Rhythmic Concepts in Line Writing

For Week 1 of our Jazz and Popular Arranging course, we are looking at how to notate rhythms in a swing style. The lecture material briefly discussed how to use anticipations and delays to create a more “swinging feel” as opposed to the more “society feel” that is typically notated in fake books. Additional readings, discussed below, came out of Boras’ Jazz Composition and Arranging. Each week requires an initial discussion board post by Friday and a response to a classmate’s post by Sunday. Our assignment involves an arrangement of some standard from Sher’s The Standards Real Book. I’ll go into more detail of each below.

Lecture Material

Most of the content was pretty straight forward if you have experience listening to or playing jazz. I have a few highlights from the Boras:

  • “In music it is rhythm, timing, and relative dimensions of activity, or stasis, that are probably the most important and basic dimensions in an art that is experienced over time” (p. 26).

  • Concept of Rhythmic Levels: “there is a range of rhythmic levels, or units, that increase in speed from a whole not to a sixty-fourth note, and then decrease in speed back to the whole note. Each note represents a rhythmic level. In order to ensure a smooth rhythmic flow, levels should not be skipped” (p. 30).

  • Anticipations and Delayed Attacks: “The most important rhythmic feature in jazz is the anticipation. It is the rhythmic anticipation that creates the feeling of swing by accenting divisions and subdivisions of the bar that normally are not stressed. This creates a syncopated feel… Along with anticipation, delayed attacks are another rhythmic device used in a typical jazz swing feel” (p. 31).

Discussion Board

Prompt: For this initial discussion, read "Arrangement" from The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd Edition (2001). Using the article as a guide, do a little searching around in, for example, the iTunes store clips, Rhapsody, eMusic, the library, your own audio library, etc., for arrangements that strike your fancy. (Unfortunately the Naxos Music Library won't work for this, as there is a U.S. restriction on pre-1972 recordings.) Pick one arrangement from the pre-swing era, one from the swing era , and one from after World War II, download them if necessary (ninety-nine cents isn't bad!), and give us a description of what you perceive as the main stylistic differences between arrangements from these three periods. To begin your post, please cite the song, the arranger, the band, and the recording of the arrangements you have picked (as best you can – you might not be able to get all of this information).

Original Post

  Pre-Swing Era Swing Era Post WWII Era
Song The Mooche Organ Grinder's Swing St. Louis Bludes
Arranger Duke Ellington Sy Oliver Gil Evans
Band Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra Gil Evans Orchestra
Recording Hot in Harlem, Vol. 2 (1926–1928) For Dancers Only New Bottle Old Wine

Duke Ellington’s arrangement of The Mooche is very thickly scored harmonically, as was typical of his writing specifically for the players in his band. Woodwinds provide this thick harmony for soloists during the head of the tune, whereas the harmony is a more sparse rhythm section in the B section (0:56–1:18) and solos (1:18–2:30). The rhythm section is providing a steady, “four on the floor” pulse throughout as the soloists lay back melodic lines.

Organ Grinder’s Swing continues the steady pulse provided by a rhythm section, but Oliver uses texture and dynamics instead of density to separate sections of his arrangement. Different instruments provide different “feels” throughout, whether it be small group writing (0:00–0:15), unique timbres like celesta (0:32–0:46), or more raucous soloists (0:16–0:31, 1:03–2:00). The soloists are not resisting the steady pulse as much in this recording.

Gil Evans’ arrangement of St. Louis Blues loses the steady feel of the other two arrangements, leaving space for Cannonball Adderley to improvise and alter the melody. The only pulse really comes from the brushes on the drums and later the bass. The accompaniment figures provide a lush texture for the soloist rather than a structure for the sections of the arrangement like the other recordings.

Response: One of my classmates traced different arrangements of King Porter Stomp through each of the different eras. She started with a solo performance by the composer, Jelly Roll Morton, in 1923. For the Swing Era, she selected Benny Goodman’s arrangement from 1935. My classmate had two arrangements for the Post WWII Era: Louis Armstrong’s performance in 1947 and Wynton Marsalis’ performance in 1989. Here was how I responded to her:

I definitely want to second ______'s comment about how interesting it is that you traced the same song through the different eras. For my post, I thought about tracing Duke Ellington's ensembles through each era, but then ended up going a different route.

Your examples provide an excellent foundation for tracing the evolution of arrangements through different style periods. Your first recording of Jelly Roll Morton playing solo piano demonstrates some of the smaller groups (and shorter recording lengths) from the pre-swing era. The Benny Goodman arrangement shows how taking something as simple as the melody and chord changes to "King Porter Stomp" and fleshing it out for big band worked in the style of the swing era.

I love the Louis Armstrong recording! I had not heard it before, and it is definitely quite different than the Jelly Roll Morton recording or the Benny Goodman arrangement, moving away from the straighter, more vertical feel, to slightly more swing reinforced by the walking bass and ride pattern in the drum set.

I have always loved Wynton's playing, especially for his ability to demonstrate how others did play or would play. The piano playing in this recording is much more reminiscent of Jelly Roll's solo playing, but Wynton sounds more like Louis than Jelly Roll.

Thanks for your insight! It would have never crossed my mind to trace the same tune through different stylistic periods. It provides an excellent example for how style evolved over time.


For each assignment we do, we are to hand-write on a template given to us each week. Here is some of the reasoning the instructor provides:

I am aware that some of you may prefer notation software to hand manuscript. However, this course concerns itself in the first few weeks with notation conventions and transpositions, so we want to make sure that everyone understands these issues and is not over-reliant on software to handle them. In addition, writing scores by hand enforces attention to detail in all aspects of your arrangement. Therefore, handwritten manuscript submissions are expected throughout the course. After Week 3, however, if you prefer to use notation software (though you will have to duplicate the template), you may request permission from your facilitator. If your facilitator feels your notation is strong enough, you may be allowed to switch over.

Prompt: Using the provided score template, arrange the entire melody of "But Not For Me" (The Standards Real Book, pp. 73-74). Beginning with the pickups to letter A of the fake book (we are omitting the verse), arrange one thirty-two bar "chorus" (in jazz, a chorus is the entire form of a tune, usually not including the introductory verse), and ignore the last three notes in the final measure.

Your melody should employ "Rhythmic Concepts in Line Writing" to make a simple, swinging melody. Follow the notation conventions discussed. More advanced students may do two versions of this melody if they so choose.

Try to use a mixture of anticipation and delay when arranging this melody. Primarily use anticipation, however, and use delay sparingly, as it is much more difficult to handle effectively. This is usually done by means of an eighth note, but very occasionally by a quarter note as well. You are attempting to create a swinging feel while also accurately interpreting the melody.

Response: To show you how I chose to utilize the anticipation and delay, I input the first chorus into Dorico similar to how it appears rhythmically in The Standards Real Book. Then I put in my rhythmic “arrangement” that I handwrote to submit for the assignment. You’ll see the original melody in Voice 1 (top line) and my arrangement in Voice 2 (bottom line).


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.