Pick Six By:

Jennifer-Parker-200pxJennifer Parker

Repertoire & Resources Chair for Jazz Choirs
MacNally Smith College of Music

Before we get to the fun arrangements, I wanted to provide some pedagogical perspective as to how and why I chose the music I did. The first group of songs, Home, Summertime and I Can’t Give You Anything But Love provide great opportunities to work on jazz harmony, interpretive phrasing and stylistic inflection. The second group of songs is helpful for developing improvisation and time feel. Sandu, Little Hummingbird and Lemon Drop use scat syllables in place of lyric to teach an instrumental approach. There is a mixture of standard and contemporary repertoire here as well as the inclusion of the most common song forms in jazz. Enjoy!


Parker, arr. Matt Falker


SATB- Level 2.5, a cappella Ballad

This is one of a few a cappella ballads that does not require a low bass! Falker’s approach to the harmony is sophisticated but approachable. Some of the challenges lie in phrasing and balance as the parts switch back and forth between a featured and accompanying role. I would start the learning process with the lyrics and identifying the conversational flow. Try rehearsing the phrasing on a unison pitch to solidify diction, breath and phrasing. Understanding the structure and flow will lock in the sense of ensemble much quicker. Of course nothing helps to lock in harmony like listening to it in the video.


I am so honored to share this arrangement of my composition with you. I wrote it after hurricane Katrina during a time of reflection about what “home” really means. In the spirit of our ACDA-MN theme of “service” this song would make a wonderful addition to a concert that promotes social justice, fundraising for a cause, etc. For example, you could plan a benefit for a local charity of your students’ choice and have them help prepare and promote the event.


Gershwin, DuBose, Hayward, Gershwin/Arr. Derek Fawcett

Alfred Music Publishing

SATB Advanced- Funk (New Jack Swing) with rhythm section

When it comes to essential Jazz repertoire you have to include Gershwin’s Summertime.

VIDEO — Porgy & Bess Opera

This song has been interpreted so many ways and this arrangement is by far my favorite.

VIDEO — Pacific Standard Time

Your students will relate to the contemporary groove, and it’s perfect for working on time feel and stylistic inflection. I would approach the rhythm first as being similar to a spoken word piece. Focus on feeling the groove and how the consonants fit into the drum set. It can be helpful to teach everyone the melody and decide which stylistic elements you want to add (scoops, fall offs, etc.) as a group. The students will take ownership quickly. Also, while it may seem counter-intuitive to teach the melody to everyone instead of getting right to parts, it helps them recognize when they are singing incorrect notes faster. If you don’t have a rhythm section you could pull this off using keyboard, bass, and vocal percussion.


I Can’t Give You Anything But Love

Fields/McHugh/ Arr. Christine Salerno

UNC Jazz Press

SSA- Level 3, Med. Swing with rhythm section

I had a great time using this chart with the Colorado All State Women’s Jazz Ensemble a few years ago. It is suitable for advanced groups but could easily be the “challenge” piece for a newer group or used to feature a trio. This arrangement is great for teaching jazz phrasing and variation within a melody. Try teaching the song as it was originally written and then discuss the changes in phrasing, melody and rhythm used in the arrangement.


In tackling the harmony move slowly and aim to do a lot of chord stacking. The voices are singing altered extensions of the chords instead of just chord tones so building from the bottom up (root of the chord in the bass/piano) will take some time but will get them acquainted faster when they fill in the “missing” notes. The writing is primarily homophonic so you have time to focus on the harmonic challenges. Salerno does a wonderful job of using advanced harmonic concepts while keeping the voice leading accessible. Don’t be frightened by the improvisation section. Even inexperienced scat soloists can manage the friendly chord changes!


Clifford Brown, Arr. Rosana Eckert


SATB, SAB or SSAA- Level 2, Med. Swing with fully written out rhythm section parts.

This blues song by Trumpeter Clifford Brown is a part of the repertoire all young be-boppers learn.

VIDEO — Clifford Brown

This Arrangement includes a challenging soli section and lots of room for improvisation. The double time section in the soli will most likely be the most difficult thing to tackle. I have found that it is best to learn these parts back to front. Learn a beat at a time from the end of the phrase and keep adding a beat until you can sing all the way through. It provides a psychological boost and helps establish breath management as you build good muscle memory. This could be programmed for nearly any level!

VIDEO — Programmed for Any Level

Little Hummingbird

Kerry Marsh/Julia Dollison


SAB, SSA- Level 2 Samba with fully written out rhythm section parts.

This samba is infectious! The song utilizes a minor blues form and provides a wonderful introduction to improvisation. For a fun skill-building activity try drawing the minor pentatonic and/or blues scale on the board and randomly point to or “drill” different notes to get them “reading” and adapting to the sound. After they become familiar with the scale, practice the exercise while the recording is playing to directly apply the theory. There are lots of great concepts to learn from this “simple” chart. This song is part of Kerry Marsh’s “Starter” series featuring arrangements written for ensembles that are new to jazz or without certain privileges like a rhythm section. I used it with the Twin Cities Honors Vocal Jazz Ensemble last summer and we had a blast!


Lemon Drop

George Wallington, Arr. Kirk Marcy

Sound Music Publications

SATB- Level 3 Up-tempo Swing with rhythm Section

Lemon Drop is a rhythm changes song; it shares the same chords as Gershwin’s famous song I’ve Got Rhythm.

VIDEO — I’ve Got Rhythm

There are many jazz and pop standards based on those chord changes. I aim to do at least one blues and one rhythm changes song each year to help build familiarity. I would approach this in the same manner I suggested for Sandu. A helpful tool you could use is the computer program, Transcribe. Transcribe allows you to slow down recordings to your desired learning speed without affecting pitch and vice versa. This the most challenging of the three instrumental songs and has the most unique scat syllables thanks to Ella Fitzgerald!

VIDEO — Ella Fitzgerald