May 16, 2017

Commissioning for the Women’s Jazz/Contemporary Choir

Janice Vlachos, SWACDA R&R Contemporary Commercial Chair
Choral Director, Fairview High School, Boulder Colorado

When I started teaching a women’s jazz choir, I found some amazing repertoire available, but the longer I taught women’s jazz, I soon realized that I was struggling finding new pieces.

I have shelves full of SATB jazz repertoire, but the repertoire for women’s jazz was not as extensive. So I decided every year that we would dedicate part of our money that we fundraise towards commissioning works for the Women’s Jazz Choir.

Now, I realize that many programs are not as fortunate as the program I am blessed to be a part of. The program I have the privilege of being a part of has been a strong program for over 45 years, and we are fortunate that years ago the previous choral director started a fundraiser that is still a tradition today. I approached our Parent Choir Organization with my “why” for commissioning music for the Women’s Jazz/Contemporary choir. I explained that there was not the extensive pieces available for women’s choirs like there were for SATB, and that I wanted to help support some of our amazing arrangers/composers and get some more women’s literature into circulation. They were incredibly supportive of the idea, and so I started reaching out to different arrangers.

Everyone is different when they commission a piece. Sometimes I have a specific goal, I will know I want a three-part arrangement in the style of say, The Puppini Sisters. Other times I know I want a fiery SSAA opener. I have had the pleasure of working with Kerry Marsh, Rosana Eckert, and Jeremy Fox, and I have a list of composers I can’t wait to work with. Sometimes I was very specific in what I was requesting, and other times I asked them for inspiration. What I found is that they always manage to meet my specific needs. Sometimes I have really low altos, and other times I have fabulous soloists. They find a way to always showcase my current group, yet the pieces they write are extremely accessible for groups of all different abilities.

It can be expensive to commission a piece, anywhere from $800-$1200 depending on the difficulty and length, but it is worth it. All of the composers I have worked with, get the rights to the songs, give us a fabulous arrangement, and when I get the piece I also get part tracks and rhythm tracks. And for those of you that do not play jazz piano, you know how helpful that is!

I am going to share several of the arrangements that Kerry Marsh, Rosana Eckert and Jeremy Fox arranged for us this year. If you have a women’s group, you want to get these! In future articles I will send out a list of women’s repertoire that I would recommend.

All of the arrangements can be found on , and


Ice Cream
Words and Music by Sarah McLachlan arr. Kerry Marsh
SSAA with Rhythm Section
Level 3.5
This is a new chart from Kerry Marsh. The piece starts out with a wonderful piano solo and then goes into a relaxed jazz waltz feel with bass, guitar and drums. The vocals are rich and lush, going from two part to thick four part chords. There is a small vocal solo, and a guitar solo. Kerry has arranged a wonderful group scat section leading into the final section of the song. This song is a mix between pop and jazz, it has Kerry’s signature style all the way through it, it is a completely unique perspective on the original recording from Sarah McLachlan. This arrangement runs a little over five minutes long. This piece is a wonderful selection for the middle of your program. It is meaty, yet sensitive and the women’s love to sing it. You need altos that are comfortable singing a low F#, the soprano line sits in a comfortable range, only going to a high A once in the chart. The shape of the song is wonderful, and it will allow you to explore a wide dynamic range with your singers.

Make Up Your Mind
Words by Deborah Brown
Music by John Griffen 11
SSAA with Rhythm Section
Level 4
Inspired by Deborah Brown on her album International Incident, this arrangement is a straight ahead up tempo swing song. It starts immediately with the vocals and then just cooks along with an opportunity to feature several different scat soloists, followed by a short group scat. Make up your mind is a great arrangement to sink your teeth into, it’s not long, around three minutes, but it is three minutes of whimsical fun and gives the choir a chance to just sit back and swing!

Lady Lee
Words and music by Rosana Eckert
Arr. Jeremy Fox
SSA with Rhythm Section
Level 2.5
This is an arrangement of an original Rosana Eckert tune, look it up on YouTube, it is awesome. Jeremy arranged this for us in a tight Puppini/Andrew sister’s style. You women will love this piece; it is up tempo and fun to sink your teeth into. It features a soloist, or it could be two solos and it has an opportunity for your scat singers to explore. There is a fun group scat in the middle that is inspired by the clarinet player on the original recording. The rhythm section is straight ahead and more accessible for players that might not be as comfortable with a chord chart.

Born to Be Blue
Words and music by Robert Wells/Mel Torme
Arr. Rosana Eckert
SSAA with Rhythm Section
Level 3
This arrangement is an unusual take on a jazz standard, Rosana took Born to be Blue, most often heard as a ballad and set it as an up tempo samba piece. No one knows how to set a song in a samba style like Rosana! The chords are rich and thick, but extremely accessible. There is a group scat section, followed by an opportunity for your singers or instrumentalists to improv. The piece cooks along for a while, but then Rosana has thrown in a beautiful slow section that features a beautiful solo. The ending kicks back in, and Rosana repeats the ending over and allows room for you to improve, or in her words “have a party”!

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road
Words and Music by Bernie Taupin and Elton John
S(S)SAA with Piano
Level 3
I have always been a huge fan of this song since I first heard it, the lyrics always affect me in different ways depending on where I have been in my life. So take the song and then add Kerry’s take on it and this is one of those pieces that you must do! Kerry was inspired by Sara Bareilles, so this song has all the pop feeling of Sarah and Elton John, and then Kerry put his twist on it. The piano accompaniment is beautiful, and it is completely written out for those of you that struggle with chord charts. This arrangement features a soloist that is beautifully woven throughout the entire piece. The shape of this piece is fabulous; it starts simple and then builds into a powerful middle section where your ladies can sit back and deliver, and then goes back to a simple and poignant ending.

You may contact Janice HERE.