Speaking of Greatness
I just finished watching a video, Part 2 of Buddy Rich Jazz Legend. It was put out by Buddy's daughter, Cathy, in 1994, seven years after Buddy died of a cancerous brain tumor. Five years before, Buddy had suffered a heart attack and survived quadruple bypass surgery, supposedly ending his career as "The World's Greatest Drummer," or that's what the doctors told him--if he did play again it would take him maybe a year to completely recover to the point he could start practicing again. Buddy tried to follow the doctor's regimen but couldn't sit still that long; instead, 10 weeks after his surgery, Buddy was in London with his big band playing meaner than ever.
Buddy was born in 1917. By the time he was four he was the featured act in his parents's vaudeville show: "Traps the Wonder Boy." Buddy simply had built-in natural time and rhythm; someone in the audience had noticed Buddy kept perfect time while his parents were doing the dance act--at first he took some drum sticks and just played the stage, or a table, or some water glasses but then he moved on to his own custom drum set and from there Traps the Wonder Boy became the World's Greatest Drummer. He got his fame with Tommy Dorsey and then with Artie Shaw. Artie Shaw recorded a fox trot called "Traffic Jam" in, say, 1939, somewhere in that time period, right before WWII when I had a brother who went off to that war and left behind his 78 rpm record collection, tons of platters, shellacks, discs, in old wooden fruit boxes and among those records was this Artie Shaw vehicle that featured Buddy on drums. It was wonderful. I was only 8 and I listened and relistened and relistened again and again to this record. The band was tight; Buddy was the cat's meow throughout the piece, an up tempo killer. Buddy was young then, damn good looking, born and bred by show biz and able to tap, able to sing, but really, really able to play the drums.
Buddy went on; starting out in swing, then after WWII, starting his own cool big band. Along about this time, too, along came a dude named Norman Granz and he had a great idea; since jazz was a pure improvisional form of music, Norman's idea was why not rent a big auditorium and get together the most famous of several genres of jazz--like Nat "King" Cole playing the piano with Les Paul on guitar with Lester Young playing tenor, with Charles Parker Jr. playing alto, with Jack "the Bear" McVeigh (McVouty) playing tenor, or Flip Phillips playing tenor, or Tommy Turk playing the trombone, or Bill Harris playing the trombone--and then Ella came on and sang "How High the Moon" or Billy Holliday did a set with her accompaniest Bobby Tucker--Little Jazz Roy Eldredge was there, JJ Johnson was there, Lester's brother Lee played the drums. Get them together, let somebody call a tune, then, boom, blast away, let 'em play, let 'em each one solo, let 'em swing, let 'em groove, let 'em groove high, as high as the moon in fact. It worked. People loved the JATP concerts, Jazz at the Philharmonic--Philharmonic Auditorium in L.A., though soon they were kicked out of the Philharmonic Auditorium--mixed bands, dig? Blacks and whites playing together. So they moved into the L.A. wrestling arena before taking the whole sheebang on the highways ending up with the JATP at Carnegie Hall.
Then Norman Granz discovered a kid in Canada who could play the piano like nobody ever--kind'a like Art Tatum and Nat "King" Cole combined into a 19-year-old force to deal with and Norman hired him and on he came like a house afire, later forming his own trio, with Ray Brown on bass and Barney Kessell on guitar, later Herb Ellis on guitar, and then forming the JATP house rhythm section with who? Yep, Buddy Rich.
Norman developed the JATP into a record label, first called Clef, then Norgran, finally becoming Verve--also Norman started the American Recording Society and they put out several LPs--one I remember especially was of Count Basie playing the organ. Oscar, Ray, Herb, and Buddy became the Verve house rhythm section, too, and this trio or quartet appears on every major Verve and Clef LPs made in the 50s, backing up Dizzy, Lionel, JJ Johnson & Kai Winding, Louis and Ella, Sonny Stitt, Lester Young, you name 'em and these guys backed 'em up, gave them the bed of fiery swing they needed to make it mean something.
