Big Band Drumming: What (and What Not) to Play

By Joe McCarthy

When drummers are presented with a big band drum chart, what should the process be for developing a solid drum part? Drummers are constantly dealing with varying degrees of musical direction in their written parts, so the decision of what to play or what not to play must be based upon an informed process. I’ve broken this process down into four categories: groove, figures, time/solo—meaning, whether to interpret these figures within the groove or in a soloistic fashion—and vocabulary.