- Vocal Soloist (alto/mezzo); jazz style, ie mic'ed
- SATB Choir
- Optional Chorus (eg Community Choir)
- Trumpet 1
- Trumpet 2
- Trumpet 3
- Trumpet 4
- Alto Sax 1 / Flute
- Alto Sax 2 / Flute
- Tenor Sax / Clarinet
- Baritone Sax / Bass Clarinet
- Trombone 1
- Trombone 2
- Bass Trombone
- French Horn
- Violin 1
- Violin 2
The vocal solo part features in all but two of the movements. There are some improvised and some written scat-style sections, and the singer would normally be amplified, for a jazz-style performance. The written range is a large one! From E below middle C up to top Bb - though the higher part could be adapted as required. Although written with a female singer in mind, almost anyone may be suitable if they have a flexible approach and the ability to adapt the part where necessary.
SATB Choir: A regular Soprano-Alto-Tenor-Bass choir, with enough voices for each part to split into firsts and seconds. For smaller choirs, some amplification may be necessary to balance with the band.
Chorus: This part is intended for a Community Choir or similar, though it could be sung by part of the SATB choir.
A ‘Jazz Extravaganza’ featuring ten of George and Ira Gershwin’s best-known works will receive its first performance at the second Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival. Featuring over 250 singers, soloist Jacqui Dankworth and a 20 piece jazz orchestra.
The work is a completely new arrangement by commissioned by the Bristol Jazz Festival with funding from the Arts Council and is set to become a regular feature at concerts and festivals around the UK. Written as a sequel to Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concert, ‘I Got Gershwin’ has been created to fill the demand for large scale choral jazz performance pieces.
Andy Williamson, director of Big Buzzard writes:
I love singing in a great choir, and I love playing jazz in big bands. I was always really surprised that there seemed to be no decent music that brings these two things together – despite all the amazing small vocal groups that have existed since the early 20th century from the Mills Brothers to The Swingle Singers, and more recently Take 6 and Naturally 7. Especially as it goes down really well with audiences – if it’s good!
Then in 2000 I discovered Duke Ellington’s ‘Sacred Concert’ for full choir, solo singer and big band, and put it on in Clifton Cathedral in Bristol. Since then, I’ve performed that many times around the UK and on Radio 3 and Radio 4, with large and small choirs, and with a big band or a quintet. Recently I’ve been able to add a tap dancer to the mix, as was the case when Ellington performed it all over the world in the late 60s. This is how we did it at the first Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival last March on a Saturday afternoon with the Big Buzzard Big Band featuring Zoe Rahman on piano and Jonny Bruce on Trumpet, Yolanda Quartey as soloist, fabulous dancer Annette Walker and 150 of Bristol’s finest singers under the baton of David Ogden. The response from the singers and the audience and the Festival directors was fantastic – everyone loved it, and wanted ‘something else like that for next year’. But there isn’t much else that’s close. Pianist Will Todd has written ‘Mass in Blue’ which is worth checking out; there’s Quincy Jones’s ‘Soulful Messiah’ and ‘Rise’ by Wynton Marsalis which I saw at the Albert Hall a few years ago for gospel choir, symphony orchestra and big band. But none of these is quite what we wanted, so the Festival encouraged us to create something new. “But, not so new that it’s going to be hard to persuade people to come! It needs a ‘name’ attached that the potential audience will recognize. How about ‘Gershwin’ ?”
I put this to Ned Bennett, resident composer and arranger in the Big Buzzard band, who is, I believe, an unsung genius – though appreciated by every musician who’s read one of his charts. He conjures up sublime voicings and infectious grooves every time. He’s also a very talented writer for choirs. He went off and came up with the outline of a ‘work’ based on 10 of Gershwin’s greatest hits.
Ned Bennett, Arranger
The challenge of arranging Gershwin is that so many fantastic versions exist of each of the songs already. Originality is hard to achieve, and with so many classic recordings of each of these songs by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra and so on, what new can be brought to the repertoire? Perhaps some new ways of harmonizing the melodies? Perhaps the instrumentation (a fusion of jazz and classical line-ups)? Perhaps the power and excitement generated by a vast choir? Perhaps the hindsight of 80 years of musical development since the songs were written?
The joy of arranging Gershwin is that with each song you work with a beautiful gem to begin with. The arranger's duty is to pass on that joy to the performers through interesting, well-crafted parts and exciting ensemble, and so ultimately to the audience who should leave feeling thrilled, satisfied, and in need of a post-coital (musically-speaking of course) pint.
Ned Bennett, January 2014
1 Prelude 1
3 How Long Has This Been Going On
4 I Got Rhythm
5 Blues from American In Paris
6 Fascinating Rhythm
7 I Loves You Porgy
8 There's A Boat That's Leaving Soon
10 It Ain't Necessarily So
Approx total length: 75mins
The collection is designed to form a whole short concert, or half of a longer one. The movements mix up a range of styles from swing to rap, with blues and bossa along the way. The order is flexible, and any movement could be omitted, or replaced by a different Gershwin song if desired, to feature individual singers or players, for example.