Buddy Rich’s Final Album – Just in Time

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.)

Spotify link

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.

Spotify link

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.

Spotify link

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.

 

35 thoughts on “Buddy Rich’s Final Album – Just in Time

  1. Great post, Jim!

    Jazz falls outside my core wheelhouse, and I know next to nothing about it. That being said, I actually like listening to jazz, especially when it’s as accessible and as groovy as this album!

    It’s obvious Buddy Rich was quite a virtuoso. While I’m not a drummer, my musical background gives me enough confidence to make this statement. And once again, you have a self-taught musician who stood out – amazing!

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    1. Buddy was one of those names I grew up with from my parents’ generation like Bob Hope or Frank Sinatra. You couldn’t NOT know his name. And then – and you may not be aware of this – he was frequently on TV. He had a big, outsize personality. He used to be on Johnny Carson’s show all the time. They were great friends, Johnny was a drummer and Buddy gave him lessons.

      As I mentioned in the piece, I found much of big band a little overwhelming in the way they arranged it (or something.) Too many horns, for me, take the edge off of jazz in the same way that high school marching bands do. (I am not comparing them in quality, just making a point.)

      But, boy is this album good, really one of the best jazz albums I’ve heard in a while. Buddy keeps the band swinging. I noticed that just about every song starts with Buddy’s drums. Knowing the perfectionist he was I wonder if he felt better starting everything off. Because other than that, in other bands, there is not necessarily a given instrument that kicks things off. BTW, if you like this album, I think you may like jazz more than you think.

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    1. One other thing as I think about it – you and I (and the majority of this blog’s readers) are great, great rock lovers. But the nice thing about jazz is that it is a nice break from rock. It transports you someplace else that rock can’t get to. My wife once described jazz as “rich” and I think that’s true. And while neither of us likes every rock song that comes along, neither do we have to like all jazz. We can pick and choose.

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  2. Just listened to the album Doc. Enjoyed it. A have a couple Buddy albums kicking around plus a tribute ‘Burning For Buddy’. Growing up he was always that smart ass drummer guy on Johnny Carson. Rickles and him were alike to me. That Vegas vibe. Kathy does a good job. I really like Ross.
    It would be interesting to hear what guys like Bruford say. I’ve seen a few clips on the Burning sessions. One thing for sure, when Rich did his thing it was pretty awesome. CB loves s good drum solo.

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    1. Yeah, Buddy was all over TV back in the day. Funny, brash, ballsy, guy. Cathy knew Carson and all those guys. Jerry Lewis was her godfather. Imagine. The first thing she ever sang with her dad was “I Got You Babe” which I know to be a personal favorite of CB’s.

      The Burning sessions. You just turned me on to something. Wasn’t aware. I guess Bruford is a fan. Here’s a clip that maybe you’ve seen. Bruford’s great. What else is new. BTW, King Crimson is touring with something called the Zappa band.

      I cannot figure out for the life of me why Miles just sat and watched Buddy and never played with him. It just doesn’t make any sense. Buddy played with Charlie Parker. Man, these guys are fucking giants.

      I like a good drum solo too as long as it doesn’t go on forever. Buddy wasn’t a big rock fan but I found out he dug Danny Seraphine, Chicago’s original drummer.

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      1. Love that clip of Buford. Man did he look comfortable in that session. You can still hear his sound when he did a couple rolls.
        Miles was just a different bird. And as far as Rich goes, i think he probably shot his mouth off more for reaction.. He was a smart guy who could recognize talent. Different times, hard guys. Enjoyed the piece Doc.

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  3. Great stuff, sir. Buddy Rich was a phenomenal drummer. If I ever get round to listing my favourites he’ll be well up the list

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    1. Yes, and sadly he wasn’t even on my drummer list. I need to go back and rectify that. Seriously. What the fuck was I thinking?

      Nice to see you back, old boy. You seemed to disappear around the time your dimwitted PM yanked you out of the EU. Glad to see Old Blighty is still there.

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        1. You? I’ve been in mourning for the US of fucking A since that piece of shit was elected. Joe Biden is old but he’s a decent guy. I think he will win and if he does I think we are on the path back to decency.

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        2. I haven’t been keeping up with the Democratic nom battle – I’m not sure what it’ll take to topple that bloated twat in the Whitehouse. The public vote, law and impeachment don’t seem up to it and I’m sure Sanders isn’t

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        3. Biden is. He will get the Dems, independents and moderate Republicans who are sick to death of that fucking drama queen.

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        4. I really hope so. The impact his election has had on the world cannot be underestimated. The fact that mini-Trumps have ridden his wave of idiocy into power in other countries is terrifying

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        5. And yet I have online conversations with people (sometimes relatives) who ask me when I will “wake up” and “see the facts” and “you never gave him a chance.” They are brainwashed by the right-wing media. I want to maintain ties with these people but their stupidity makes it damn near impossible.

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        6. You’re talking to a guy with relatives that were stupid enough to vote for Brexit based on what were clearly lies and the banging of jingoistic drums

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        7. You too, huh? Just about all of my wife’s family appear to be Trumpsters. There’s a fair amount on my side too. What can we do? I try to educate. And I listen too, not figuring that I am some genius that has all the answers.

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        8. Well thankfully I have nothing to do with most of them these days and others have since realised they were lied too. A little too late but hey ho

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      1. Mines gotta feature Buddy Rich and John Bonham as a starter for ten. Matt Cameron packs a wallop and I think I might go into self isolation to dedicate thinking time to this one

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    1. I wasn’t aware that that band had that kind of sound. I thought they were some kind of fucking punk band. I wish these guys would stop with the stupid band names. I haven’t been checking out 2Loud’s new releases. Because he’s so heavy on Kiss and Motley Crue and other stuff like that I figured there’d be no way he’d post stuff like that.

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      1. Yeah he has the new release Friday thing he does. He brought the new Robert Cray to my attention a few weeks ago.
        A few of those stations I tune into are Kiss/Motley guys. I thought you’d be all over that stuff.

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        1. I subscribe to 2Loud and he’s on my blogroll. But I haven’t been checking out his new releases. I can’t stand that Kiss/Motley stuff. The rock camp I went to is – if it’s not canceled – gonna have a Vegas camp later this year with the ’80s hair bands like Scorpions. Wouldn’t waste 10 cents on that. That camp that covered Yes, Deep Purple and Stones was a great combination.

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        2. I’m with you on that stuff. Saying that, a few of those guys have steered me to some pretty good shit. deKE sent me to the Ace guy from kiss. He did an album (Origins) of classics he dug. It’s pretty good. You would have told me that a few years ago, I would have said no way.
          I don’t think Buddy liked that stuff either.

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        3. I took a look. It’s got some interesting tunes. I thin when guys got free of KISS they got more interesting. Matt Starr – who plays drums on the album – was one of my camp counselors. Never got to talk to him but he introduced Chuck Leavell at the Q&A. A lot of the counselors came out of the heavy metal world but I think that’s coz they’re all out in LA.

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        4. I think that Ace guy hooked up with Anton Fig also. The tunes sound good. One off cause that other stuff isnt my bag. I’ll save that for and Dean and Jim talk.
          I do dig that Puppy stuff though. Stanton Moore is another one.

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        5. So, yeah, all your CSN comments are coming in as anonymous. No idea why. If you want me to approve one let me know. But it’ll come through as ‘Someone’ which may be an upgrade from CB.

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        6. Yeah, something’s fucked up. Some of your stuff comes through (like this) as CB, some as ‘Someone,’ some as ‘Anonymous.’ No clue as to why.

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