11 May 2013


A musician who is uneasy about confusion in bands when they are bringing tunes to an end has suggested I write on this topic. I'm happy to do so, for reasons that will become obvious.

I don't enjoy hearing bands ending a tune in a messy way - and I'm sorry to say this happens all too often. At worst, some of the players in the band think they are on the Out-Chorus and play an 'ending' while others keep going into another Chorus. The result is a shambles. Another type of messy ending occurs when one or two clever-dick players at the end of the tune take it upon themselves to play a few extra notes or start a two-bar or four-bar 'tag', forcing the other players to snatch up their instruments and try (unsuccessfully) to give the impression this was intended.

So this is a topic every band should talk about. A policy should be agreed.

The simplest solution is the 'chopped' ending. I like this. For example, every player stops dead on the first or third beat of the 32nd bar in a 32-bar Out-Chorus. This always has an impact, it sounds dramatic and it impresses the audience. Listen to the end of this performance for example: Click on here.

But if you must add something, then everybody needs to know that there will be a 2-bar or 4-bar tag (usually through the chord sequence IIm  -  V7  -  I), or even possibly that the final eight bars will be repeated. These endings should be polished at a rehearsal. Or at least they should be discussed and agreed in advance.

Of course it's essential that all members of the band know when the Out-Chorus is happening. The simplest solution is for one musician (most often the trumpet player) to give an indication by raising his instrument and ensuring that all can see it. (When playing seated, sticking out a leg has become a fashionable signal.) But there are more subtle methods. You can surely devise one with your colleagues easily enough.

Sometimes a problem is caused when a singer is delivering the lyrics in what might or might not be the final Chorus. Do we play one more instrumental Chorus after the singer, or do we bring the song to a conclusion on the singer's final note? Someone must clearly decide and signal. 

Another idea is to get away occasionally from the conventional barn-storming Out-Chorus ending. This requires pre-planning or discussion. How about devising a quiet low-octane ending (possibly with only two or three instruments playing the final 16 bars)? It can be very effective and give the audience a pleasant surprise.

Several famous tunes have acquired special codas and endings that have become an almost obligatory part of the performance. Think of Screamin' The Blues, Bouncing Around, Black Cat on the Fence, Joe Avery's PiecePanama Rag, Perdido Street Blues, Pasadena. And there are a few tunes in which the Coda is by convention a repeat of the Introduction, examples being Bogalusa Strut and Clarinet MarmaladeIf you are playing such tunes, you probably know what is required. But in such cases there's no harm in checking first that all members of the band are clear about what they have to do at the end.

Most bands these days play a great fun ending to Climax Rag (an ending which, incidentally, could be used with many other tunes). Everyone needs to know it's coming and that the little 2-bar phrase will be played twice - no more, no less: