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#2169586 - 10/21/13 03:41 PM Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop?
Brent H Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/11
Posts: 843
Not much piano content here, more a general jazz musicianship question...

I attended a local musical event last night and the group I was there to see consists of a band leader who sings and plays piano, along with a bass and drummer for rhythm and usually a trombone player as well. But for most of their set last night they had a couple of (really top-notch) local horn players as well, one on trumpet and one on tenor sax.

My goodness what a sound they can get with that combination. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a good horn section (make that "definitely") but for a nominal change from a 4-piece to a 6-piece band it was like the difference in "that sounds nice" to "oh my god what a sound".

So what exactly do three horn players do, harmonically and rhythmically, to add so much depth to the backup for a singer? I mean you can cover all the basics with a piano, piano plus bass and drums you can do the basics and lots more and you might think anything past that three-piece sound sound would be redundant.

Is it a matter of tone/timbre variety? Or do all three horns play harmony parts that are beyond what the bass and piano are doing? Of course there's also the fact you've got all kinds of different solo, duo even trio "breaks" they can take in the extended tunes.

Is there a canonical textbook or reference book on "horn section harmonies in jazz"?
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#2169697 - 10/21/13 06:38 PM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
tangleweeds Offline

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Registered: 12/21/08
Posts: 1269
Loc: Portlandia
This is a cool question, and I'd like to know too. Often when someone just tells me what to listen for, I discover a whole new dimension of music.
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#2169703 - 10/21/13 06:47 PM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
jjo Offline
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Registered: 04/09/08
Posts: 626
Loc: Chicago
I, too, love the sound of a jazz combo that has two or three horns (although not particularly with singers). I can't tell you too much on the technical side, but the horns will frequently play harmonies, and there is a huge difference between the sound of a piano playing chords and the sound you get from a couple of horns. Often the harmonies in the horns are "simpler" in that there are less notes, but much more evocative.

I'd recommend you listen to Art Blakey and Horace Silver. Those two always had 2 or 3 horns. Horace wrote his own arrangements, and Art Blakey always founds some incredible musician to do it for him. Another GREAT album with horns playing in harmony is John Coltrane's Blue Train. Listen to the title tune where the three horns play altered 7th chords on the melody.

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#2169717 - 10/21/13 07:19 PM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
Brent H Offline
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Registered: 11/06/11
Posts: 843
Thanks for the suggestions, jjo.

Interestingly, one of the tunes they did last night was Horace Silver's "Preacher" although it turned into an extended jam that started out with the Preacher, segued into some Mingus thing or another before winding its way back to the Preacher at the end. Each of the horn players got a solo as well as the piano, bass and even the drummer.

In fact it was the drummer who took them off into Mingus-land, he used his solo to kind of do a rhythmic turnaround into some different meter that got them into the different tune. It was a pretty cool bit.

There's a Horace Silver piece that I really like, I think it's called "Peace" maybe.
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#2169728 - 10/21/13 07:37 PM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
prenex Offline
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Registered: 11/23/10
Posts: 189
Loc: Minnesota
So all three together or two? Two is easier to fake. Three not so much.

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#2169735 - 10/21/13 07:54 PM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: prenex]
Brent H Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/11
Posts: 843
Originally Posted By: prenex
So all three together or two? Two is easier to fake. Three not so much.


The three horn players? They were generally all three playing at the same time. My ear is not well trained for harmony but at times I think there were three parts going. They did the three part stuff on the Horace Silver tune and on "Since I Fell For You", presumably they know those two pretty well.

At other times I'm almost sure the trombone was alternating between doubling the tenor or playing octaves under the trumpet. It was a cool sound they were getting, maybe they were sticking to the two-part basic harmony and just working the tone and dynamics using the trombone.

The trumpet and sax players were old pros who've been around forever. But some of the songs were originals and not standards so they may have kept it a little more basic on those. It looked to me they had some charts with lead sheets to work from.
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#2169761 - 10/21/13 09:19 PM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
Dave Ferris Offline
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Registered: 03/12/07
Posts: 1731
Loc: Glendale, Ca.
Writing for 3 horns--trumpet, tenor & trombone-is actually one of the more challenging contexts when writing for horn ensembles.

Woodwind player/composer /arranger master, Kim Richmond, who is very renown for his modern writing for all size ensembles, told me one time that 3 horn writing can be more difficult then writing for big band. Simply because you have less to work with in the harmony.

I don't consider myself an expert in the area but I have done a fair share of writing for 3 horns. Mainly my original compositions and a few arrangements of jazz standards.

I've been in a 3 horn ensemble weekly that plays jazz standards from such composers as Horace Silver, Wayne Shorter, to name a few, for over 30 years. The same core group was at the Musician's Institute in Hollywood for close to 22 years and then moved over to LA Music Academy in Pasadena for the past 12 years or so.

It's under the direction of Tenor Sax monster, Dave Pozzi. We play the arrangements for the student drummers and bass players. It gives them real world experience playing with pros and reading the charts.

