peter.. thanks for the tip.  the similarity of this to some big band arranging hadn't struck me before, but that's not a bad thought.  when i first read your post though, i had a sort of aversion to the idea of big band, as it strikes me as too  old fashioned.  probably the parts of it that seem old fashioned though, are not the parts that relate to its form, but rather to the note choices and such.

something else struck me after writing that first post that i thought i'd mention.  back in college i was really interested in various "new music" composers -- music profs trying to really stretch the limits of music (see phillip glass, john cage, schoenberg, etc, etc).  one guy who i was particularly fond of (zach browning at u of illinois) had an interesting idea.  his "scores" had real departures from traditional notation.  lots of it was just sketching shapes and broad outlines of what he wanted.  the idea was that the performer  should fill in the gaps (basically improv).  one idea he had though, was to have a big rectangular box over a staff that might last anywhere from 1 to maybe 10 bars or so.  inside the box would be a collection of melodic or rhythmic ideas that are to act as a motif for the performer to base an improvizaiton on for the length of time that the box lasted.

i found that approach particularly interesting because it seemed to be an acknolwedgement of the idea that, even though you have a score, there still is room for improvization.  it seems obvious that if you write a tune as a lead sheet that people will play it differently every time.  but not all composers want the performer to take great liberties: e.g. when they write out the song note for note.  this idea of giving the performer a box of ideas though, seems to be an interesting way to still be the source of ideas and constrain the performance in some way, but to explicitly ask the performer to take great liberties and add his personal touch to the piece.

i'm getting long winded, i'll stop now.
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