Lesson/Rehearsal Plan – Afro Blue

Warm-up / Skill-building suggestions

Objective: Establish a groove in the rhythm section.
Everyone except drummer tap *heel and clap quarter notes at 160 bpm.  Drummer plays on snare drum rim. 
*Encourage students to tap their heel as opposed to their toe as more of their body is engaged in time-keeping.

  • Bass and guitar add written parts (from mm. 9 -12).
  • Horns and piano player say/sing bass and guitar part while maintaining time in heel.
    • Add clapping the bass and guitar rhythm if possible.
  • Piano add written part (from mm. 9-12)

Keep repeating groove until it feels good.           
Bass, guitar and piano vamp written parts (from mm. 9 -12).

  • Drummer plays written part which includes repeated two-bar ride cymbal pattern.
  • Horn players tap heel and say/sing repeated two-bar pattern in drummer’s ride cymbal part.
    • Horns add clapping of ride cymbal pattern if possible.

Keep repeating groove until it feels good.
Objective: Review basic articulations of ^“Daht”, >“Dah”, — “Du”, . “Dit”
Rhythm section continue to vamp (mm. 9-12)

  • On a Concert G, have horn players play the following rhythmic examples and articulations that are taken directly from the arrangement:

Afro Blue articulations

Objective:  Increase students’ technical skill.

  • Practice and review the scale/tonal center of Afro Blue, Concert G Minor Scale (Harmonic Form)

Download the rhythm exercises to review or practice.

Rehearsal / Teaching Suggestions

1) mm. 1-4 (Introduction)

  • This may or may not be conducted but should include some rubato.  
  • Think very legato style and *shape musical lines.
    *Typically when a musical line ascends the volume increases accordingly, when the line descends, the line decreases accordingly.
  • On Fp, the p should be maintained until later in the measure and the start of the crescendo is delayed.

2) mm. 5-12 (Vamp to establish groove)

  • The new tempo could be established by the drummer as the horns are sustaining.
  • As horns diminuendo, be sure that air support is maintained so that the pitch doesn’t sag.

3) mm. 13-28 (A Section)

  • With rhythm section, rehearse saxes, aiming for very legato articulation.  It should be tongued, not slurred.
  • With rhythm section, rehearse brass background figures. Pay careful attention to articulation markings: Tenuto ( __ ) means long, think “Du.” Marcato (^) means separated, think “daht.”

4) mm. 38-45 (B section or “Bridge”)

  • Have brass and bari sax first say/sing their rhythms and articulations. Note the added  > articulation, think “Dah”, emphasizing the front of the note. Add the rhythm section and play it together.
  • With rhythm section have alto and tenor saxes shape their legato lines and start notated crescendo soft to get more of the overall effect of crescendo.

5) mm. 46-53 (Abbreviated A section)

  • Saxes recap the latter half of the melody from the A section, again legato style.

6) mm. 54-61 (Interlude leading to solo section)

  • Keep articulations smooth, and balance crescendo into solo section.
  • Think energy on long notes to create forward motion.

7) mm. 62-77 (Solo Section)

  • Every student’s part has a notated Concert G Minor Pentatonic Scale that they may use for improvising.  Encourage them to make their own melodies using any of these notes in any order.
  • On background figures, aim for balance in harmonized parts within sections and between sections. Play and sustain various chords; encourage students to listen and adjust.

8) mm. 78-85 (A Section melody modified)

  • Fragments of the A section melody builds to the ‘shout chorus.’  Aim for even and balanced crescendos,  ensuring that lines with motion can be easily heard. Encourage students to listen.
  • Ensure that the drummer sets up the transition to the ‘shout chorus.’

9) mm.  86-93 (Shout Chorus on A Section melody)

  • All horns have harmonized version of the A section melody. Sound should be full across the band and with lots of energy.

10) mm.  94-101 (abbreviated A Section melody)

  • Saxes should maintain volume and intensity of the shout chorus while brass add background figures. 

11) mm. 102-fine (Outro) 

  • Keep ensemble volume big and intense. On Fp, aim for quiet intensity and save crescendo for the last four measures.    
  • Last note, think “daht.”

Additional Musical Considerations

  • Afro Blue is an example of Afro-Cuban style, a fusion between Cuban, clave-based rhythms and Jazz harmony.  Eighth notes should be performed straight.
  • Melodies from the A and B sections employ a “Call and Response” pattern.
  • Form of Afro Blue is a 16 measure minor blues.

Historical Considerations

  • Composer Mongo Santamaria was born in Havana, Cuba in 1917.
  • Afro-Cuban style emerged in NYC in the 1940s.  Pioneers include Mario Bauza, Frank Grillo Machito, Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo.


Reference recording

Afro Blue

Mongo Santamaria / Arr. Michael Sweeney

Suggested Listening

Afro Blue — Mongo Santamaria

Afro Blue —  Mongo Santamaria with Dizzy Gillespie

Afro Blue —  John Coltrane