Norman made tons of albums but one of the greatest mid-fifties one he made was called "Krupa-Rich" and featured the two drummers who became famous on the JATP circuit for their drum battles along with, yep, Oscar on piano, Ray Brown on bass, with Dizzy, Little Jazz, Flip Phillips, Illinois Jacquet. Gene was losing his chops by then but Buddy was improving on his, especially his use of his left hand--AMAZING is the word for Buddy Rich's left hand. Buddy could keep several tempos going at once--one in his foot pedal on his bass drum, one on his foot pedal of his high-hat, one with his right hand, and one with his left hand...and that left hand. Man, it had times all its own going on as it whipped against the beat of the right hand, the whip hand, and Buddy at his peak, when he was early twenties with Tommy Dorsey on into the early fifties when he started appearing regularly on teevee shows, could whip and whip wildly rather artistically using his sticks in as many different striking patterns as is mathmatically possible--what drumming. Jesus.
Buddy was also on a great Mercury recording of the very early fifties--worked out by Norman who had an agreement with the Mercury folks, whose jazz label became Emarcy--a play on the letters in Mercury--it was simply called "Bird and Diz" and featured a rhythm section of Thelonious Monk, Curly Russell, and Buddy Rich backing Dizzy and Bird and doing Bird flights of his composition, like "Bloomdido"--the greatest.
And then, too, Buddy played the drums on Charles Parker Jr's best selling album of all time and the one he said was his favorite of all his albums, Charlie Parker With Strings" also on Mercury and produced by Mitch Miller who also played oboe on the album and who became the Columbia Records A&R man later.
In the seventies, Buddy started a big band that went on to really kick ass, especially on his performance on several special arrangements made for him--like an arrangement of Artie Shaw's old hit "Carioca," and an out-and-out symphony-sounding arrangement called "West Side Story." It was during "West Side Story" that Buddy played his whole drum set, rims, cymbal stands, his seat, the sticks themselves, and once hitting himself in the head. Unbelievable drumming. Drumming takes almost perfect cooridination. Nothing throws a drummer off like somebody with bad time or blowing notes out of place or breaking measures or playing an eighth note like it was a quarter note. Buddy was a drummer deluxe; Buddy was also a perfectionist deluxe and, as some said, overboard with it. Buddy got a reputation for being a choice, gold-medal-winning asshole--or PRICK as most of these young men called him. They were just learning their instruments, thrilled at being in the famous Buddy Rich's band until they got on the gig, finally with a chance to star, and, shit, they blew CLAMS. That's what Buddy called goofball playing--"You're blowing clams and god-dammit, I'll not have clam blowing in my band...if I hear you guys blowing clams I'm kicking you off this bus...." Buddy roaring. Buddy pissed. Buddy miffed.
Here's a man who's devoted his site to Buddy Rich. This site contains all the famous tapes of Buddy on his tour bus--or Buddy one time caught cussing out his band during a gig. These musicians taped Buddy because they felt Buddy was treating them unfairly--all he wanted them to do was play the damn shit right--or if they played it wrong, at least play it wrong right.
I love Buddy on the bus. It'll make a musician laugh like an M-f-er. Buddy was a funny man; as quick with his wit as he was with those damn drumsticks and those sets of Gretsch drums he played for most of his life. Yeah, Buddy's pissed, but that was a part of his act. Remember, Buddy knew nothing but performing since he was old enough to start thinking. He'd been playing the drums since he was 4 years old. It's hard to please any musician whose been learning his instrument that long and with the success he had.
To be a great musician you must have an extreme confidence in your playing and stance that sometimes appears to be condescending when it comes to other musicians. If you've got confidence at your instrument, as Buddy said, you can play anything you can hear; but if you don't have confidence at your instrument, forget it, nobody will want to play with you.
Here's this Buddy Rich site for fun, games, and an education. Read the comments; Buddy has one of his ex-bandmembers who defends him saying he wasn't a prick to people who played well only to the amateurs he sometimes was forced to use on his road trips where he played one nighters even at junior highs as long as they came up with his fee.
Buddy Rich. There will never be another "World's Greatest Drummer" like him ever again.
for The Daily Growler
The Daily Growler Quote of the Day:
"Almost everything I've done, I've done through my own creativity. I don't think I ever had to listen to anyone else to learn how to play drums. I wish I could say that for about ten thousand other drummers."