I like Frank Sinatra. I didn’t always. My parents would play his records when I was a kid. When I was very young the basic rhythm and rhyme was enjoyable. Then I reached a certain age where I realized that I was supposed to scoff at such old folk’s music. It wasn’t hip, it wasn’t new enough or now enough. The problem was that I would still find myself humming the melodies and singing the lyrics, unable to stop it if I tried. Now that is just good songwriting, musical and lyrical hooks that act as ear worms. They just latch on to some outcropping in your cortex and hang on tenaciously, refusing to be shaken off.
Later when I started listening a bit more closely and even playing some of these tunes in high school jazz band I started to appreciate the arrangements as much as the songs. I continue to be knocked out by the skill of the arrangers like Nelson Riddle and David Rose in this type of music. From the singers like Frank, Dean Martin, Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald to Bobby Darin to current day songsters like Michael Buble and Harry Connick, Jr., the arrangers are a vital part. As an accompanist, I am drawn to the horn parts. In the more swinging tunes the two and three note staccato phrases provide contrast while longer legato phrases will echo the melody line. In the best arrangements these accompanying parts mean as much to the total sound as the lyric and melody itself.
There is much to be gained from the way instruments other than guitar are used in an accompanying role. Both phrasing and harmonic elements tend to be different than the things we usually play. Incorporating some of these horn based lines and structures into your own bag of ideas can give you some unique and complimentary contributions to your craft. If you’re not keen on the swingsters mentioned there are plenty of other places to find good examples. George Martin used plenty of horns with the Beatles. Albums like Rubber Soul and Revolver are loaded with good examples. Much of the past and current R&B and Soul music make extensive use of horn accompaniment either with actual horns or with synthesizers playing horn-like parts. Of course bands like Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears featured horn sections, but others like Steely Dan really put horn accompaniment into a pop/rock context.
Listen for the horns in any music and then listen to what they are adding. There is much to be learned.