Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Butch Miles on ensemble playing

Big band drumming tips from Butch Miles, from the Oct. 1977 issue of Modern Drummer. They apply to all types of music, of course: 

SUPPORT. If the band has a difficult passage, support them strongly. Let them rely on you for cues and dynamics.
DON'T GET IN THE WAY. There's no reason for you to play something rhythmically difficult if it detracts. Simplify it. You're responsible for keeping the band together.
DIRECT. Learn the entrances for ensembles and cue them in with authority. Always let the band know where they are.
DON'T OVERPLAY. Sometimes a well-placed rim shot in an arrangement has more impact than 10,000 notes. Learn the importance of silence.
KEEP THE ENERGY LEVEL UP. There's nothing that sounds as sad as a band dying in the middle of a passage.
LEARN THE CHART. Get your nose out of the music and be comfortable.
LEARN TO PHRASE. This is an art in itself. You don't have to play every note the band plays. Let them breathe. Learn when to punch, and when to back off. Talk to the leaders of the other sections and ask them exactly what they might want in the way of support in an ensemble passage. They may have some very valid ideas that you hadn't thought of. Don't be afraid to ask.
TIME. Never lose sight of the fact that you're the keeper of the time. That's the first and foremost job of a big band drummer - much more so than that of a small group drummer.
LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN. Learn the nuances, the dynamics of the arrangements. My boss, Count Basie, put it all together when he simply said, "LISTEN". As a big band drummer, you must be listening all of the time; listen to the soloist and support him; listen to the ensemble and guide them — cue them correctly; listen to the dynamics and play within that framework, but most importantly, listen to the overall sound and to yourself in the whole picture. Do you detract or do you support? A tape recorder is a great help. Listen to yourself on tape and be your biggest critic. That tape recorder never lies.

After the break are a couple of clips of Miles playing with Count Basie's band in the late '70's.

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