Those of you who follow this blog know that I had the privilege of meeting Buddy Rich’s daughter Cathy* and her husband Gregg Potter on my Rock and Roll Fantasy Weekend. Cathy – like Priscilla Presley for Elvis – is in charge of her father’s estate. As such, she manages the Buddy Rich Band (Gregg is the drummer) and recently released his final recording which “took place over 2 nights, the 19th & 20th of November 1986, at Ronnie Scott’s in London, UK.” (Buddy died five months later.)
AllMusic: “When it came to technique, speed, power, and the ability to put together incredible drum solos, Buddy Rich lived up to the billing of “the world’s greatest drummer.” Although some other drummers were more innovative, in reality, none were in his league even during the early days. A genius, Buddy Rich started playing drums in vaudeville as ‘Taps, the Drum Wonder’ when he was only 18 months old – he was completely self-taught
Rich performed in vaudeville throughout his childhood and developed into a decent singer and a fine tap dancer. But drumming was his purpose in life, and by 1938 he had discovered jazz and was playing with Joe Marsala’s combo. Rich was soon propelling Bunny Berigan’s orchestra, he spent most of 1939 with Artie Shaw (at a time when the clarinetist had the most popular band in swing), and then from 1939-1945 (except for a stint in the military) he was making history with Tommy Dorsey.
During this era it became obvious that Buddy Rich was the king of drummers, easily dethroning his friend Gene Krupa. Rich had a bop-ish band during 1945-1947 that did not catch on, toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic, recorded with a countless number of all-stars in the 1950s for Verve (including Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Art Tatum, and Lionel Hampton), and worked with Les Brown, Charlie Ventura, Tommy Dorsey (1954-1955), and Harry James (off and on during 1953-1966).
A heart attack in 1959 only slowed him down briefly and, although he contemplated becoming a full-time vocalist, Rich never gave up the drums.” (Years later, Buddy had a heart attack on stage while he was playing. He kept on playing, they took him to the hospital and he recovered.)
Now, the big band era was before my time. My parents were into it and my mother – like many of her generation -were big fans of Sinatra. But they would always tell me about guys like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and what great drummers they were. I think my father was especially fond of drumming. I recall he used to listen to an album called Persuasive Percussion, which was a 1959 album that seemed to be as much about testing your stereo as anything else.**
I grew up with rock and roll and frankly, really didn’t have much interest in big band music. I could appreciate the artistry but only from afar. I didn’t really start getting into jazz till I was in college and even then I was mostly into jazz-rock which was, for me, a lot more accessible. And even now when I go back and listen to earlier jazz, I’m a lot more attracted to smaller combos like Miles Davis’ Quintets than I am to big band.
So I approached this album with some trepidation thinking – naively perhaps – that I’d be hearing some of the ’40’s-based big band charts and was afraid that would not interest me.
But happily, that was not the case. This shit is modern and it cooks! As I told my fellow rock campers, it swings like mad.
Let’s kick this off with a Count Basie tune, “Wind Machine.” (I’ll post the usual YouTube and Spotify links but you can buy the album here if you’re so inclined.)
From a 1969 Rolling Stone interview with Miles Davis: “The night was passed at The Plugged Nickel where the Buddy Rich band worked on Miles’night off. That night Miles sat slumped at a table in front of the stand, not saying much but watching Rich like a hawk. (A good portion of the audience watched Miles watching.)
Rich has seldom played better, and Miles made occasional knowing comments about what the master drummer was doing. “Did’cha notice the way he cut into the band there? Hear what that motherfucker did then? Just that little cymbal thing and it swung the whole fucking band.” (Did Miles and Buddy ever play together? I can find no evidence whatsoever that they did – ME.)
Here’s the title tune, “Just in Time.” Piano by Matt Harris. Tinkle them ivories.
Cathy Rich from the liner notes: “My dad chose set lists for the two nights that I hadn’t heard before. He was always brilliant in choosing the right sets, but this time he shied away from the tried and true and went to places musically that were very different. It was as if he knew that he didn’t have to prove anything anymore and could relax and go wherever he wanted and enjoy it.
I think the end result proves just that. For two incredible nights, I got to sit in the audience and cheer right along with everyone else. I will always remember that time as one of the greatest moments in my life. Now I can revel in the fact that, thankfully, his last recordings were caught on tape for all of us to enjoy forever.”
Since I got the idea for this post from Ms. Rich, I think it only fair to showcase her. A little background: Annie Ross is a British-American jazz singer who, in 1952, was asked to write lyrics to a jazz solo. She chose the song “Twisted” which saxophonist Wardell Gray had done a few years earlier.
Of the song, she said, “The title was infinite possibilities. You could marry anything to it and it was the name signified, ‘Twisted.’ And it just occurred to me that it would be good as a kind of song about an analyst.” Ross later became a member of the influential jazz vocalese trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross who would inspire bands such as Manhattan Transfer.
I mention all this because, well, not only is it an interesting story but also because Cathy does her own nice spin on this tune and it’s nice to hear some vocal jazz to mix things up a little bit.
Most of the tunes on this great album clock in at three or four minutes, the exception being a ten-minute version of “Porgy and Bess.”
Last word to Ms. Rich: “It has taken thirty-three years to finally get these recordings out. An absolute labor of love that I never gave up on. At times it was quite a struggle, but in the end, it was all about the music.”
Buddy Rich; drums
Cathy Rich; vocals
Matt Harris; piano
Rob Amster; double bass
Trumpets: Eric Miyashiro, Kevin Richardson, Greg Gisbert, Dana Watson
Trombones: Rick Trager, Tom Garling, Jim Martin
Saxophones: Bob Bowlby, Mike Rubino, Steve Marcus, Chris Bacas, Jay Craig
*Cathy was a consultant on the great movie “Whiplash.”
**Apparently everybody’s dad owned a copy if you read the comments.