Arranging 'Round Midnight for Four Saxes

My latest video/home recording project was an arrangement I came up with for Monk's tune 'Round Midnight, played on bari, tenor, alto, and soprano saxes. For anyone interested in doing something similar, I thought I'd share my process on this project from start to finish.

The Arrangement

I'm generally not one for writing things down if I don't have to, so this arrangement was created just by recording tracks as I went through the piece. For this project, I think that approach worked well, since I was able to listen to each section as I went, and think about what would sound good next, or what I would change as the arrangement took shape. Currently, I'm using Mixcraft for recording software (It's a pretty capable program, and is relatively cheap).

For every 8 bars of the melody, I first laid down the bari part along with a click track using a sheet of the transposed chord changes. Much of the bari parts were improvised, but I did learn a few choruses of the bass part from Miles' recording 'Round About Midnight, which helped me to make some more interesting note choices.

On top of the bari track, I then recorded the melody, trying to pass it around to the different saxes to keep it interesting. After recording both the bari and melody, I looped what I had recorded so far, and improvised along with it on one of the other two instruments, until I found a part that I liked. I recorded the third part, and the fourth part was generally a harmonization of the third.

Once I got through the entire first chorus of the melody, I re-recorded the bari part so that it would rhythmically line up more closely with the other three.

For the solo section, I decided to pick up the tempo a bit (and 'borrowed' the transition between melody and solo from the Miles recording). I recorded the bari part here first, and then alto and soprano background parts. The original background parts in the solo were much more involved than what made it into the final recording, but as I started improvising over it, they tended to get in the way, so I toned them down quite a bit.

For the outro, I decided to change the feel again, and switched to a 6/8 time signature. The process was generally the same, record the bari, then the soprano, and come up with a counterpoint line for the tenor and alto. The very last figure before the final note was a bit tougher for me to improvise, and so I worked that one out on the piano before recording.

The Video

To record the video, I exported four mixes of the arrangement, each with one of the instruments highlighted. I learned each part by ear, and then recorded it again using Mixcraft for the audio recording, and just using my phone's camera for the video.

Most of the videos I've created so far were done in Windows Movie Maker, since I didn't need much more than video, audio, and a couple of captions. To do the picture-in-picture that this video needed, I bought VideoStudio by Corel. The program is much more capable than what I needed for this project, but it was very easy to use, and only cost around $40.

The Finished Product

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