© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Is this some kind of magician's trick Mr. Rich is putting on us? - that we really don't hear or see what we think we do? I recall standing with Shelly Manne and Bobby Rosengarden at the Nice Jazz Festival in 1978. We stood to the right side of the bandstand so Shelly and Bobby could watch Buddy's right foot! Just his right foot! After the set, they looked at each other in disbelief.”
“Unlike most veteran musicians — whose work can be sorted easily into prime, middle and late periods — Rich never had a "late period." None that was identifiable, at least. ... But the machinery of his technique and style never lost its precision tolerances or torrential force.
In a way, technique was his style. When Catlett or Krupa soloed, their rhythms often nested in your memory. But Rich preferred to flood audiences in a hurricane of surging rolls and cross-over gymnastics that became stroboscopic streaks of sound. The rhythmic design and detail were there but unknowable, camouflaged in a storm of velocity.”
- John McDonough, Jazz author and critic
In April 1985, two years before his untimely passing, Buddy Rich and his band recorded a concert at One Pass Productions' King Street Studio in San Francisco using state-of-the-art equipment designed to capture the band in a live setting with natural acoustic balances and three-dimensional imaging.
If the excitement of a Jazz Big Band is what you are after, then look no further than the band that the late drummer Buddy Rich led from 1966-1986. Electrifying is an understatement. Experience, energy and execution is on display here with a big band largely made up of young, talented musicians being put through their paces by - with apologies to no one -one of the the greatest big band leaders who ever lived - Buddy Rich.
That’s right - one of the greatest big band LEADERS - and not just one of the greatest big band drummers, of which there are many in the history of the music.
And if you think what I just said is hyperbole, watch these two, new DVD’s and explain to me the basis of your disagreement.
Buddy’s three decades of service in the big bands of Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James, with occasional stops along the way, including Count Basie’s band, more than prepared him to LEAD what for over twenty years from 1966-1986 was the most thrilling and invigorating big band on the planet.
This apprenticeship enable him to put it all together; anchoring his own great rhythm section, selecting lead trumpet and alto players to help form a cohesive band sound, featuring brilliant soloists and bringing in the best big band arrangers in the world including the likes of - Mike Abene, Manny Albam, Mike Barone, Dave Berger, Harry Betts, Keith Bishop, Dave Bloomberg, John Boice, Tom Boras, Dick Clements, Jay Corre, Bill Cunliffe, Richard Evans, Allyn Ferguson, Bob Florence, Mike Gibbs, Dick Grove, Bill Holman, Greg Hopkins, Bob Kay, Barry Kiener, John LaBarbera, Dick Lieb, Bruce Lofgren, Mike Longo, Johnny Mandel, Mike Manieri, Don Menza, Pete Meyers, Bob Mintzer, Oliver Nelson, Sammy Nestico, Charles Owens, Marty Paich, Dave Panichi, Frank Perowsky, Herbie Phillips, Don Piestrup,, Bill Potts, Don Rader, Bill Reddie, Kim Richmond, Joe Roccisano, Shorty Rogers, Joe Sample, Don Sebesky, Bobby Shew, Harold Wheeler, Ernie Wilkins, Arthur Wiggins and Phil Wilson.
It's such a shame that so much focus is put on his rants and too little on all Buddy did for the music, with this list of arrangers whom he hired to write for his own big band serving as a case in point.
Woody Herman often gets credit - and deservingly so - for keeping his big band going, often under the most adverse conditions, which helped young musicians get gigs after they finished school or an apprenticeship of sorts in the world of music.
But Buddy never got the recognition he deserved for doing the same thing from 1966-1986.
And, as John McDonough points out in JazzProfiles’ next installment of our promised blog features on Downbeat’s 2017 gifts-of-the-season recommendations, Buddy was also somewhat overshadowed in terms of tributes to him during the centennial of his birth.
