Friday, June 15, 2012

The Beautiful Sound of Buddy Childers

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Lead players, those who perform the principal line/melody in a big band, rarely get much notice or attention from the broader Jazz audience.

There is usually one in each section of a big band – trumpets, reeds and trombones – and “in addition to playing the high part, the lead player decides matters of phrasing and articulation for the section as a whole. Lead playing is a specialty requiring particular skills, and lead players are frequently not as adept at improvisation as others in their sections.” [Robert Witmer, The New Grove Encyclopedia of Jazz].

There are of course exceptions to this last point , but even in Randy Sandke’s excellent essay on The Trumpet in Jazz in Bill Kirchner, ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz,, lead players such as Maynard Ferguson, Cat Anderson, and Ernie Royal are mentioned more because of their prowess as section leaders and their ability to hit stratospheric high notes, rather than as soloists who have contributed as one of the instrument’s stylists.

Thanks to a friend in southern Oregon, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles doesn’t miss much in the way of what’s going on in the world of Jazz trumpet.

As a result, and with special thanks to him, we learned that trumpeter and flugelhorn player, Buddy Childers, became a triple threat over the years: lead player, soloist and, ultimately, big band leader where his skills were on display in both capacities.

Interestingly, as Harvey Siders explains in the following segment from his insert notes to Just Buddy’s CD [Trend/Discovery[TRCD-539], Buddy’s first big band under his own leadership didn’t happen until he had been in the business almost 30 years.

“You can take a trumpet player out of a big band, but you can't take the big band out of the trumpet player. Case in point, Buddy Childers, whose trumpet and flugelhorn skills have graced or goosed many a big band: Count Baste, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Quincy Jones, Benny Carter, Char­lie Barnet, Georgie Auld, Clare Fischer, Bob Florence, Frank DeVol, Les Brown, and above all, Stan Kenton.

How many musicians can boast of beginning a career by breezing through an audition with Stan Kenton? Childers can.

He left high school in Chicago at age 16 and latched on to the father image of Stan the Man. This was dur­ing World War II, when Uncle Sam was depleting the ranks of the big bands. Buddy claimed there was one thing in his favor when he passed the audition so easily: ‘They knew I couldn't be drafted for a couple of years. The army couldn't touch me.’

Misplaced modesty. Even then there were few trumpeters who could touch him, how else could he explain accumulating eleven years with the Kenton band whose complicated, demanding charts separated the men from the boys - and often separated the men from their chops!

What separated Childers from his life-long ambition to form his own big band was a series of activities that tend to rob the talented of their most pre­cious commodity: time. In Childers' case, they included playing with many bands and combos, writing for so many of them, becoming involved with photography as a full-time occupation, and his obsession with flying. (Childers has been a licensed pilot for nearly 40 years.)

All those time-stealing detours also kept Buddy from issuing his first album as a band leader. (He did front quartet and quintet albums in the 50s.) He had to leave Los Angeles -- his adopted home since 1943 - to do that.  In 1983, Childers moved back to Chicago, formed a band of dedicated, like-minded swingers, played at a dub every Monday night for over a year, in the process gathering material for what is now in this jacket.”

Buddy eventually moved back to Los Angeles where he led his own big band until his passing in 2007.

Along the way, hhe made a beautiful recording with composer-arranger Russ Garcia that really showcased his talents as a soloist.

The recording is entitled Buddy Childers with the Russ Garcia Strings and on it Buddy displays the fluid facility that is a characteristic found in the work of many of the more widely recognized Jazz trumpet soloists.

What isn’t often heard in the solo work of others is the beautiful, “legit” sound that Buddy gets on the horn, his precise execution of the technical aspects of playing the instrument, and the complete command of breath control that allows him to play long phrases and embellishments with ease.

If you will forgive the play on words, Buddy was certainly The Man when it came to The Horn, whether it was the lead or the solo chair.

After listening to Buddy’s beautiful sound it’s no wonder that the clarion call of the angels was Gabriel’s “trumpet.”

Here’s a video tribute to Buddy that features him performing Matt Dennis’ Angel Eyes from the Buddy Childers with the Russ Garcia Strings CD.