Joined a Big-Band for the first time. What do I need to know?

Mighty_Joker

Silver Member
Hi all,

I've just been drafted into a local big band that has been put together. I must admit I've never played in one before, and I'm not so sure what to expect. The band leader told me that if I can read music (which I can) I should be fine. Does this mean I will be given the songs in notation form to learn?

I've been brushing up on my swing and jazz comping technique, is this the right sort of idea? I don't really know what to expect, and my first rehearsal with them is next week.

Any advice would be great from those of you who are experienced in this area.

Thanks,

Jonathan
 

yesdog

Silver Member
I am in the same situation. I have had four rehersals already. I have never played big band jazz before. Some things I have learned so far.
1. Bring a pencil so you can mark key spots on the chart so you don't get lost
2. Most of the notation on the drum chart is the rythym the band is playing
3. Try to listen to the recordings of the tunes you are plating
4. DON'T STEP ON THE HORNS KICKS!! they don't like that
 

double_G

Silver Member
i would do a lot of BB sight reading when you shed. get Tommy Igoe's GE 2.0/1.0, Steve Houghton's books (anthology, studio/ big band) & then search the internet for big band charts to match up w/ youtube or grooveshark tunes. check out Tommy Igoes approach w/ the Birdland Big band in NYC...sick, sick playing. also check out M. Buble's tunes. insane players & some of the best arranging i have ever heard. Vinnie, Jeff Hamilton & Rob Perkins (!!!) make it look/sound easy.

if you are new to big band, get yourself prepped for a few demanding styles & genres: things like fast swing (Wind Machine comes to mind), fast sambas, latin styles, Basie styles (Basie Straight Ahead), Buddy Rich intensity & chops (Love for Sale, Ya Gotta Try, etc.) and ballads - these are super important & very, very challenging for me to do these authentically. the rock-solid-good-pocket-feel, hi-hat chick/splash, brush work & cymbal sounds / work is an art form in itself.

the other thing is a good rhythm section. these guys will be your best friend as the 12 horns push & pull the tempos in crazy ways during certain tunes / runs. you will find yourself having to "stick to your guns" w/ tempo on some tunes. particular old-school SWING tunes like "Little Darlin'", "Nice n' Easy, "In the Mood" & "Moonlight Serenade", etc. are the toughest for me as the time feel is super-laid back but *cannot* drag.

i would also record every rehearsal & gig for awhile...you will make amazing progress & have a record of what is going on with stuff you need to change up and fix. it's hard to decipher what is going on sometimes (why does "2" time / feel suck?) when you are in the moment & sight-reading your butt off. recording are also nice to have confidence-wise when a player tells you you are rushing & then you listen to the recording later & find he is dragging all the syncopated figures & can't keep up.

anyhow, with all these challenges...big band is some of the most exciting, richest music you will every play !! when it is ON, it's like you are driving a huge, horn-powered train. i feel very lucky to be able to play big band & jazz for 90% of my gigs around town. took me a while to start getting the gigs (despite the fact that my degree was studio/jazz). the added side bonus is, with most towns...once you are in 1 big band, you are automatically in 4 more as your name gets around the horn players that sub all over & will drop your name to sub as well.
 

oops

Silver Member
Agreed with what these 2 guys are saying... Definitely bring a pencil and a good strong music stand (if none are provided). Nothing worse than a pile of charts falling on the floor, and you looking silly for the rest of the tune.

The most important thing is time, horn players all feel it differently and it's you and the bass players job to try and keep them all in line. (the funniest thing is when there's a sax soli section and you can hear them speeding up over 12 bars... when the band comes back in I can guarantee they'll turn and give you a funny look as if it's your fault). As much as it's everyone's responsibility to own the time, you'll get a lot of crap for everyone else's mistakes.

There's an art to setting up big band accents, there's a couple books out there that'll help, but I'd really suggest you just go out and have fun to start with. Try and play the accents with the band, but whatever you do, keep the time going, and make sure you spell out the one until the band gets comfortable with you.

If you haven't listened to much big band stuff, I'd check out Gordon Goodwin's Phat Band... They swing their butts off and chances are most big bands you'll be in will eventually play one of their charts.

