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  1. #1
    Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2010 DixieSax's Avatar
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    Default Big Band Seating

    I'm sure this has come up before, but I'm looking for a consensus.

    Last month I inherited a big band - the guy who had been running it decided it was time to step down. The band had operated mostly for fun, and we played a few jobs each year - I mostly played in it because I have a lot of friends that do, and let's just say that while the musical quality was substandard, it was and is a fun group of people.

    In any case, the band expressed a desire to continue playing, and wants to play at a higher level, and so they asked me to step in as music director. We've been at it a month now, and the playing level is definitely going up. For the first time that I can remember, we actually have enough substitute players on our waiting list that we could field a second band, and the level of players who want to be a part of the group has climbed dramatically.

    With that background out of my way, here's my question. The guy who used to run the band always set up the rhythm section to the right of the band (audience perspective) rather than the traditional left. One of the first changes I made was to move the rhythm section to the traditional location, and reseat the saxes and bones to move the bari and the bass bone into the chairs nearest to the rhythm section. Immediately the band feels tighter, but some players, particularly the soloists, are concerned about their distance from the rhythm section, particularly if we are playing in an outdoor venue, or somewhere that the band can't hear each other. I've played in a lot of big bands, and the seating arrangements have tended to vary - some guys like to put the ride chairs closest to the rhythm, and the bass bone/bari sax on the outboard end of the horn section, and I've seen several different arrangements and not a lot of agreement.

    I'm currently seating the band as outlined below. Those of you who do big bands, please chime in your seating arrangements (and reasons for it) below if you would, so I can get a better feel for how other groups handle this. Thanks.


    RHYTHM TPT 2 TPT 1 TPT 3 TPT 4

    RHYTHM BONE 4 BONE 1 BONE 2 BONE 3

    RHYTHM BARI TENOR 4 ALTO 1 TENOR 2 ALTO 3

  2. #2
    Distinguished SOTW Member BarrySachs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    That set up is fine, although you should swap the tenor 2 and alto 3 so the altos are together. The 3rd alto is actually playing the 2nd part not the 3rd. The term "3rd alto" goes back to the old stock arrangement days. So unless you're playing old Jack Mason, Spud Murphy and Jimmy Dale type stocks, you got yourself a 2nd alto.

    Anyway, this saxophone setup is not unusual. Benny Goodman's big bands from the 1960s on had the baritone closest to the rhythm section. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra does this as well. If players are uncomfortable with this setup, let them make suggestions.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    i would agree with barrysachs.. as well put the lead bone betwen 2 and 3....

  4. #4
    Forum Contributor 2008 saxxsymbol's Avatar
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    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    I have played in many big bands and the soloists are usually near the rhythm section. This aligns the 1st, 2nds, etc with each other and puts bottom on both sides of the band. And tell your bari player to BLOW.

    RHYTHM Trp2 trp1 trp3 trp4
    RHYTHM Bne2 bne1 bne3 bne4
    RHYTHM ten2 alto1 alto3 ten4 bari5
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    Distinguished SOTW Member belliott's Avatar
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    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    I play in two big bands and both are seated the same way with regards to the sax section. Facing the band from the audience perspective: Rhythm section, lead tenor, second alto, lead alto, second tenor and baritone. This worlks out well for all concerned and the two lead tenors prefer being seated next to the rhythm section.

    Bones are: Rhythm sectioon, bone 4/bass, bone 1, bone 2, bone 3.

    Trpts are: Rhythm section, trpt 2, trpt 1, trpt 3, trpt 4.

    The trpts and bones are seated this way in both bands, also.
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  6. #6
    Forum Contributor 2008 saxxsymbol's Avatar
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    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    If you have featured soloists they need to be next to the rhythm section so they can hear each other. A lot of times big bands are entirely acoustic with the exception of the vocalist, the bass, keyboards and the guitar.
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  7. #7
    Forum Contributor 2009 saxguy007's Avatar
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    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    Quote Originally Posted by DixieSax View Post
    I'm sure this has come up before, but I'm looking for a consensus.

