Jazz Big Band Audition Tips

douglaschoi_

Junior Member
Hey guys,

I've got an audition for a jazz big band coming up - I'm really stoked to play as I've always dreamed of being in one, especially after I saw Jojo Mayer pay tribute to Buddy Rich live, but I've not much experience playing in a big band specifically.

I've played in a fair amount of orchestras for musicals so I can read pretty decently, and I can swing confidently. However playing a big band is going to be a new thing for me, so any tips would be great. Stuff like setting up hits, which hits to follow and to not, general dynamic level, what styles to prepare and such.

Also was wondering, is it normal to wear the usual audition clothes (dress slacks, shirt and tie) to these auditions as well?

Feel free to point me in the direction of books or any resource that might help! I've already got 'Sittin' In With The Big Band Vol. 2' which has been absolutely brilliant - if there's anything else like it that would be awesome.

Cheers guys,
Douglas
 

Winston_Wolf

Platinum Member
The best advice I have is to listen to as much big band music as you can. Hearing it done well goes a long way toward getting the feel of what a big band drummer needs to do.

Since there is a fairly wide variety in the big band genre I'd try to figure out where this particular band pulls it's tunes from (from previous concert programs/videos/whatever you can find) and try to focus on those kinds of tunes/composers.

Dynamics in a big band are important because even when playing softly you still have to be confident and steady in timekeeping. In both fills and solos I'd recommend staying tasteful and melodic. To quote a bandleader I played with "the chart says 'fill' not 'fill it up'." Showing up in a shirt and tie isn't a bad idea. If you get there and seem really overdressed just loosen or take off the tie.

I like the book Jazz Drummer's Workbook by Tom Morgan. It has some good play-along tunes in a pretty wide variety and the exercises will help you focus on kicks and fills and choosing the right sounds.
 

douglaschoi_

Junior Member
Since there is a fairly wide variety in the big band genre I'd try to figure out where this particular band pulls it's tunes from (from previous concert programs/videos/whatever you can find) and try to focus on those kinds of tunes/composers.
The first composer we're going to look at is Duke Ellington - anything you can recommend that showcases him and his big band at his finest?

Dynamics in a big band are important because even when playing softly you still have to be confident and steady in timekeeping.
Is it correct to assume that the ride/hi-hat/ostinato and the stepped hi-hat should always (most of the time) be the strongest part of the kit, and should it sit behind the brass or be around the same level with it?
 
M

Matt Bo Eder

Guest
You really need to be listening to good big band jazz music. Since you mentioned Duke Ellington, I'd say get a few of his CDs, get a few Count Basie CD's, and another good one is the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Orchestra - I highly recommend these as opposed to others because it's just good, swinging music that doesn't get too progressive. Big bands existed in the beginning for the dancers, so like any other kind of music, it just has to feel really good, then you'll be doing it right. But to make it feel good, you must hear what it means to feel good, hence why I recommend those artists first.

You can totally get lost in the forest of big band jazz and listen to the wrong big band jazz too, so I say, if you listen to it, and your foot's tappin', then you're listening to the right stuff.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
Be ready to play your basic styles-- slow/med/fast swing, med swing two feel, samba, bossa nova, "generic" Latin, ballad/med swing with brushes, jazz waltz, med funk. If there's time, you could get Steve Houghton's Studio and Big Band Drumming book-- otherwise just work with what you've got. With your reading, just make sure you're strong with the basics-- playing time, making stops, playing basic figures with basic, one or two note set ups. It would help if you knew what sort of music the group is playing-- if it's all traditional stuff, or what. I would dress nice, but no tie.
 

tcspears

Gold Member
The first composer we're going to look at is Duke Ellington - anything you can recommend that showcases him and his big band at his finest?
I built most of my career playing Ellington material, many times with the guys that played in his band (the ones that are still around anyways).

For real big band Ellington arrangements, check out Sam Woodyard. He was Ellington's drummer from the 1955 until the late 60s. He had started out an R&B drummer, so he had a shuffle in much of his playing. Although Sonny Greer was the early drummer, I think much of the definitive Ellington sound was Woodyard.
 

