Stock Instrumentation of a Big Band

Here's a question that comes up not infrequently on the forum - what's the stock instrumentation of a big band? Arnie has put together a good answer discussion for us on this topic.


Subject: Stock chart instrumentation (1920 - present day) 

In the 20's and early 30's, the standard instrumentation was for "theater orchestra" - 2 or 3 saxes, Fl, Cl, 2 tpts, 1 tbn, piano, banjo, bass, drums, and violins. From time to time you'd also find additional string parts (Violins B, C, Viola, Cello). These charts were “usually” voiced so that they would sound "okay" when played with a minimum of 1 Alto Sax, 1 Tenor Sax, 1 Trumpet and rhythm. It was also not uncommon to find a C melody sax part included. (This was often, but not always, a transposed copy of the Tenor Sax part.) 
Starting in approx 1936, "stocks" were published for 4 saxes (sometimes AATT, and sometimes AATB), 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, and 4 rhythm (PGBD), with an occasional banjo part instead of the guitar. At this point, the fewest horns needed for an "acceptable" sound increased to 3 saxes (AAT) and 1 trumpet. These arrangements were often distributed by the publisher free of charge to working dance bands.
In the mid-40's, the instrumentation was augmented again. A fifth sax and a third trombone were added to almost all stock charts, but these charts should still sound "okay" with AAT Saxes and 1 trumpet. You just need to make sure that any 1st trombone solos are cued either in the piano or one of the saxes. Violin parts were still being used (often as conductor parts), but the "Violin A-B-C" parts were becoming more rare. A single part was usually published, although it was still labeled "Violin A", or "1st Violins" - which, of course, makes no sense.
Then in the mid-fifties, the "stage band" was born. This was the advent of the 5444 chart. The violins were dropped entirely, and there were occasionally parts for other miscellaneous "optional" instruments. Woodwind doubles were very rare in these arrangements, unless they were transcriptions of recordings. Many older charts were re-published by the copyright holders with added parts (most of the 4th trumpet parts were uncomfortably low - but the bass trombones finally got some notes they enjoyed playing). Around this time, Stan Kenton added four mellophoniums to his band - as a result many school stage band charts were published with one or two optional French horn parts.


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