Big Band Drum Books

The last couple of months have been very busy, but I’ve been finding some time to work on big band drumming. It’s something that I’ve never really put energy toward outside of high school and college.

Naturally, I went down a YouTube rabbit hole and found a great playlist by Rick Dior where he breaks down big band playing and mentions some books that I’ll link to below.

I’m not sure that I aspire to do much serious playing in a big band, but it’s been a good way to shake up my practice routine while working on many things at once: reading, setups, time/feel, and playing with recordings.

The books I’ll link to below are simply the ones that I’ve purchased and am enjoying. There are many others available and if there’s something worth checking out that I haven’t listed, please drop it in the comments.

Harold Jones Interpretation of Big Band Swing Drumming

I’ve talked to many drummers who consider Harold Jones their favorite of the later Basie drummers. He played with Basie from 1968 – 1972.

Danny Gottlieb has done an amazing amount of work to put this book together, working directly with Harold Jones to chart out 76 tunes and provide Harold’s notes for each. This is a gold mine!

Harold Jones Interpretation of Big Band Swing Drumming

Gottlieb has recently released two similar volumes that cover Mel Lewis’ playing with the Terry Gibbs Dream Band: Volume 1 & Volume 2.

The Jazz Drummer’s Reading Workshop

This book by Tom Morgan provides sequential exercises that gradually add new setup figures and longer etudes to help build a vocabulary for playing big band charts. All recordings of the exercises and play-along tracks are available as downloadable MP3s.

This has been a fun one to work out of.

The Jazz Drummer's Reading Workshop

And here are several more that I purchased based on Rick Dior’s recommendation.

Finally, here’s a great Count Basie performance featuring Butch Miles on drums. His energy is undeniable and will live on forever. Rest in peace.

There are two driving principles in my drumming. The first came from my teacher Mr. Frank Thompson who told me, “Always let the band know where ‘1’ is.” The second came from the great Count Basie who said, “LISTEN.”

Butch Miles

The Engine Room: The History of Jazz Drumming

The Engine Room: The History of Jazz Drumming is a fantastic 4 CD box set released by Proper Records that covers the eras “from Storyville to 52nd Street” and includes 95 tracks recorded between 1923 and 1948.

I’m always surprised when I meet a jazz drummer who doesn’t know about this set of discs, so I decided it’s time to write a quick post about it.

The Engine Room: The History of Jazz Drumming

I first heard about this set during an interview with Kenny Washington on the Drummer’s Resource Podcast (a fantastic interview worth checking out). Kenny mentioned that Engine Room is out of print, so I got obsessed with finding a copy. Luckily, it’s still pretty easy to find, though the price of used copies can vary a bit. I’ve purchased a couple of copies off of Amazon and I’ve seen them range from $30 to $200, though I paid about $50 for each of my copies.

The booklet included with the set is around 50 pages and includes wonderful liner notes by Joop Visser. This alone makes it worth finding a physical copy.

The eras represented:

Disc 1: New Orleans & Chicago styles
Disc 2: Swing
Disc 3: Big Band
Disc 4: Modernism

It’s worth noting that there are two different versions of the packaging. The differences are trivial, but here’s a list if you’re curious:

  • The earlier 1999 set was thicker overall due to the use of plastic jewel cases
  • The latter 2005 release was thin and used cardboard sleeves
  • The UPC code is the same on both sets
  • The booklet is essentially the same in both sets, containing the same information and liner notes. One is a few pages longer than the other, but it’s just because there were added pages for record label promotion.
  • The 2005 set is listed as digitally re-mastered, though I’m unable to hear a difference between the two sets.

Finally, here are some photos of the two sets: