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The Big Band Music Style History And Development Drummers Guide

The Big Band style developed in the 1920s with Fletcher Henderson being the first band leader to attain widespread fame. Also important was band leader and drummer Chick Webb, who brought the drum set into the spotlight and inspired countless Big Band drummers throughout the 20th century. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Big Band genre dominated popular music in recordings, radio, and live settings. Prominent band leaders of this era included Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman, with prominent drummers including Louie Bellson, Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, and, later, Ed Shaughnessy of the Tonight Show Band. Big Band drummers developed powerful and fast technique, which they sometimes displayed through lengthy and frequent solos, the prime example of this being Buddy Rich, who performed this style of music for over five decades.

By 1950, the popularity of Big Band music began to diminish. Though never regaining the prominence it enjoyed in the 1930s and World War 11 years, it continued to have a strong audience through the 1970s and the 1980s, with the Louie Bellson Big Band Explosion, Buddy Rich Big Band, Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman and the Tonight Show Band directed by Doc Severinson being its most prominent performers. Big Band had a resurgence of popularity in the mid 1990s through the Jump and Swing revival, most notably in the music of the Brian Setzer Orchestra. The drummer's role changed with the advent of the Big Band style. Keeping good time became an even more important element, as a Big Band drummer must support a large ensemble (typically ranging from 15 to 18 players). The "time" pattern is the key to the music, placing the emphasis on the ride cymbal and hi hat foot as opposed to the march like approach of Dixieland and Second Line drumming.

As well, the use of charts in Big Band presents the drummer with another task. The Big Band drummer must play phrases, figures, and accents to accompany and support the other musicians. Given these rigid arrangements, there tends to be less improvisation than in other Jazz styles, with improvisation limited strictly to solos in prescribed places and in choices of set up figures. The variations feature different accents, rim clicks, and playing on different surfaces. Following the variations are common Big Band independence and set up figures, which are a constant in Big Band arrangements.

The wide tempo range for standard time patterns is quarter note = 60-255 beats per minute. Big Band drummers need to know how to properly execute tied and long notes. Tied notes and notes with a value greater than a quarter note should be played on a cymbal and a bass drum simultaneously, duplicating the longer tone sustained by the band.

Such "long sounds" are frequently set up by the drummer with a note (or a drum fill) directly before the long note itself. While long notes are found both on downbeats and upbeats, set up notes usually fall on the preceding downbeat of a figure. Notes without ties and with values of a quarter or less are considered "short notes" and are commonly played with the snare hand against the standard time pattern.

Like long notes, short notes are also found on both downbeats and upbeats, but rarely have set up notes There are a wide variety of figures in Big Band compositions. Though it's virtually impossible to include every variation, the following are the most likely figures to appear on a consistent basis from chart to chart.

By Eric Starg. Eric performed on Marching Tom Drums and Marching Bass Drums at the 2007 Drum Solo Artist Drum Competition.

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