    Last month I inherited a big band - the guy who had been running it decided it was time to step down. The band had operated mostly for fun, and we played a few jobs each year - I mostly played in it because I have a lot of friends that do, and let's just say that while the musical quality was substandard, it was and is a fun group of people.

    In any case, the band expressed a desire to continue playing, and wants to play at a higher level, and so they asked me to step in as music director. We've been at it a month now, and the playing level is definitely going up. For the first time that I can remember, we actually have enough substitute players on our waiting list that we could field a second band, and the level of players who want to be a part of the group has climbed dramatically.
    +1 to suggestions to move primary soloists to the rhythm section side

    I am intrigued about the task before you, where you are in the unenviable position of having to manage the tension between keeping people in the band who are "grandfathered" in but who have lesser ability, versus taking the band to the next level by booting the marginal players and replacing them with stronger players waiting to get in (who sub only because there's no permanent chair for them).

    No easy answers. A better band might come at the expense of bruised feelings. I have played in several big bands over the years that could have been so much more, but have been stuck in a holding pattern due to honoring seniority. I'm not saying that's a right or wrong answer, only that there's a substantial cost/benefit calculation in play....
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  8. #8
    Distinguished SOTW Member Mal 2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    Quote Originally Posted by saxguy007 View Post
    No easy answers. A better band might come at the expense of bruised feelings. I have played in several big bands over the years that could have been so much more, but have been stuck in a holding pattern due to honoring seniority. I'm not saying that's a right or wrong answer, only that there's a substantial cost/benefit calculation in play....
    Since there are enough people, you start a second band with people you hand-pick. In doing so, you ask some of the players in the current band if they'd like to switch or even play in both, and explain what you're doing. Then you let the original band go whatever direction it likes. They can consider themselves the "A" band to their last breath, but it is up to the audience to decide which they'd rather hear.

    In the days of touring swing bands, leaders often got rid of a few bad apples by firing the entire band, and immediately re-hiring all but the troublemakers.
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    Distinguished SOTW Member BarrySachs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    Quote Originally Posted by saxxsymbol View Post
    If you have featured soloists they need to be next to the rhythm section so they can hear each other. A lot of times big bands are entirely acoustic with the exception of the vocalist, the bass, keyboards and the guitar.
    My big band plays entirely acoustic, no amps or monitors on stage. I do allow a mic on the piano, bass and guitar as well as the occasional solo mic for flutes or muted brass.

    I mention this for no apparent reason.

  10. #10
    Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2010 DixieSax's Avatar
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    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    Thanks for the responses guys, I think that the heart of the situation goes to what you consider your low horn players to be (bari and bone 4). Many times these parts are playing in support of the bass line, and are essentially a part of the rhythm section, so I consider putting them at the opposite end of the horn section to be problematic. I think if we go back to my initial diagram.

    RHYTHM TPT 2 TPT 1 TPT 3 TPT 4

    RHYTHM BONE 4 BONE 1 BONE 2 BONE 3

    RHYTHM BARI TENOR 4 ALTO 1 TENOR 2 ALTO 3

    And we consider that it is the trumpet 1 and trumpet 2, along with bone 1 and bone 2, and Alto 1 and tenor 2 that do most of the soloing, my arrangement works to get the soloists right in next to the rhythm section (if you consider bari and bass bone to be a part of it.) with the outlier being Tenor 2.

    Sirspinbad:

    Regarding your trombone suggestion, I may do that, after I take a look at the relative solo split between the 1 and 2 guys.


    So I think my final solution is going to be to move tenor 2 into the spot where I have tenor 1 now and move tenor 4 to the outside, shifting alto 3 in next to alto 1 for a sax lineup of.

    RHYTHM BARI TENOR 2 ALTO 1 ALTO 3 TENOR 4

    We do pump the output from the keyboard and bass through monitors to the horn section, so hearing acrouss the band really hasn't ever been a big issue.

    Saxxsymbol:

    At the moment I am my own bari player - it was the easiest horn to come back from Bell's Palsy on, and it leaves me free to pick up most of the clarinet doubles since not all of our current lineup doubles.

