big band chart reading

jake_larson

Senior Member
I have been playing in a college big band for the past few weeks, this is my first real big band experience and I noticed that although I can read the charts (my chart reading is only ok) I generally ignore them and just listen to the band to get the hits and phrasing.
Any thoughts on this? Good or bad?
Thanks for the input
 

branflakes992

Senior Member
Hey good post!
I'm in an advanced big band right now outside of school and I've been reading charts a lot lately also. I like to listen to the band as much as I can without losing track of where I am, but also look and pick up accented or tied (long) notes since they usually are the most significant. Keep a good balance, it will help a lot!
 

jeffwj

Platinum Member
If I may just comment on your post:

Using your ears - Good!!!
It is very good to use your ears and pick up on what is going on in the ensemble. While a well written chart will supply almost all of the necessary information, it will not supply everything. You need to use your ears and listen for phrasings and any hits that may not be marked in your part. I will often go over to the lead trumpet part after a rehearsal and copy some important hits into my part. I may also take a look at the score for the same reason.

Ignoring the Chart - Bad!!!
I am assuming that you really don't disregard the chart. At least I hope you don't. Even a sketchy chart will have necessary information such as the road map, intro and endings, dynamics, and sections that are open for solos. Use the chart AND your ears and you will get a good result.

Something you did not mention:
Listening to Big Band Music and Big Band Drummers - Priceless!!!
Listen to as much big band music as you can. There is as big a difference between Sonny Payne and Mel Lewis as there is between Neil Peart and Dave Weckl.

Here are some to start with.

  • Louis Bellson - As bandleader and with Duke Ellington
  • Irv Cottler - with Frank Sinatra
  • Peter Erskine - with Stan Kenton, Bob Mintzer, and Patrick Williams
  • Sonny Greer - with Duke Ellington
  • Jeff Hamilton - with Woody Herman the Clayton Hamilton Big Band
  • Jake Hanna - with Woody Herman
  • Jo Jones - with Count Basie
  • Gene Krupa - as a bandleader and with Benny Goodman
  • Buddy Rich - as band leader and with Tommy Dorsey
  • Don Lamond - with Woody Herman and Quincy Jones
  • Stan Levy - with Stan Kenton
  • Mel Lewis - with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra
  • Ray McKinley - with Glenn Miller
  • Mo Purtill - with Glenn Miller
  • Butch Miles - with Count Basie
  • Sonny Payne - with Count Basie
  • John Riley - with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and Bob Mintzer
  • Ed Soph - with Woody Herman
  • Chick Webb - as bandleader
  • Sam Woodyard - with Duke Ellington
  • Steve Fidyk - with the Taylor/Fidyk Big Band and the Army Blues Jazz Ensemble

There are some great books on the subject by Steve Houghton (Studio and Big Band Drumming) and Steve Fidyk (Inside the Big band Drum Chart Book/CD/DVD). Morgan's Jazz Drummer's Reading Workbook is very good as is Ed Soph's Big Band Primer. Steve Houghton's Drummer's Guide to Reading Drum Charts (VHS) is very good too.

Seek out a teacher who is fluent in big band drumming to guide you though your progress.

Jeff
 

Class A Drummer

Pioneer Member
The kicks on a chart are just guidelines. There are certain songs where they are key to hit them, and some where its not so necessary. Hitting them generally isn't the problem with most drummers, its not hitting them which is the real problem lol.

Many times, though, if you just try to feel it, and not read the chart, you can be missing some pretty big hits and not even realize it. One of my recent videos that i put up he on drummerworld, my jazz band played the song 'bugle n boogie.' In this chart, there are a million kicks, and my conductor told me to play every single one. I did this, but i was never really able to hear the hits i was playing along w/ the band, but then when i watched the video, i realized that i was right in sync w/ the rest of the band.

But really, its all about how you or your conductor wants it to feel.
 

jeffwj

Platinum Member
Many times, though, if you just try to feel it, and not read the chart, you can be missing some pretty big hits and not even realize it.
Exactly

The kicks on a chart are just guidelines. There are certain songs where they are key to hit them, and some where its not so necessary. Hitting them generally isn't the problem with most drummers, its not hitting them which is the real problem lol.
John Riley once said that when he was in school, he tried to prove that he was a great sight reader by playing every hit on the page. As he matured as a musician, he was able to decipher which ones were important and which ones to let pass by.

Jeff
 

groovemaster_flex

Silver Member
Nothing more can really be said at this point. All you can do right now is just play. You'll only learn which hits to hit and which ones not to by playing. Don't ignore the chart.

I also find it helps to highlight which hits you feel are most important, so you don't miss them when performing.
 

jeffwj

Platinum Member
I also find it helps to highlight which hits you feel are most important, so you don't miss them when performing.
Make sure that you highlight it by it marking with a pencil. Using highlighters on a part that's not a photocopy will probably mean you will need to reimburse the school for ruining the part. And charts are not cheap.

Jeff
 

jake_larson

Senior Member
well everyone, thanks for the tips, I have started using the chart some more and I think it helps we shall see and I forgot to mention some of the big bands i have been listening to,
anything by Illinois Jacquet-we are doing a concert for his widow on the 10th of october
anything by Buddy Rich
a greatest hits???? for count basie big band
some random duke ellington
and some mix cds from my friends
This list will grow over time
 
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