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I've begun to experiment with arranging for jazz big band. Something I don't quite understand is how to thoughtfully voice chords.

I understand generally how instruments should be voiced in a chord. The bones typically hold the bottom of the chord, the saxes the middle, and the trumpets the top. From there, it's a matter of determining the voicing of the chord; which chord tones should be doubled, which octave should tones be played in, which parts of the upper structure should be played, which tones should be omitted, etc.

What should I be listening for as I experiment with voicings to determine what would be an "effective" voicing?

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Generally, the chords are not spread over the sections as you describe in your question. What arrangers do is use the 3 sections (sax, trombone, trumpet) as 3, well... sections, which have their own part in the melody of the tune (sometimes the trombones and trumpet will be merged in one brass section, as per need). The goal is that each section is self contained, so the sax section will use 5 note voicings, and the trumpet / trombone section, 3 or 4 notes voicings. In each of these you will have a lead voice (alto or soprano sax, 1st tb or 1st trumpet) each in its pitch range, and the voicings are built under that lead. The sax voicing will be open (i.e. spread over more than 1 octave), often with the baritone doubling the melody 2 octaves below the lead), and the trumpet will more often use closed voicings.

This is a wide topic... A book I found useful on this topic is http://berkleepress.com/arranging-composing/arranging-for-large-jazz-ensemble/

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