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The Jazz Band Set-Up

Brief Jazz Band Background

In the early 1900s one of America’s truest art forms was born. Jazz, as it was soon to be known, evolved from call and response spirituals, small marching bands, and local brass bands. Many of these spirituals where sung by slaves in the fields and in churches.

Jazz was often performed in venues that had no amplification and could only be increased in volume by increasing the size of the band. Eventually the jazz band instrumentation grew to 5 saxophones, 4 trombones and 4 trumpets. This generally provided the ideal volume.

In contrast, the modern jazz band now is described as having instrumentation that contains a piano, bass, drums, guitar, 4 to 5 trombones, 4 to 5 trumpets and 5 saxophones. In today’s post, we are going to identify the primary jazz band sets used by these bands.


From the Director Stand Point

Today we are going to address the jazz ensemble from the director standpoint. It is important to know and understand the options that you have as they relate to the performance impact you want to generate. The following following jazz band set-ups will be addressed:

  1. The Traditional Jazz Band Set-up
  2. The Angled Jazz Band Set-Up
  3. The Inverted “V” Jazz Band Set-Up

The Traditional Jazz Band Set-Up

Jazz band musicians typically perform their part in a fashion that has a soloistic quality to it. Often jazz bands are considered the premier ensemble in their school’s music program. These ensembles are often  audition based to help maintain a high caliber of musicianship within the group. In addition, middle school programs will have a lab styled jazz band. These are designed to get more students into the jazz program in order to offer a positive experience and educate students about jazz performance.

In these lab jazz band scenarios you will often have winds doubled. Clarinets will often stand with trumpets since they are doubling those parts. Flutes will often sit with saxophones which are typically added to the left of the baritone saxophone player. If French horn players are present, then they are often said to sit to the left of the fourth trombone player. In addition, if a tuba player joins the group they can often be placed between the drums and the trombone section.

The traditional jazz band setup is often set in front of the director. This allows the music educator to hear the group in the same position they would be to perform. This setup allows for very basic microphone setup that can work in most situations.


The Angled Jazz Band Set

Another tried and true jazz band setup is the option to angle the jazz band. This often works well but it’s not conducive to jazz competitions. Often the saxophones play on the floor and the brass play on the risers behind them on risers 6 to 10 inches off the ground. Ultimately, the goal is not to have anyone playing their instrument into the back of another player.

The angled jazz band setup encourages the musicians to listen within their section and across the band. Since the second parts are often designated the “solo parts” they are placed next to the rhythm section. In contrast to the “first parts” who stand or sit next to the seconds, they focus on the instrumental range challenges and the stylistic leadership of the section.


The Variety Show Stage Setup (or Inverted “V”)

Some music directors choose to do more of a inverted “V” setup and it sounds great. If you choose to use this setup be sure to practice playing in this formation prior to a performance. The Inverted “V” shape is very wide and is not very accommodating for the club or typical jazz festival environment. However it is important to note it has more of a late night show effect with the saxophones on stage left, the rhythm section in the middle and the horns on the right hand side of the stage.


The Jazz Band is a fascinating performing group that truly takes on the mantle of showmanship and musicianship. Being knowledgeable about the various setups, it will allow the music director to influence what kind of show he or she wants his audience to experience. To learn more about the fascinating concept of jazz bands check out your local jazz band in your community.





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