How A Jazz Quartet Sets Up

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by bass81800, Jul 6, 2013.

  1. I had a jazz gig last night that started in frustration, but made the best of it. It was an outdoors gig on a stage, and it was decided by the group that I should set up to the left of the drum set, with the guitarist on the other side of the drums
    and the drummer was going, oh yeah, you need to be by the hit hat.

    I tried to explain, and maybe I am off base here, that it is best of have the bass between the drummer and guitar, and, ideally, the bass is closest to the ride cymbal. That way, bass can hear guitar better, there is better visual communication, and nice communication between ride cymbal and bass. I left it at that, as I did not want to press this too much. There was also a vocalist who just deferred to this arrangement. This was not a cramped situation where any compromises had to be made.

    Last week, we agreed on, after a discussion with the guitarist.

    Guitar - Bass - Drums ,
    vocalist in front

    This week:

    Guitar - Drums - Bass
    vocalist in front

    I suspect the guitarists are more used to doing solo or duo gigs. Band set up is important to me, but, obviously there are other ideas about this. Am I missing something here?
  2. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    NE ND
    It has been my experience that - with a rare exception - drummers just like to be in the middle of the stage. One exception in the jazz world is the Yellowjackets.


    Piano Drums



    Drums and piano face in. I try to get my groups to do this but don't have much luck.
  3. oren

    oren Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2007
    Salem, OR
    I prefer to be between a fixed intonation instrument (guitar or piano) and the drums. That way I have an intonation reference point as well as good communication with the drummer. But drummers do usually like to be in the middle so they can easily hear everything.
  4. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Bassist in the middle is the new way, esp for jazz. I try to have that setup and first heard about doing it that way from John Clayton. It's not so much about being next to the ride as it is being between the drummer and the comper. Same setup goes for piano.

    The bassist is the guy that brings the rhythm together with the harmony, so it only makes sense he's in the middle. You're the time-keeper, not the drummer. If the drummer can't hear the pianist when sitting out on the side, he needs to come down in volume.
  5. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Given my choice, I set up next to the drummer in the direction s/he is usually looking. In my experience most drummers spend most of their time looking from center to hi-hat, and less time looking from center to ride, so I try to set up on the hi-hat side.

  6. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    I always prefered the hi-hat side, especially for jazz. A good drummer has the hi-hat locked on 2&4, according to the swing of the groove.
  7. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Drums in the middle is so RAWK!!!

    IME Bass in the middle is pretty standard.
  8. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard Commercial User

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    Black Dog Bass Works
  9. Ya gotta love when the drummer assumes it's the norm to set up in the corner. I say get there early and claim the corner for the bass. Let everyone else set up around you; where ever they want to be in relation to you. Bass in the middle is good, but maybe not always practical depending on the space.

    I don't think which side of the drums matters. But being on his left, makes communication easier. I'll look over my shoulder to make eye contact or to communicate verbally. If I'm on his right, his back is kinda towards me and my bass is in the way too.

    No matter what the set-up, 90% of the time there is some problem or difficulty. Nothing is ever ideal. Be flexible and adapt.
  10. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    IMO, it shouldn't matter what side of the drums you're standing on - you should be listening for the ride cymbal regardless of where you are on stage. If you can't hear the ride, everybody's playing way too loud or your internal pulse is weak if you fall out of time.
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    For 10 -15 years I've been going along (as an audience member) to Brighton Jazz club every Friday and seeing some of the best UK (and occasionally US) Jazz players.

    But every week - the way it's set up is exactly the same. So - facing the stage the piano is on the left, sideways (player looking into the middle) , bass in the middle at the back - with drums to the right, again looking towards the middle. Horns are in the middle at the front. (on the odd occasion when there was one, guitarists usually set up just in front of the drums)

    It's always sounded great and the band always look as if they are communicating and looking at each other. As an audience member - those moments when players look at each other and smile at what just happened, are the best! :p
  12. Thanks for all the great responses, guys! Especially like the comment I quoted. I am thinking there are strong reasons to set up near the hi hat, and will keep that in mind. Learned something new.

    And, yes, I play with a drummer who has this drummer always in the corner idea and was never successful in changing that, but at least I got the pianist on the other side of me now.

    This really, more or less, confirms that there is a protocol for set up, and I will continue to express my set up preferences at gigs. Nothing is perfect, but can keep trying to make some adjustments.
  13. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I prefer standing new to the ride cymbal. I get a better lock with the drummer. Listening to the hi-hat works til they stop hitting it on 2 and 4. Better to just develop your internal pulse so you don't need that crutch (I'm still working on it).
  14. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    For me I don't consciously listen to any one thing. Everyone contributes to time and groove so I like to really try to step outside of myself and try to hear the band as a whole.

    Truthfully I don't care how the band is set up. I think my 'listening to the band as a whole' thing frees me up to not be tied to one thing. As long as I can hear everything I'm cool. It just seems in most jazz settings I've been in the bass in in the middle flanked by piano and drums with the horns or singer in front.
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Yes - that's what I was saying. It does seem to be very much the accepted thing everywhere - I have seen gigs with visiting musicians from Europe and the US - always the same.
  16. Nothing is faster than the speed of light. You could set up so you're able to see the drummer's stick hit the cymbal and you'll be totally locked in. Keep one eye on your tuner and the other eye on the drummer's stick hitting the ride cymbal. You'll be totally in tune and in sync at light speed.:bassist::hyper::eyebrow::eek::p;)
  17. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Better yet you could try a Vulcan mind meld.
  18. notabene


    Sep 20, 2010
    SF Bay area
    I've always assumed the concave shape of a grand piano was to allow us to nestle in and have a reflective surface surface behind us. Is it not so?

  19. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Don't forget that I have 4 eyes. The other two are to keep the eye on the horn player and then the other eyes for the hot chick in the 3rd row. :bassist:
  20. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    More often the top of the upright piano is a good place to rest your right hand and store any stray lead sheets! ;)