When I first started my attempts, a trombone player (who is a very good arranger in his own right) told me to try and write as much as possible using triads. Voiced as triads, it's a *strong sound* with 3 horns. If you are adept at voice leading on the piano, you pretty much follow the same route. So basically if you have a Cm7 chord moving to an F7. An Eb triad sound on the Cm7 to a Dm triad sound on the F7 is very commonly used.

Although I did learn real fast that not everything that "sounds good" voicing wise on piano, transfers over to 3 horns.

Knowledge with *drop 2* chords is extremely helpful too. As is knowing about open and closed position harmony.

Unisons can be used as well. And often work the best. The trumpet player in our ensemble-Howie Shear-- who's an Eastman graduate with a PHD form USC, along with street creds from playing lead for Woody Herman to MD of the Joan Rivers TV show- is a monster composer and arranger in the 3 horn context. He told me after all the hundreds of charts he's written, he finds himself going back to simple unisons with sax & trumpet or sax & bone..and maybe one harmony part from the one of the other horns, above or below the main leads. Often though, he reverts back to unison for all 3 horns.

It's imperative to know the range and *sweet spot* of all the horns. You don't want to write out of their range. If they are too high or low, the part can sound muddy or strained, or not fit the context of the song....especially if it's a background part. Wide intervals can be used and sometimes give a great effect, but use them discreetly. Again, often the simplest voicing sounds the best over trying to get too complex or dense with the harmony.

It was great for me when I started writing them because I'd be able to take my originals in and get instant feedback from the guys, along with hearing what sounded good and what didn't. I didn't go to school for writing so it's a more "ear" and "street" approach for me.

Listening to the old Blue Note stuff of Horace Silver, Blakey, Shorter, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Sonny Clark, etc. is a great place to start. Again you'll hear a lot of unison tenor-trumpet sometimes an octave apart , sometimes in the same register. It's a classic jazz sound that transfers over to R&B, Pop, some rock and Latin styles.

One thing that's different is writing for 3 horns behind a singer vs the horns having the melody and writing harmony for them in an instrumental song. You don't want to overwrite to take away from the vocalist, just enough to spice up the arrangement.

I think Bill Dobbins has written a book or two on the subject. I have one of them (name escapes me at the moment) and used it a little...more for reference on the ranges of the horns. But again being in the situation where you can hear your charts being played is invaluable over any book.

I know a lot of guys/gals that do rehearsal bands to hear their charts being played. Not just 3 horn , but all different size ensembles and often not real common instrumentation.
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#2169764 - 10/21/13 09:28 PM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
rintincop Offline
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Registered: 05/11/04
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#2169827 - 10/22/13 12:22 AM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
dire tonic Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/17/11
Posts: 1243
Loc: uk south
- quite a lot of difference between the three genres jazz/blues/pop although there's bound to be some overlap.

Off the top of my head, Earth Wind and Fire used to use a lot of octave-unison brass+saxes with most of the busy lines in the upper register of each instrument's range - aiming to get a high energy sound. Climactic sustains in closely voiced chords.

Al green would use small ensembles e.g. trumpet+bari (or tenor) sax+trombone, often in wide 3-part voicing with some octave unison, middle rather than upper range producing a markedly more laid back sound. Definitely no double tracking which would otherwise kill the intimacy. Small string sections too with minimum reverb.

Listen to Stevie Wonder's Superstition and the opening horn figures on Sir Duke; the important voices are alto sax+trumpet playing exact (instead of octave) unison - that makes it middle register for the trumpet but high-ish for the alto. Double tracking in evidence on the originals (= 4 players, at least) producing a fatter sound which also phases.

For middle-of-the-road pop, brass and saxes would be used more in the middle range, chordally, 3 or 4 part (no jazzy tensions!) to support the strings which might then be written in octave unison.

For Jazz the scope is bound to be broader, voicing can be more eccentric than for pop. If you had a small-ensemble track in mind it mightn't be too difficult to break some of it down.

(edit: - only realised after posting you were specifically asking about 3 (as in 'three') horns...oh well...)


Edited by dire tonic (10/22/13 02:36 AM)

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#2169917 - 10/22/13 08:15 AM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
Brent H Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/11
Posts: 843
Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge, guys. I am "digesting" and may not be able to follow up on everything discussed here but a good start would be to go find a few of the examples mentioned and take a listen to some of the various styles.

If my ear wasn't fooling me, I think there was a lot of the unison-plus-one-more-triad-tone stuff going on. When I did catch a bit of jazzier harmony it seemed to be thrown in just for a phrase or two for extra interest.

