One thing that always fascinates me about arranging for big band in general is the infinite number of ways that a band can sound. When you think about it, the way a big band sounds generally comes down to the harmony used, and the manner in which that harmony is “voiced” for the ensemble.
A Glenn Miller chart sounds completely different than a Jim McNeely or Thad Jones (or any other modern writer) chart because of a variety of things – but a good chunk of the difference comes down to the harmony and the way in which that harmony is “voiced” for the band.
There other factors of course, such as the way rhythm, counterpoint, etc is used, but harmonic choices are prominent in the sound of a chart.
When I first started arranging for big band, I didn’t have a clue on how to “voice” each section of the band. In high school, I remember transcribing some Les Brown arrangements, and then using some of my music theory knowledge to try to come as close to the record as possible. I read a book that said “just transcribe the lead lines, then fill in the notes of the harmony from there…”
I remember in HS doing “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and “Take the A Train” transcriptions/arrangements, then taking them into a local community big band to read through. They actually sounded pretty good, and closer to the recording than I had anticipated.
What was really cool though, (and still is) was to actually “hear” a bunch of dots I had written on paper. It was like I had just put together a big jig saw puzzle and the result was not seeing, but hearing it.
This video goes over a simple voicing for the entire big band (horns), making sure that each section is voiced so that the chords are properly represented with the tones that need to be there. This would be an example of how someone like Sammy Nestico would voice a rhythmic passage. You can view the entire voicing at the PDF link below the video. Let me know if you have any questions or comments too.