Most importantly: COUNT. You don't want to be doing a fill a bar after the band has hit the ending, and the way big band charts are written, it's pretty easy to tell when someone is lost.
 

jeffwj

Platinum Member
The band leader told me that if I can read music (which I can) I should be fine. Does this mean I will be given the songs in notation form to learn?
Not really - the chart will not be a drum transcription with the notes all written out. It will be a lot of time playing (notated by slashes or repeats) and hits written in.

A big thing in big band drumming is interpreting the charts. There is a big difference between being able to read music and being able to interpret and set up figures.

Most of the time (but not always) the section figures will be written above the staff. You can catch some of those on the snare drum or bass drum while continuing the ride pattern.

The ensemble figures will usually be written in the staff. These figures are played by the entire ensemble. You will want to set up and play these figures. Use basic set ups at first. The band will not be impressed by flashy set ups if they cannot feel the time properly.

Before playing, scan the chart for the roadmap. Take not of any repeats, D.C., D.S., Coda signs and and 1st or second endings. It is very common for solo choruses to be "open until cued" meaning you will repeat the section until the leader cues the next section.

You may Here are some other examples of charts (first pages only), mainly in the big band style. The first few are cheat sheets. The real charts start halfway down the page. I also have a link to Nutville being played on youtube, so you can see how it is interpreted.

http://www.mikejamesjazz.com/writing_drums_02_shorthand.html

Nutville
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_OnlISL-9w&feature=PlayList&p=50E2A3300DA55C34&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=31

You can also refer to this post for more information.

Jeff
 
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double_G

Silver Member
Thanks for those links, Jeff ! did not know S. Fidyk had an instructional BB book. love his playing / style !
 

dxdrummer

Member
is this like a high school big band or an actual big band?

a problem I had in my high school was that my band leader didn't really push the band at all, which made us develop bad habits.

For example, all the drummers played:
1 2 a3 4 a1 2 a3 4 a1....
etc etc etc

without putting any feeling into it, making it sound super mechanical. Just know that your job is to:
1) keep time
2) play musically
3) complement the band, don't play like a lead instrument
 

cathartic_j

Senior Member
Some very good advice here. A few things I would add:

-Although the vast majority of drum parts aren't entirely written out (as others have stated), you may come across some charts that are. (This is probably more likely if the band is playing simpler arrangements.) If you do, read it as you would the less-specific parts: as a road map, not as a note-for-note part. You should use the chart to help you with the structure and feel of the song, and for significant kicks.

-Spend some quality time with the fellow members of the rhythm section. If you have the time, getting together once a week outside of the regular band rehearsal can make a big difference. You don't even need to spend it working on the big band's tunes; even just playing some standards can get you a very good feel for their tendencies.

-I'll second the suggestion to listen to Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band, and add the recommendation of Bob Curnow's LA Big Band; they have an excellent album of Pat Matheny and Lyle Mays covers.

is this like a high school big band or an actual big band?

a problem I had in my high school was that my band leader didn't really push the band at all, which made us develop bad habits.

For example, all the drummers played:
1 2 a3 4 a1 2 a3 4 a1....
etc etc etc

without putting any feeling into it, making it sound super mechanical. Just know that your job is to:
1) keep time
2) play musically
3) complement the band, don't play like a lead instrument
"High school big band" and "actual big band" aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. And although a good director will push everyone in the band, it shouldn't be a requirement for learning how to play swing patterns on the ride with good feel.

Finally, I would add, "4. Hit the kicks!"
 

ddocimo

Junior Member
you gotta learn to hold back. you're sharing the stage with a lot of people, and you have to understand that it is no longer all about the drums
 

drummer girl09

Senior Member
I didn't read all the replies, but one thing I do know is make sure you have extra equipment for last minute screw ups when you go live. It helps you to not be embarrassed lol.
 

Rascul

Senior Member
Apart from all the sensible things that have been said about notation, two things on bigband drumming:

1. DYNAMICS IS EVERYTHING

That includes soft swing as well as kicking the lead trumpet player's ass when necessary. Bigbands exist by the virtue of distributing power and emphasis.

2. Make sure you and the bass player agree on the pulse, whether to push a piece forward or to hold back. If you two agree, you can miss all the kicks, screw up fills, and still swing - and that's the main thing, swing.
 
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