For the past 14 years, I have been lucky enough to be a professor of jazz studies at the University of North Florida. For our incoming jazz drum set students, we ask for a 10-minute audition made up of three components.

First, students play the following styles: a slow swing, a medium swing, a fast swing (Ex. 1); bossa nova (Ex. 2); samba (Ex. 3); songo (Ex. 4); 6/8 Latin (Ex. 5); a Latin cascara rhythm, if the student knows that; and a funk or rock beat of their choice. Then we ask that they play a jazz song of their choice with a faculty group, including one chorus of solo. Finally, they must sight-read a big band drum part (Ex. 6).


For the styles, I look for a student’s knowledge of jazz, and whether they can keep time in a way that reflects having been exposed to the genre and its great drummers. So, when preparing for an audition, I suggest really learning the basic styles and perfecting them so you can play time with appropriate feel and groove right from the first beat.

The second part of the audition is really to see if the student knows any jazz songs. Furthermore, if they do, to see if they can play them in a style that reflects authenticity, and if they can play a drum solo that stays within the form of the song and also illustrates authenticity and musicality.

The best way to prepare for part three is to practice by reading big band charts. It really takes experience and time to learn how to interpret a big band drum part. One of the ways I learned to do so was by studying how big band drum parts were written, and then writing my own chart while listening to classic recordings. By doing this, I not only learned to read and write rhythms, but also to memorize how to interpret them in the style of the drummer. Being able to sing the figures like a horn player also helps. I suggest listening to jazz vocalists who scat like a horn player (Sarah Vaughan is my favorite).

Danny Gottlieb has performed with Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin, and Gil Evans, and is currently the drummer with Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band. He has won four Grammy Awards and is a professor of jazz studies at the University Of North Florida in Jacksonville.