Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Bijoux, Mar 10, 2002.

  1. Bijoux


    Aug 13, 2001
    Would anybody like to share their experiences with Big band performances, I haven't had a lot of experience with big bands, and i just got some gigs that are a lot of fun and also very challenging, I would appreciate any comments related with sightreading the music, sound, amplification, etc. Thank you.
  2. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Big band bass parts are never written by bassists. Consequently, you are all-but-assured that the arranger did not write what he or she really wants -- a part that will kick the band in the backside. Here's some hints on cracking the code:

    a) If the part is just chords, there are dozens of horn "hits" you could play to really drive the band, and they are not in the part.

    b) If the part is a written-out quarter-note line, there's a 95% chance that bundles of "hits" are not on the chart. Plus, there's about a 98% chance the walking lines themselves are weak. Try to hear where the changes are going, and what you can do to play a more swinging line without getting in the way of the band parts.

    c) Get your ears up and your head out of the stand. Listen hard to the baritone sax and bass trombone parts. If you hear the whole brass section playing a hit, don't hesitate to join them.

    So, to do this successfully, you will find yourself reading, thinking ahead, listening hard, just letting it effortlessly flow out -- all at the same time. It's much fun.
  3. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    If you get lost, this is a good time to make some minute adjustment to your amplifier.


    Keep your ears open and your eyes on the page. For the most part you can usually just play the changes and play the accidentals and rhythmic figures when you see them. Make sure that what you're playing fits what is going on. At times the harmony going on above you would be clouded or weakened by a lot of chromatic things going on below. At times you need to put a big, low bottom on things, and other times it's better to move up the neck a bit (just a bit) and let the horns be a littler bigger. In general, lay low if you don't know the chart. Learn your fingering in heavily flat keys (Ab, Db), etc. The bass part is generally a bit of an after-though to arrangers. Sometimes it should be this way, other times you can do some (tasteful) enhancing. Make sure that you get to the gig early so that you can get a band-coat that is a bit oversized. Nothing more miserable than a long dance set with a snug jacket...

    I'll agree with Samuel to a point on playing the hits, but matching the hits isn't always what is called for. Sometimes the hit needs 'set up'. By this I mean, that if the entire band (including the concussionist) plays the hit, there is no one putting a bottom on the band, so let your ears rule your behaviour...
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I used to play a lot of big band stuff on piano, but only do it once in a great while on bass. While I feel that most of the advice given so far is dead on, I would add that sticking to the page is usually a good idea because of what RAYOFLIGHT notes about "setting up the hits". As far as interpretation, I played a BB gig a few weeks ago which had 90% note for note lines charted out with no changes, and many of the lines were quite I found myself trying to interpret the lines - what chord are they really after here, and what would be a more musical line to play, etc. It was an interesting experience, and kept me completely on my toes, which was good.

    I have to say that playing BB is a lot more fun on bass than it was on piano: If the piano player were to stop playing on a Big Band gig, there's a good chance that no-one would even notice since you can't hear a piano over all of that noise anyway. However, if the bass player were to stop, different story. My only other advice when playing in such a band is that you better get used to sharing a pair of drawers with the drummer - in order to make the band really sound good, you guys are gonna have to be that tight as a unit.

    N.B. - Gruffpuppy and others:
    Don't take that last image any further than it needs to go - I was just trying to make a point.
  5. although I've had a couple of singers that I would of liked to jump in their shorts...:)

    I'm having fun with the BB I play with. Its a comedy every time we get together - watching a bunch of old dudes trying to set up a PA.
    We have over 300 charts. Some good, some bad. I will agree that many of the written lines just beg you to make them swing a little harder.
    Im always included in the "to solo" list. Thats pretty fun - only wish the group would comp behind me instead of putting horns down and watching. :rolleyes:

    As far as site reading - you dont get much time (only a few seconds). Make sure you locate the dc, ds and repeats before you start. Those little penciled in dots are hard to see and will lose you pretty quick.

    I started out without an amp. I bring one now. The extra volume really fills the sound and brings the band together.