In thinking about it overnight, I'm also concluding that harmony considerations aside one reason the horns add so much to the sound is their ability to mix and match a hard or soft attack with either sustained or even increasing dynamics within one note. Piano, acoustic bass and drum are all hard attack then die off. That vocal-like ability to contour the phrasing is probably what I really like about that horn-section sound. Even if they're just playing unisons and octaves they can do so much with dyanamics.
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#2169927 - 10/22/13 08:43 AM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
Brent H Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/11
Posts: 843
P.S. Are any of you guys familiar with a Horace Silver album called "Cape Verdean Blues". That one has J.J. Johnson on trombone along with trumpet and tenor (Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson, neither of which I'm familiar with). It's a bit different genre of music than I was listening to the other night but very, very good-sounding horns plus piano.
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#2169929 - 10/22/13 08:44 AM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
36251 Online   content
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Registered: 11/12/10
Posts: 737
So, add a couple more horns and a killer rhythm section and you get Tower of Power.
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#2169966 - 10/22/13 10:18 AM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
dire tonic Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/17/11
Posts: 1243
Loc: uk south
Originally Posted By: Brent H
P.S. Are any of you guys familiar with a Horace Silver album called "Cape Verdean Blues". That one has J.J. Johnson on trombone along with trumpet and tenor (Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson, neither of which I'm familiar with). It's a bit different genre of music than I was listening to the other night but very, very good-sounding horns plus piano.


I've not heard it before but it's on YT. Octave unisons for the first phrase then 2 part (with some octave doubling, I think) for the second phrase. Around 30 secs after the little drum break it's almost mariarchi 3rds.

Nice track.

I'd forgotten about TOP. On the recorded version of So Very Hard to Go (constipation?) they sound like a doubled-up version of Al Green's backing, even the string section is big. A lot of rhythmic chord stabs with the bari nice and full at the bottom. Occasional short octave-unison phrases too.

It generally works well both for strings and brass to alternate between passages of unison and passages of chords.

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#2169981 - 10/22/13 10:45 AM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
dire tonic Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/17/11
Posts: 1243
Loc: uk south
..... it must be about 15 years since I last listened to Sir Duke. I'd forgotten, there's a nice middle section where the horns are 2-part in 3rds playing short answers. The phasey sound comes from double tracking and some engineering magic (no idea what it might be!). A similar result using 2 trumpets+ 2 altos (or alto+tenor)

- around 1:48




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#2170004 - 10/22/13 11:32 AM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
Brent H Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/11
Posts: 843
Yeah, I don't know what the heck they were going for in that little answer section starting at 1:50-something. IMHO maybe a bit more engineering than strictly needed!

To date myself, when "Sir Duke" charted I was sitting in the 5th chair (of six) in the trombone section of my high school band. I recall thinking that track was really something although I was not a Stevie Wonder fan. At the time my highest praise for a horn section would have been "Man, those guys sound just like Chicago!". Come to think, that's probably still high praise in my book.

"Octave unisons for the first phrase then 2 part (with some octave doubling, I think) for the second phrase. Around 30 secs after the little drum break it's almost mariarchi 3rds."

I grabbed the whole "Cape Verdean Blues" album off iTunes but I like the title track because the harmony is nice an open where I can make out that change from unison to two-part. And yeah, the whole thing has a mariachi feel to it.

On a lot of these old albums (this one is a "Rudy Van Gelder Remastered" CD) they have like the trumpet and sax panned hard left and right. So I can listen with headphones and tracked who is playing what notes. I like the more blended sound you get from speakers but as a learning experience the headphones and hard-panned mastering works a charm!

The first couple minutes of a track called "Pretty Eyes" has the tenor and trumpet played together in harmony. I think they are playing more or less parallel sixths (that's the inverted third, right?) with the tenor underneath and the trumpet with the melody on top. Or at least that's what it sounds like to me.
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#2170015 - 10/22/13 11:52 AM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Brent H]
dire tonic Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/17/11
Posts: 1243
Loc: uk south
Originally Posted By: Brent H

To date myself, when "Sir Duke" charted I was sitting in the 5th chair (of six) in the trombone section of my high school band.


- I'm probably about 10 years older than you then! lol!

For sure, like all these things, Stevie Wonder is a matter of personal taste. I was always nuts about him and his style of production but they certainly milked that riff. It's got a bit of extra weirdness in the way they slide up to every 3rd note.
It's not jazz, that's for sure!

Quote:
On a lot of these old albums (this one is a "Rudy Van Gelder Remastered" CD) they have like the trumpet and sax panned hard left and right. So I can listen with headphones and tracked who is playing what notes. I like the more blended sound you get from speakers but as a learning experience the headphones and hard-panned mastering works a charm!


yes, that's always useful for figuring things out. It can work really well for small ensembles.

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#2170057 - 10/22/13 12:54 PM Re: Semi-OT: How Does a "Horn Section" Work in Jazz/Blues/Pop? [Re: Dave Ferris]
Brent H Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/11
Posts: 843
Originally Posted By: Dave Ferris
He told me after all the hundreds of charts he's written, he finds himself going back to simple unisons with sax & trumpet or sax & bone..and maybe one harmony part from the one of the other horns, above or below the main leads. Often though, he reverts back to unison for all 3 horns.


I think what you describe here is the basic style these guys were working, for the comp parts on the vocal tunes. They also did a couple of longer instrumentals where they mixed it up. But a lot of it sounded like two parts with the trombone moving back and forth in unison or octave with either the trumpet or tenor.

It was an outdoor show through a PA system so I couldn't get all the nuances of tone and dynamics but I think they had a real good ear for choosing their ranges and what to double. I'll say if they were going for a real warm, smooth blend they nailed it. If they were going for a flashy or hot sound then maybe they missed it... shocked
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