Big band percussion advice needed


Senior Member
Hello all! I'm currently playing percussion in the conservatory's big band and I'm wondering what to do on swing tunes?
My rig consists of congas, timbales, some cowbells, two cymbals and some shakers and noisemakers (swishy swooshy
and rattling effects). The latin and more modern tunes with straight feel I've pretty much got an idea what to do. But what
to do on medium to up tempo swing tunes?
Any idea on stuff I could play when melodic percussion is out of the question?
(space problem at the gig site) Congas and timbales just sound kind of odd/strange. Maybe just not play? Any thoughts,
advice or help is greatly appreciated :)

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
When I did it I definitely laid back a bit more than usual. But you can play a swinging conga pattern. Listen to some big bands that have conga players and you'll find some great examples. The Jaco Pastorius big band album "Invitation" had a conga player - that's the first example that comes to mind.

But usually, when there's a drummer playing alot of metal sounds (cymbals, snares), as the percussionist I'm playing the opposite, so no cowbells or timbals, unless it's specifically written into the chart. So I played alot of bongo and conga just because it didn't step on the drummer.


Platinum Member
I would probably lay out. But listen to big band records (60's and after) and see how other people handle it. Some Gil Evans, too.


Senior Member
Thanks a lot! I'll be sure to snoop around some more on different big bands with percussionists. Thanks for dropping some names, I appreciate that. It really helps getting the search started :)


Gold Member
Because you have an instrument in front of you , you don't have to play it all the time.
Couple of things here and there , hits with the horns , things of that nature.


Senior Member
I play percussion as well as a drum kit and even though they are interrelated it requires two different skill sets and two different sensibilities about what to contribute to a song. IMO, when playing percussion "less is more". Not only do you have to be conscious of not stepping on what the drummer is doing, the percussion instrument(s) you choose for a particular song and where in the song and how much they are played is crucial. Some songs only require a small amount in the intro, maybe during a chorus, maybe during a bridge and at the outro to mirror what you did at the intro. Even when I do play something it may only be one or two notes in a bar or phrase. The less you play the more powerful what you do play becomes.

Often, I will not play anything if the song does not require it. Like drum4fun27302 said, just because you have a percussion instrument in front of you it doesn't mean you have to or should play it.