    007:

    Since the band's been around for 10 years, and a lot of the guys in it are good friends, I'm not going to politicize things by cutting people just for the sake of bringing in better players - instead I'm going to work to raise the level of the guys that are already in the band. We were plagued for years with rehearsals that weren't really rehearsals, just playthroughs of the stuff the leader liked the most. I do plan to start a reading band with the sub guys, and with any of the regulars that want to sit in, and as vacancies occur naturally, I'll fill the openings with the best available players rather than necessarily the guys who have been on the sub list the longest. I suspect that as the band improves, some of the weaker players are likely to fade away out of self recognition regardless. I also give a nod to reliability, and to how well people fit in with the others in their section, because the best pure players are not always the ones that bring the most to the table in a band situation. The reading band will help me to get a handle on what everyone we have brings to the party.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    ...sometimes you gotta ask yourself...which is more important a grooving swinging band.........or flashy soloists?

    i personally feel like...from the saxophone position,youve got brass players blaring into your head all the time....its nice to be on your own(a little farther away) for the solos........or maybe thats the point? if your playing a solo,and the horns play a background...then its harder to hear th rythm section Whattya you guys think???

  12. #12
    Forum Contributor 2009 saxguy007's Avatar
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    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    Quote Originally Posted by sirspinbad View Post
    ...sometimes you gotta ask yourself...which is more important a grooving swinging band.........or flashy soloists?

    i personally feel like...from the saxophone position,youve got brass players blaring into your head all the time....its nice to be on your own(a little farther away) for the solos........or maybe thats the point? if your playing a solo,and the horns play a background...then its harder to hear th rythm section Whattya you guys think???
    I find that players who play smoking solos (where thoughtfulness is the equal of the dexterity) are the same ones who can swing in a section. IMO the ability to internalize then faithfully execute a musical ideal translates whether alone or with four others. "Flashy soloists" to me says someone who forces in a lot of notes and "LOOK AT ME" altissimo that gets overdone, and is its own problem.

    I agree that in general big bands play backing riffs and rhythm grooves underneath solos WAY TOO LOUD. I have a Phil-tone tenor rollover baffle piece I've been using for general combo play and woodshedding, but I can't use it in any big band, because it doesn't cut enough. I have to bring out a high baffle piece to be heard at all.
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    Distinguished SOTW Member Jazz House's Avatar
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    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    RHYTHM Trp2 trp1 trp3 trp4
    Bne4 bne1 bne2 bne3
    ten1 alto2 alto1 ten2 bari
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  14. #14
    Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2010 DixieSax's Avatar
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    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    Quote Originally Posted by Jazz House View Post
    RHYTHM Trp2 trp1 trp3 trp4
    Bne4 bne1 bne2 bne3
    ten1 alto2 alto1 ten2 bari
    Oh absolutely not. Putting the bass trombone and the bari on opposite ends of the horn section is asking for trouble.

  15. #15
    Distinguished SOTW Member hgrail's Avatar
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    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    I've played bari in several different big bands - and yes, I've found that being near the rhythm section to be a really big plus in making the group tight. Bass bone often has the same lines as bari - so I always appreciate having them nearby as well.

    When I've played acoustic - and I'm on the other side of the band I can't possibly be quite as tight with the drums & bass.

    I've soloed on bari, tenor and alto in big bands and never had a problem hearing the rhythm section since the rest of the band is mostly out except for backgrounds - so I really don't understand the logic to the argument of putting the soloists next to the ryhthm section.
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  16. #16
    Distinguished SOTW Member rim shot's Avatar
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    Default Re: Big Band Seating

    I´ve played quite a bit in a band that uses this setup.
    There are always plus and minus points to every setup.
    The brass are on risers, btw. I, personally, prefer the trpts. behind the bones.
    Seems to make things tighter.

    Trp2 trp1 trp3 trp4...Trbn2.Trbn1.Trbn3.Trbn4
    ......RHYTHM.........ten1.alto2.alto1.ten2..bari

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