frequent composer of the Texas All-State Jazz Etudes.
Chris holds a Bachelor of Music Education from Baylor University and a Master of Jazz Studies from DePaul University.