Recommended Listening – Big Bands

Ian Darrington NCBF Jazz and Big Band Adjudicator

Big Bands... with Ian Darrington

"I am delighted to have been asked to provide a selection of ten Youtube clips of big bands. I hope you find them as exciting and inspirational to listen to as I have (and continue to do).

YouTube is without doubt one of the finest resources available to us today. Whether it be through live performance or recordings so much can be learned from watching and listening to musicians in performance. As you check out these videos remember to focus not only on the actual notes and phrasing but also other aspects of performance such as tone, posture, embouchure, body language, seating arrangement of the band, use of microphones. Remember that the ten video clips that I had chosen are only the start, there are thousands more and as you listen YouTube will provide links to other recommended videos."

Dickies Dream - Count Basie Orchestra

Dickie's Dream - Count Basie Orchestra

Count Basie Orchestra playing Dickie’s Dream… this is my favourite big band video of all time. It contains so much: so many examples of how to play big band music. Other than perhaps the obvious things to look out for, such as the wonderful solo content and the excitement of the ensemble playing, please check out two things in particular that we regularly mention in our adjudication feedback at NCBF regional and national events: 1. the position of the drummers elbows as he plays the way in which the guitarist (Freddie Green) plays the chords / accompaniment.

Sambandrea Swing - Louie Bellson Big Band Explosion

Louis Bellson Big Band Explosion playing Sambandrea Swing This is one of the most complex arrangements I have ever heard: check out the accuracy and clarity of playing of the various sections. In addition to the incredible skill of composer and arranger Don Menza I have chosen this video for the superb soloing of Bobby Shew (Flugel) Clint Sharman (trombone) & Joe Romano (tenor sax)

Two Bass Hit - Wynton Marsalis & the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra

Wynton Marsalis & the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra playing Two Bass Hit
There is so much to note from this video. Check out the following:
• The set up of the band and in particular the position of the double bass and guitarist in relation to the drums and the piano.
• The controlled, tight ensemble playing
• How little the pianist plays during the ensemble sections of the composition.
• The fabulous solo from Wynton Marsalis (try to transitive some of the phrases he uses) and how the solo builds in intensity and excitement.
• The way that the music ‘affects’ the body movement from Wynton. He’s moving in time to the music.
• How the accompaniment to the trumpet solo ‘builds’ throughout the solo. Check out the ‘comping’ of the rhythm section’. It’s almost possible to ‘see’ the drummer listening.
• The excellent piano solo from Jon Batiste.

Bridge Over Troubled Water - Louis Dowdeswell Big Band

Almost every player in this superb band is a product of the UK education system and a former member of one of the UK’s many superb youth big bands / jazz orchestras. The future is in great hands for sure. This video is superb in every respect. The playing clearly speaks for itself…who couldn’t be impressed by that however what I would like to highlight here is the outstanding arranging skills of Callum Au; an often under-credited aspect of music, especially in recent years, Callum shows the impact and effect that skilful writing has on the music industry. Let’s hope that more young people take to learning the art of arranging.

Some Skunk Funk - Michael Brecker / Randy Brecker WDR Big Band

If any chart challenges your ability to play chromatically, this will. It’s modern exciting big band at its best. Check out Michael Brecker’s disappointment (even anger) as he misses the harmonic in the very first phrase of his solo. Also check out the incredible drumming of Peter Erskine.

Sax No End - Kenny Clarke Francy Boland Big Band

Unusually this band had two drummers, Clarke & Boland, listen and watch how well they work together and compliment each other. Also unusually the band features three tenor saxes and only one alto. Everyone in the band was a superb soloist. I’ve included this video not only for the solo content but also for its quite incredible sax soli…surely one of the best ever!

Donna Lee - Jaco Pastorius

Every bass player in the world knows of the incredible playing of Jaco Pastorius…he set the standard for others to follow but how many have listened to his big band: a band that features world renowned soloists Randy Brecker, Bob Mintzer as well as tuba player Dave Bargeron. Also check out the drumming of Peter Erskine and percussion work of Don Alias. Jaco’s walking bass lines under the solos are just wonderful.

Get Up - Bob Mintzer Big Band

An extremely thoughtful composer and arranger Bob Mintzer not only introduces fine detail into his writing but also into the recording process. Likewise his band performs in a very controlled manner, never going over the top or losing control of the balance. Always a very tight musical band as can be heard in this video. Listen out for the tightness and togetherness of bass and drums as well as the spaces created in the ensemble by the precise execution of the phrases.

Hang Gliding - Maria Schneider Big Band

Maria Schneider’s style of composition is very much symphonic jazz and as such her works are often much longer than ’regular’ big band pieces. Listen out for complicated time signatures, the wide variety of tones used and unusual combinations of instruments. With players specially chosen for their solo strength, Ingrid Jenson (flugel) and Donny McCaslin (tenor sax) are featured in this composition providing solos that perfectly suit the style of the composition.

One O Clock Jump - Buddy Rich Big Band

The relentless drive of Buddy Rich’s drumming is so infectious that after hearing just a few bars of music from this band makes you want to play and play better. A personnel that mostly contained young instrumentalists straight out of college, this version of the Buddy Rich band features former NYJO players trumpeter Simon Gardner & baritone sax player Jay Craig .