My 1st 'Big Band' composition

Somewhat surprisingly, this is my first ‘Big Band’ composition. I have made big band arrangements of 'Standard’s before, but this is the first conceived from scratch with a Big Band in mind.

And that’s a key point - that initial conception was just the starting point. This likely won’t sound like any Big Band piece you’ve heard before, and it’s not meant to. For a start it’s a slightly ‘bigger band’ than is typical, with the addition of French Horns to the brass section, and Piccolo, Flute & Bass Clarinet sometimes playing at the same time as a full sax section (so not the players swapping between woodwinds, as might be more typical). So I’m not trying to sound like any ‘typical’ pre-existing Big Band music, be that swing, funk, or whatever.

When I sat down at the keyboard to write this I had in mind Jaco Pastorius’ ‘Word Of Mouth’ big band, which I’ve been listening to on and off for something like 40 years. But that was just the initial inspiration. As is the way of these things, once I started playing, the piece took on a life of its own, and I just followed where it took me.

The ‘head’ (the first 2.5 mins of the piece) was ‘through composed’ (improvised) in one pass, in the time it takes to hear it. It just came out, through me, and into my keyboard. Of course the work then to arrange, modulate, orchestrate, perform, sound engineer and mix took a lot, lot longer! What you have here is the result. I’d love to hear and would appreciate any feedback you have, on the composition itself, or on the virtual realisation of the instruments. Thank you.


Good work Mark! I definitely loved the older big band jazz style to this. The composition was pretty good and my only critique there would be, as a more symphonic jazz type of piece, to have less improve that you’d typically find in jazz ensembles, and create more of a main theme/motif that you create variations around (I’m thinking more like “In The Mood” “Rhapsody In Blue” etc.)

As far as realism, what sample libraries, if any, did you use? While the instruments sounded alright, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of dynamics, so it definitely sounded more like playing notes/chords on a MIDI keyboard and so that reduced the realism a bit.

otherwise, I really enjoyed this! I’d like to hear more with higher quality samples!

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Thanks very much for your comments Matt.

Disappointed that you didn’t really hear dynamics, as I spent a lot of time on that! (described below) but accept your criticism.

The process was:
Arrange my midi improvised keyboard performance in my notation software (was originally Sibelius, but is now Dorico). Spent a lot of time in Dorico adding dynamics and expression markings to each part, for pretty much every note.

Exported this midi from Dorico into Logic, where I tried the parts against numerous VST libraries. Ended up with a mix of:
Spitfire BBCSO Pro for: Piccolo, Flute, Bass Clarinet & French Horns
SWAM Saxes for the sax section
Broadway Lites for the rest of the Brass section

Each part is then (hopefully subtly) doubled with the NotePerformer audio export out of Dorico.

Finally, I went over each woodwind part (incl saxs) recording multiple controllers with my TEControl breath & bite controler, to (try to) add expression and realism.

And then of course careful mixing etc.

If at the end of all that there still isn’t a sense of dynamics then I’m doing something wrong! :wink:

Your point about improve vs ‘symphonic jazz’ is interesting, and I’ll give it some thought.

Thank you!

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Ah, OK. I use Dorico as well for many of my more “traditional” orchestral pieces, however, I use NotePerformer as the playback option. From there I simply export the audio file(s) from Dorico into Studio One, add my preferred reverb and use Ozone 9 to master.

I find that, although NotePerformer doesn’t have the as high a quality of samples/sounds as like BBCSO, this method sounds pretty realistic since NotePerformer uses an AI playback and determines “how” to play the piece rather than just repeating the notes input into the MIDI roll. I’ve done your method as well to try and get a higher quality sound, but I still need to tweak the dynamics/articulations/note velocities etc. and the result sounds less than what it did in Dorico. i should add though that adding in dynamics in the DAW is not intuitive and different than adding dynamic markings in the scoring software–took me a long time to figure this out! You kind have to create these almost constant modulation curves throughout to get your sample libraries to sound more realistic. If you set them up like you would dynamic markings on the score, it won’t sound right :slightly_frowning_face:

Either way, I really liked the composition! It reminded me of the stuff i listened to as a kid like Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington.

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Sounds like we’ve been on similar journeys, just you a fair bit ahead of me :wink:

But thank you for your kind comments on the music. Much appreciated!

Mark, I enjoyed listening to this one. The piano around 2:50 was nice, but I found the percussion a bit distracting. I really liked the trumpet near the end - it just seemed to blend well with what was going on around it.

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Thank you, much appreciated.

Interesting your comment on the percussion. This was my 2nd pass at it (the 1st was even busier, so probably would have been even more distracting for you). But a friend of mine who is…wait for it…a real drummer/percussionist! :wink: is adding his own percussion tracks to the rest of the track. (in audio - not midi/vst, finally!) I have no idea what he will come up with, but I’m hoping and trusting it will be better than mine :wink:

Thank you.