First Day at Jazz Band

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Platinum Member
In a jazz big band, it's not so much counting "1,2,3,4"as it is keeping track of measures and form. If I am playing a chart that I know is a 12 bar blues, I will keep track of the 4 bar phrases. If they are not easy to see in the chart, I will pencil a "4" on top of the 4th measure an "8" on top of the 8th measure etc... Remember that most of the big hits will most likely come at the end of the phrases.

I don't think that New Breed will help you in jazz band. I think you need to work on form and playing/setting up hits. Try these books

Jazz Drummer's Reading Workbook by Tom Morgan

Inside the Big Band Drum Chart by Steve Fidyk

Studio and Big Band Drumming by Steve Houghton

Steve Houghton's Drummer's Guide to Reading Drum Charts (VHS) is very good too.

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

Seek out a teacher who is fluent in big band drumming to guide you though your progress. You should study with someone who has an insight into chart reading.

Don't get down on yourself. The drummer in a big band has a difficult job. Feel free to PM or call if you get really confused.

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Michael McDanial

Senior Member
Yeah, listen to as much big band music as you can. It really helped me out when I started playing. When you really listen to those recordings, you just "get it" after a while, I guess you could say. Check your PM box.


Senior Member
Don't be too hard on yourself. Big band drumming is hard! It's hard to replicate playing with a big band in the practice room, as you now know. For now, just focus on keeping good time and keeping your place, the rest will follow. Position your music stand so that you can see your director with your peripheral vision. When you do starting playing the figures, don't try to play them all, just play the most important ones. Which are the important ones? You learn this by listening to the classic bands. (basie was my personal favorite, btw.) Now get to work!


Platinum Member
sight reading a chart is HARD! especially if you don't do it all the time (like me). if it helps at all, most music is arranged in phrases that are multiples of 4. look for 4 bar, 8 bar, and 16 bar phrases. after a while it's possible to kind of develop a feel for how long one of these phrases is without actually counting out every note in every measure. developing that feel is a good thing to strive for.

Old Doc Yak

Senior Member
Add also Ray McKinley with the Will Bradley Orch. Really solid boogie-woogie. "Beat me daddy, eight to the bar" Ray does some great work on the tune "Lonesome Road". Good luck.


Senior Member
if you're used to sight reading, chart reading is a bit different because it requires that you know your place in the music, support what the other players are doing, and sort of leave your own mark. this basically means improvise off some of the rhtyhms given based on your feel and the feel of the other players. if you're having trouble counting, for now simply practice the chart in raw, basic form with a metronome. once you get better at playing the chart in raw form in time, then simply add on the extra stuff. i hope this helps


Junior Member
See if the director has an mp3 of the arrangement you are playing. Learn it that way so you'll be ok in rehearsals. Study your drum chart and listen, and see if you can make sense of the figures. Then put it together. (And do what everyone else said!)