What (Music) Should I Do with My Jazz Band?

by Ken Tilger, Band Education Specialist –

Do you have a jazz band that you enjoy directing, but just aren’t sure what music you should be teaching and programming? Are you falling back on arrangements of pop & rock tunes because they’re familiar and your kids know some of them? (It’s o.k., we won’t tell!) Whether you’re a new or experienced band director with limited jazz experience because jazz wasn’t a part of your studies or because you don’t play a “jazz instrument,” no worries – we’ve got you covered!

The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire is a wonderful resource by Ted Gioia who has authored over a half-dozen other books on jazz and blues, most notably The History of Jazz. This work is perfectly summed up in the testimonial by Gerald Early (Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters, Washington University in St. Louis; Editor of Miles Davis and American Culture), “What a useful and informative book The Jazz Standards is! Explaining the jazz repertory in a way that is accessible for the jazz beginner yet stimulating for the aficionado…”

The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire contains:
– a treasure trove of jazz standards commonly performed by individual artists, small groups, and big bands.
– a tune by tune exploration including songwriting credits and a brief historical and musical synopsis of each title.
– a listing of recommended recorded versions for each tune – a jazz history/aural listening course in and of itself! This is perfect for hipping your students (and yourself!) to a full breadth of jazz artists on all instruments, all jazz styles, and various approaches taken to each specific tune.
– a wonderful approach to learning jazz (and a chunk of American music) history – through the music itself! By taking this approach, you wind up exploring all periods of the music and are introduced to artists beyond the jazz legends commonly encountered, discovering the secondary and tertiary players only familiar to those who have studied the music as musicians, educators, or fans.

Don’t worry if the above listing sounds somewhat academic – the writing is not! In his introduction Mr. Gioia mentions that in comparison to his other books, this one has a much more personal tone thanks to his love of the material and the approach taken. Also, while the content is valuable, each synopsis is short! Begin your exploration of the titles in this book. When you find some you like, search for arrangements of them at stantons.com. Most of them are readily available ranging from transcriptions of the originals to accessible versions for young jazz bands.

We highly recommend pairing this book with the Teaching Music Through Performance in Jazz volume as references for a quality performance curriculum, and Jazz Pedagogy for the nuts and bolts of the jazz ensemble. With these resources all band directors can begin to lay the foundation for a successful jazz education component to their band program. Don’t worry, you can still program pop & rock arrangements for fun and to keep your students happy with the knowledge that they are also getting musical nourishment and balance from playing the essential repertoire, too!

About the Author:
Ken is a former band director, and has been with Stanton’s since 2004. Besides music, he geeks out on comic books, amusement parks, the Muppets, and all things Pittsburgh. He also plays saxophone with Swing’s the Thing Big Band. You should check out their album Walk On Out the Door available on iTunes and Amazon.


Categories: Big Band, Concert Band, Jazz, Music Education, Staff Picks

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1 reply


  1. Back to School: Fall 2015 Band Update | Stanton's Sheet Music

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