“The centennial celebrations for Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Ella Fitzgerald have taken away some of the spotlight from the incomparable Buddy Rich (1917-'87). But there are some new releases to remind us what a fantastic drummer he was. They come in packages that compile music that was included a 1985 three-LP set, Mr. Drums, Buddy Rich Live On King Street. Video footage of the performances has been issued in various formats over the years. Now, just before 2017 ends, the soundtrack comes to bat as a digital release in two batches. An LP incarnation is scheduled for January. These performances were chronicled on two separate DVDs issued by Lightyear in 2003 and 2005. At press time, remastered digital versions of the two films were scheduled for release in November.
Rich came of age in the 1930s, when drummers like Chick Webb, Gene Krupa, Sid Catlett, Jo Jones and Louie Bellson filled the spotlight with visual precision and breathtaking speed. They knew exactly what they were doing because to be in the spotlight was to be a star. For more than 50 years no one filled a spotlight like Rich, who bounded around a drum set like an acrobat radiating attitude like lasers.
Unlike most veteran musicians — whose work can be sorted easily into prime, middle and late periods — Rich never had a "late period." None that was identifiable, at least. Yes, the music here was recorded in the twilight of his career — two years plus a day before his death on April 2, 1987, to be exact. But the machinery of his technique and style never lost its precision tolerances or torrential force.
In a way, technique was his style. When Catlett or Krupa soloed, their rhythms often nested in your memory. But Rich preferred to flood audiences in a hurricane of surging rolls and cross-over gymnastics that became stroboscopic streaks of sound. The rhythmic design and detail were there but unknowable, camouflaged in a storm of velocity.
Many of the charts he played were built around these qualities—fast, dense, punchy orchestrations that Rich could lean into and punch back at. The Rich band was action-packed, and we get a nice cross section of its history on Channel One Set and The Lost Tapes (Lightyear/Lobitos Creek; lightyear.com). Together they mix some of the early mid-'60s book with later work. Even a slow piece like "Sophisticated Lady" rolls forward like layers of harmonic lava, with Rich nudging quietly here and there. On fast numbers like "No Exit" he shoves ahead like an express snowplow. It's all very dazzling. But Rich was a superb small-group drummer as well. And it's often on the lighter charts, such as "One O'clock Jump" or even "Love For Sale," that his playing is more supportive than exhorting. Among the other reprises are "Norwegian Wood," "Mexicali Rose," "Willowcrest" and "New Blues."
Also reprised are Rich's two most expansive showcases, "West Side Story Medley" and "Channel One Suite." Each is a somewhat discursive concert piece with abrupt shifts in mood and tempo pasted together with flowery transitions. But the former had the advantage of familiarity and became among his most requested showstoppers.
So who was Buddy Rich? And was he really the Grinch that a series of covertly taped and widely circulated tantrums from 1970 have portrayed him to be?
"I wrote nearly a whole chapter about these famous 'bus tapes' because they have come to define him so much," says Pelle Berglund, whose 500-page biography. Buddy Rich: One of a Kind (Sivart Publishing Co.; sivart.se), is planned for December publication. "But they're not the full picture. I found he was warm, playful, and always defended his musicians in interviews. He demanded very much of them and of himself. But I don't buy the picture that he was always rude and angry. I think this book is needed because others didn't cover the whole picture. He did 250 concerts a year — this with three heart attacks, broken arms, and often great physical plain.
Yet he kept on playing. He always wanted to do better than the night before. That's what the book is about. What pushed him forward, sometimes even risking his life. I didn't want to write a book about technique. I wanted to write about the man and how he could force himself so hard."
Though only a couple of chapters were available for review at press time, a full 500 pages on Rich, whose career took him from Artie Shaw through Jazz at the Philharmonic to 20 years leading the last commercially successful big band in American music, could hardly be boring.
For those of you who are members of Amazon Prime, both of these DVDs can be streamed without charge as part of that subscription service.