Jeremy Bender

Platinum Member
Yes, listen to as much big band as possible. Everything from the 30's through the later part of the 20th century. Chick Webb, Benny Goodman,
Glenn Miller, Bunny Berrigan, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, The Dorsey Bros. Sinatra's catalog alone is a treaure trove. Latin bands that Tito Puente led were great also.

Keep it simple, swinging, and support the band while driving it. Lock into the bass player and have eye contact with the lead trumpet player is very helpful. Remember that most chart's are road-maps for you to follow that will need your musical interpretation. Sometimes it may just be a lead trumpet part or a piano part that you'll be given.

Watch as many YouTube videos of different band that you can handle. When people say "Big-Band", they have to remember that there was a huge difference in styles between the different groups. As much as there is a difference in "Rock" band playing (think Fleetwood Mac compared to Rush).

Search for the DVD, taught by a late Master of the subject... http://www.drummerworld.com/Videos/edshaughnessygoodandbad.html
 
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brentcn

Platinum Member

douglaschoi_

Junior Member
Whoa cheers for all the advice!

Here's another thing;

Working through 'Sittin' in with the Big Band', the hits that the brass section makes are notated - however I have no idea which ones I'm supposed to put strong emphasis on (crash), or which ones I'm supposed to note with the snare, or which ones I should completely ignore!

Right now I'm trying to set each hit up and crash them but listening to the demo versions of each song I can clearly tell that I'm overplaying. However I can't figure out how to make a decision on what to do and how to voice them.

Say I was given a chart to sight read and play with the band first go, how can I tell what I'm supposed to do for hits?

Thanks guys.
 

douglaschoi_

Junior Member
Be ready to play your basic styles-- slow/med/fast swing, med swing two feel, samba, bossa nova, "generic" Latin, ballad/med swing with brushes, jazz waltz, med funk.
Could you give an example as to what "generic" latin is? I can play a samba, bossa and some afro cuban stuff, but what's the middle ground between all of these?

Also, for medium funk, is it James Brown sort of funk? Or is there a jazz variation of funk? (I'm thinking of the intro of 'Mercy Mercy Mercy' with Buddy Rich).
 
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brentcn

Platinum Member
Whoa cheers for all the advice!

Here's another thing;

Working through 'Sittin' in with the Big Band', the hits that the brass section makes are notated - however I have no idea which ones I'm supposed to put strong emphasis on (crash), or which ones I'm supposed to note with the snare, or which ones I should completely ignore!

Right now I'm trying to set each hit up and crash them but listening to the demo versions of each song I can clearly tell that I'm overplaying. However I can't figure out how to make a decision on what to do and how to voice them.

Say I was given a chart to sight read and play with the band first go, how can I tell what I'm supposed to do for hits?

Thanks guys.
This is laid out in "Studio and Big Band Drumming" (Steve Houghton), which also has some charts and recordings to work through. Essentially there are long (legato) sounds and short (staccato) sounds. The plainest and most logical approach is to use crashes (with accompanying bass or snare hits) or toms for long sounds, and snare or bass drum hits for short sounds. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, so you need to have some knowledge of the big-band style in order to tell if what you've played "worked" or not.

Don't sweat it too much right now. Longer ensemble figures (i.e. the "hits" to play with the band) can usually be approached on the snare drum while the ride plays time. But pay attention to the last note of the ensemble figure -- if it's long, then crash with bass drum. Above all, keep your place in the chart, and be aware of your dynamics. If you're doing this, and you manage to grab some "hits" as well, they'd be silly to not have you back, knowing that you're new to the style, and will improve over time.

Watch the Steve Houghton videos that Jeremy Bender posted. Pay close attention to how the role of the bass changes what groove you should play. Also, look up a "2-feel" -- chances are good you'll see it on a chart, or that the band leader will ask for it on a certain section (likely the beginning). The Sinatra version of "The Way You Look Tonight" is played this way.
 

douglaschoi_

Junior Member
I watched the Steve Houghton video - it's nice that he showed the difference between the swing and shuffle real clearly, and he related our role to everybody else's in the rhythm section.

Is it correct to assume that I should stick to the bass player as close as possible?

Also a whole bunch of you suggested that Steve Houghton book so I'll probably check it out :)
 
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