  6. This is precisely how I learned how to put together walking bass lines when I was in high school.

    For a while, there was a pocket of some really good big bands playing around my area. This was due largely to the jazz director at the local university, who had directed and played lead alto in the One O'Clock Band at North Texas c. 1967-70. His book had a ton of great, challenging original charts written at NT. Outside the university, there were three or four rehearsal bands going on during the week.

    I was lucky enough to cut my teeth in some of these bands. Great vehicles for learning to lock with the drummer and developing listening skills.
  7. robw


    May 14, 2001
    Long Beach, CA
    I've been playing Big Band as my main DB gig for a little more than a year, and its a lot of fun. The band has about 2,000 charts; some original big band arrangements and arrangements especially for the band by Stan Kenton and other great arrangers; the library is huge because the band is a non-profit organization and gigging band that has been around for 50 years.

    I agree with everything written here so far, and it speaks to where I'd like to be someday. Right now I'm just getting past having my eyes glued to the charts all the time, and am beginning to consciously lock in with the drums, and listen to the other parts more.

    Its always challenging and interesting. On one of my first gigs with the band, I played an entire song on the wrong chart. I didn't even notice until we finished, and the rest of the band pulled up the chart I had just played! - tells you how good my ear is (or was, hopefully). Last week, we played a gig for a dance club in Pasadena and the singer left before the last set, feeling ill. The band leader/lead tenor skipped over one of the vocal charts, but forgot to tell the rest of the band (just the sax section). So, the saxes are playing a latin medley and the rest of the band is on "Orange Colored Sky." It was an interesting sound, but we happened to find the right chart, and finish the song without stopping. This time, at least, I knew I was on the wrong chart, and even found my place within the first 16 bars.

    The big band for me has been the best learning experience of my musical life of 20+ years. I think its provided the steepest learning curve.

    A msg. for BEE-JUICE: (I'm just trying to fit in)

    The only advice I have on site-reading is to work at it regularly. I have some copies of our bass charts that can be played along with recorded versions of Glenn Miller Orchestra, Tommy Dorsey, and others. If you don't have any big band charts to practice with, I could send you copies of a few songs. I'm offering this, because I looked all over for books on big band bass parts, or sheet music, and they only sell entire arrangements, so until I joined the big band I never had seen an arrangement. The other benefit would be to get familiar with some of the hand-written charts you're likely see.

    For amplification, I get along fine with a small combo - 140W, and I like the portability. Plus, I'm usually crammed into a fairly tight spot on the stage with my amp close by.

    I just realized I do have a piece of advice for you. Someone mentioned the need for locking in tight with the drummer, and I totally agree. To help that, I try to stay next to the drummer, to his left, near the high hat. This way I can see and hear him nicely, and he can see my right hand as well as hear me. It helps. It also wasn't my idea, but a bandmate heard the advice at a Jeff/John Clayton seminar a while back.

    Sorry for the novel. I love big band!
  8. I think you will really get comfortable as you play more with the band. You will know where the hits are and accent them appropriately.
    2 practical pieces of advice are:
    1. Get an extra wide music stand like a conductors stand. There is no mercy when it comes to having to flip pages when both hands should be on your bass.

    2. Try to raise the next chart in the book when pulling one so you can put the pulled chart back quickly and in the right place. Mixed up folders make big band playing a very frustrating experience.

    Other than that swing as hard as possible. This is no place to be fancy. And as a rhythm section player, be prepared to catch flack for time when the horn players are dragging.

  9. cabooke


    Jan 26, 2002
    Orange County, CA
    Hi Bijoux. In my breif musical career, the most important thing I can tell you about playing in a Big Band is to play the part as "Meat and Potato's" as you can. There is so much going on with 15 to 18 other musicians playing, you are going to be the foundation of what is going on. For a swing tune just lay down a good four on the floor, not getting to wild with the chord substitutions, and swing it like a mother. I have found, from many of L.A.'s Jazz players, that playing to many notes makes them really cranky.

    :D :D
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