11 May 2015

Post 208: 'IVAN'S STOMP'

My grand-daughter says she likes my tune.
Maybe she is just humouring a very old guy.
If you would like to hear a tune I composed (in 2002) for traditional jazz bands, download it by clicking

Unfortunately, it is 'played' on a computer so it doesn't sound too great, but I hope one day to get a band to play it and make a video for YouTube.

How did I go about writing it?

If you would like to compose a tune for your band, here’s just one way. I will show you how it worked for me.

1. Decide what kind of tune you are aiming for.

2. Choose a structure and a key.

3. Work out a chord progression on which to build. (You might prefer to start by inventing a melody, but for me that would seem like building a house by putting in the windows before laying the foundations.)

4. Compose a melody to fit the chord progression.

5. If desired, add an Introduction and / or a Coda.

6. Test the music out with your band and be prepared to tweak it and also to transpose if necessary to a more comfortable key.

7. Give your tune a title.
Here’s how I went through those stages.

1. I was writing for our little jazz band. We attempt the kind of music played in New Orleans around 1920, so I wanted something in the spirit of the early recordings by the bands of Sam Morgan and King Oliver.

2. So I opted for a 32-bar structure, in 4/4 time, to be played moderately fast; and I decided to build in some two-bar ‘breaks’ (in which a solo clarinet, for example, can improvise something pretty). I chose the key of Eb because it is one with which our band is usually comfortable. It has the advantage of putting our Bb transposing instruments – the trumpet and clarinet – into the Key of F which has only one flat; and it puts our Eb sousaphone player into his Key of C, which has no sharps or flats at all.

3. I devised a chord progression with mostly one chord to each bar. My policy was: ‘Keep it simple!’ This would also make it easier for the musicians to improvise. Here was my 32-Bar Plan. The asterisks indicated the Breaks.

The first 16:

Eb / Eb7 / Ab / Ab / Eb / Eb / F7*** / Bb7***

Eb / Eb7 / Ab / Ab / Eb / Fm:Bb7 / Eb / Eb:Eb7

The Middle Eight:

Ab / Eb / Bb7 / Eb / Ab / Eb / F7*** / Bb7***

The final Eight (a reprise of the second eight):

Eb / Eb7 / Ab / Ab / Eb / Fm:Bb7 / Eb / Eb

4. I devised a melody to match the chords, aiming to be a little repetitive and therefore catchy. The clipboard picture  showed me at the early stage of this. After completing the 32 bars, I entered the tune on my computer, using 'Band in a Box' software. This took 35 minutes.

5. Finally, I added a 4-bar Introduction, based on the first phrase from the melody and using the tried-and-tested introductory chord progression known to jazz musicians as I - VIm - II7 - V7, in this case:

Eb / Cm / F7 / Bb7
6. I printed off the finished draft and a week later the Band gave the tune a road test. It went surprisingly well and we were happy to keep it in Eb. We also found that a tempo of 170 (i.e. 170 crotchets to the minute) was about right. But pianist Chris Reilley (much more sensitive to chord changes than I am) pointed out that the Ab chords in Bars 4, 12 and 28 (of the main 32 bars) ought to be Ab minor. Of course he was right. That sounded so much better. Many thanks, Chris!

So we ended up with Ivan’s Stomp - a claim to immortality!