Practice Pad LessonsThe Count Basie Band is considered a major benchmark for anyone studying Big Band drumming. I have been lucky enough to work with Harold Jones on a book highlighting his historic drumming with the Count Basie Orchestra, which is scheduled for release this summer. Here we highlight Jones’ signature track with the Basie Band, “The Magic Flea,” a classic example of a modern, fast, Basie swing chart.

Many of us know Jones’ amazing studio performance of “The Magic Flea” from the 1968 recording Basie Straight Ahead, but I also love his playing on the Basie orchestra’s 1996 album, The Swingin’ Machine, Live!, from which this chart excerpt was taken. This chart includes a composite of the figures that the band played, as well as Jones’ interpretation of those figures.

This excerpt starts at about 2:50 in the recording and features Jones’ powerful interpretation of the ending of the arrangement. By this time in the song, Jones has already played through the melody, some solos, and his own soloing. Bar 1 starts with the band playing shout figures on beats 1 and 4, with Jones’ signature “roll” fill in between as a set up. Bar 2 illustrates Harold playing the band figure on the & of 3, with a little set-up note on the & of 2. Bars 3-4 and 5-6 are the same figures, although he moves beat 3 to the small tom in bar 5.


Bars 7-14 show Jones’ eight-bar solo, featuring accented eighth-notes (a signature of his approach to soloing). Note that his priority is keeping the time very obvious, so the band knows just where the time is when they enter again and play the unison figures in bars 15-16. Bars 17-18 is a flute (or piccolo) break.

In bar 19, Jones plays beat 1 on the snare  to set up the band figure on the & of 1. Note that in the same bar he orchestrates the figure  on the & of 1 and beat 3 on the bass drum, and the figure on beat 4 with the snare drum. In bar 20, Jones plays the band figures followed by a fill on the & of 4 into beat 1 of bar 21 on the snare drum. Note his bass drum and snare orchestration of the figures in those bars, and then in the last bar, his triplet fill with a slight ritardando to the final hold on beat 4.

It’s such beautiful playing, and I love picking it apart. With repeated listens you can just about memorize the chart and Jones’ fills, which will be a well of inspiration when you are playing your own version of this up-tempo swing style.

practice pad lessons jazz harold jones' the magic flea lesson

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.