The Three Horn Front Line & Arrangement

Brief History & Evolution of the Three Horn Front Line

Recently I have had the opportunity to score two arrangements for a three horn front line and rhythm section in the jazz tradition. This is line line up which has not been used in contemporary music for over forty years. The common configuration at most is sax and trumpet ala, brecker brothers. I enjoy working with the timbral effects achieved with two brass instruments and one woodwind. This is especially true when the guitar takes some of the voicing/lead lines.

Three horn front line traditions began in the 1920's with Louis Armstrong, Sydney Bechet and King Oliver among others. The most common front line was usually trumpet, which carried the melody (or lead); the clarinet, performing an improvised, upper register secondary focus feature around the lead trumpet; and trombone, usually consisting of low-register countermelodies, growling effects and glissandi, produced by the slide action of the instrument. Rhythm section instruments would often include piano, banjo or guitar, and drums.

Trumpet, clarinet and trombone held as the main front line instruments through out the Dixieland era. There were exceptions such as King Oliver’s band which had two trumpets, soprano sax and trombone. But for the most part trumpet, clarinet and trombone were it.

When the big band era hit, the roles continued to evolve with the trumpets taking the lead role, saxophones continued as a secondary focus suppling countermelodies to the trumpets and the trombones continued their roles of low register harmonies and slide effects.

After World War II, the small bands began a reconfiguration of the original Dixieland line ups except the clarinet had fallen out of favor for tenor saxophone and a level of harmonic sophistication was applied to the arrangements. Two three horn line ups emerged which are epitomized by the albums Blue Train (John Coltrane leader) and Milestones (Miles Davis leader).

Blue Train had trumpet, tenor sax and trombone with acoustic bass, piano and drums as backing rhythm section. Milestones used trumpet, alto sax and tenor sax with acoustic bass, piano and drums as backing rhythm section. The following year, Kind Of Blue was recorded by Miles Davis with the same line up. The Kind of Blue recording is considered the classic jazz album of all time.

In 1964 the messengers put out a major recording Free For All which featured a trumpet, sax and trombone line up as did Bennie Golson with his Jazztet recording featuring trumpet, sax and trombone.

The arrangements I wrote used the trumpet, tenor sax and trombone front line with guitar, piano, acoustic bass and drums as rhythm section. The first tune I arranged was Gloria’s Step written by Scott LaFaro. This is a beautiful composition which I have performed thru the years. The progression is 5 measures in the A section with a descending major 7 chord pattern starting on Imaj7 and ending on a Imin7 chord. The B section contains 10 measures with reverse cycle 5 min7b5 chords ascending up a 5th and down a 6th.

Joanies Walk is an arrangement of a composition I wrote making use of the melodic minor scale, planned harmonies and an AB song form with coda inside a 3/4 time structure. Each section is 16 measures long with use of harmonization, unison and octave unison.

Both arrangements are mock up midi recordings but it is enough to get an idea of the tunes form and how it may sound live.