Here's a basic idea of what I do at Brandeis.
Jazz Ensemble: Music 13a
Meets Monday evenings from 7:00-10:00 pm
Offered every semester
The Brandeis Jazz Ensemble has about 15 musicians. Each year it is different depending on who auditions. Basically it is: 5 saxes, 2 or 3 trumpets, 2 or 3 trombones, piano, guitar, bass, drums + percussion. We have also had french horn and flute.
The repitoir consists of charts by the greats...Mingus, Ellington, Gil Evans, Sun Ra...as well as arrangements of tunes and original compositions by me.
Students are encouraged to write for the group.
Any interested musicians who play saxophone, brass, piano, guitar, bass, and percussion are encouraged to audition.
You don't have to have experience improvising but must be able to read and play well and not be afraid to practice!
There will also be an Improvisation Ensemble run by saxophonist Tom Hall.
Jazz Composition: Music 190a
Meets Monday and Wednesday from 2:00-3:30.
This course will be offered in the fall semester.
This course will deal with composing and arranging for a small jazz group.
Starting with basic melodic construction we will work through harmonizing a single melody and writing parts for up to 2 horns and rhythm section.
Some very basic keyboard proficiency is essential as well as a good command of notation and the ability to read treble and bass clef.
There will be writing assignments each week.
Students are expected to be able to play their own chord progressions on the piano.
By the end of the course the students should each have composed and arranged an original tune for 2 horns and rhythm section (complete with all the necessary transpositions) using introductions, interludes, and endings.
Each student is required to bring to class a 3 ring binder for handouts and a good quality music manuscript notebook with at least 12 staves per page.
If everything goes according to plan there will be a concert at the end of the semester to present the charts to the world.
A Little Writing Advice:
The best advice I can offer any aspiring composer is to repeat what my friend and teacher Bob Ceely said to me during a lesson in a previous life; he said:
"Just imagine the best music you can and write it down." and another one from Miles Davis: "Play what you hear, not what you know" which can be applied to composing as "Write what you hear, not what you know" I think the best way to be yourself in composing is to let your ears be your guide and use your knowledge to shape it.
This can be dangerous advice because if you don't have much experience and haven't done much listening your ears might not have a lot to say. It is important to listen a lot (to all kinds of music) and internalize the things you hear that you really like. This is like loading up your ears.
(When I was in college I had a timer rigged to my turntable so It would start to play at around 3:30 am when I was asleep.)
So here are your tools...Imagination, patience, invention and discovery, technique, common sense.
It is very helpful to adopt a "what if" attitude.
"Just for the hell of it what if I try this?" You may find things you wouldn't have thought of using conventional thought.
One more thing...The first solution is usually not the best solution.