Alternative Big Band Setups?

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bobroden
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Alternative Big Band Setups?

Post by bobroden » Thu Sep 13, 2018 8:32 pm

Does anyone know of any thinking that has already been done about "other" ways to set up a big band, besides that conventional way?

My big band is interested in considering other options -- especially when playing outdoors -- because of their difficulty hearing each other. A proposed new option, for example, has the bones and saxes on one side, trumpets on the other, both facing inward toward the director rather than forward toward the audience. I don't know what I think about that, but it got me thinking that we can't be the first people to think about this.

So I'm just wondering if there are some already-invented wheels here, some existing conventional wisdom on which one might draw.

All leads are welcome!
AndrewMeronek
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Re: Alternative Big Band Setups?

Post by AndrewMeronek » Thu Sep 13, 2018 9:20 pm

In my experience, the biggest cause of terrible on-stage balance isn't the physical orientation of the horns, but is having the instruments with amps playing way too loud. A fairly effective solution, if that is the case, is to have all amps placed on chairs, right next to the players whose instruments they amplify. They don't play as loud to hear themselves, everyone is happy.
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BGuttman
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Re: Alternative Big Band Setups?

Post by BGuttman » Thu Sep 13, 2018 9:52 pm

My Thursday AM band plays for dances at a Senior Center. We changed our setup a bit. We now have the 5 saxes on a diagonal half facing the audience and half facing the center of the stage. Trombones are in a line at a 90 degree angle so we also face them some and the audience some. Trumpets are on risers behind the tromones. Piano (leader) is in the center. We have a vibrapone, drums, gee-tar, and bass all in a row at the back. Also put a monitor speaker facing back to the band near the singer's stand. Seems to work pretty well.
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JohnL
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Re: Alternative Big Band Setups?

Post by JohnL » Fri Sep 14, 2018 8:38 am

One fairly common setup is the "wide front"; trombones front row stage left, saxes front row stage right, trumpets behind the trombones, and rhythm behind the saxes (drummer as close to dead center as possible).

The wide front always seemed to me to actually make it harder to hear the rest of the band, though.
imsevimse
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Re: Alternative Big Band Setups?

Post by imsevimse » Fri Sep 14, 2018 11:50 am

JohnL wrote:
Fri Sep 14, 2018 8:38 am
One fairly common setup is the "wide front"; trombones front row stage left, saxes front row stage right, trumpets behind the trombones, and rhythm behind the saxes (drummer as close to dead center as possible).

The wide front always seemed to me to actually make it harder to hear the rest of the band, though.
This is the setup we use in the Johan Stengård Jazz Big Band, in which I'm a part of. It is good because each section can be heard.

The most common setup for a big band here is saxes in front, trombones blowing in the backs of sax players and trumpets standing behind trombones pointing their horns into our ears. This is terrible. To make it worse saxes have one mice each and there are two mics in the middle of the band to pick up the trumpets. The trombones? If we are lucky we have one solo mic near the first player. It's absolutely a disaster. Saxes hear the trombones loud so they play as loud as they can in their mics. Sometime they complain that the trombones are to loud. Trombones must use earplugs so they don't have a clue about how they are doing. In the room the only thing heard is the saxes, the drums and the electrified bass. To make it worse each sax player moves as close as possible to their mic to make sure they are heard individually. All trombone sound gets caught in the sax players backs. I usually play above the stand to have a chance to be heard but it is rather pointless without a mic. Usually trombones are not heard in those setups.

/Tom
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BurckhardtS
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Re: Alternative Big Band Setups?

Post by BurckhardtS » Fri Sep 14, 2018 1:59 pm

Usually the most 'common' big band set up is used with risers, so that the trombones are above the saxes, and the trumpets are on the risers behind the trombones standing, so their bells are (probably) above our heads. If you don't have access to risers, getting the trombones on tall stools is just as effective. I think this is one of the more important parts of acoustically getting things to work. It helps keep the sound going out so people can hear it, yet you're not getting played right into the back of so that you're getting hearing damage (mostly).

I've played in a couple of other big band setups including trying that one Stan Kenton setup when they recorded in London...



Honestly, I think the traditional big band set up has been the most effective in my experience. Also, I'm not sure how you're doing it, but for some reason it helps to keep the bari sax/bass bone on the opposite side of the band from the rhythm section. I'm not sure why this works, but I think part of it is being next to the drums as the bass players, your ears can get overloaded by the drums, which can throw the pitch out of wack. This also helps the soloists (who are usually lead tenor/2nd trombone/2nd trumpet) be close to the rhythm section to hear the changes, at the expense that they're the ones that get obliterated by the drum set during shouts.
baileyman
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Re: Alternative Big Band Setups?

Post by baileyman » Fri Sep 14, 2018 2:08 pm

The only good alternative to the traditional setup I see is the one commonly used for recording. A square with sides saxes, bones, trumpets, rhythm playing to the middle. Great for players. Probably less so for listeners. All the great balance California bands use traditional setup.
keybone
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Re: Alternative Big Band Setups?

Post by keybone » Fri Sep 14, 2018 8:23 pm

JohnL wrote:
Fri Sep 14, 2018 8:38 am
One fairly common setup is the "wide front"; trombones front row stage left, saxes front row stage right, trumpets behind the trombones, and rhythm behind the saxes (drummer as close to dead center as possible).

The wide front always seemed to me to actually make it harder to hear the rest of the band, though.
I played this setup on both trombone and piano on several occasions with a 15 piece big band. When I played trombone, all I heard were the three trumpets behind me and the drummer in the rear center of the setup. The first time I played piano with that band, I was stationed at the far end of the stage with the saxes and rhythm section. That was the first time I heard the saxes! I was surprised by their great sound!

In my opinion, the director needs to control the balance between the sections and let the loud players/sections know what it sounds like up front. Touchy, perhaps. But that is one of the duties of the director.
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