Not So Modern Drummer continues to celebrate the legendary Buddy Rich in 2017. Recognizing the 100th anniversary of his birth. Providing their personal commentary on Buddy are Pete Cater, Greg Estabrooks, Gordy Knudtson, and Ted Mackenzie
Buddy Rich’s playing is something that goes beyond subjective appraisal. Even to the man in the street with no knowledge of drums or jazz music it was self evident that you were witnessing greatness. This alone puts him in a very special category; virtuosity which can communicate with a mass audience.
Let’s get one thing clear right from the start. If you play the drums and were not even slightly influenced by Buddy Rich there’s a strong possibility that you inadvertently took up the wrong instrument. Don’t be too despondent though, as a great many drummers are influenced by Buddy without even being particularly aware of it. As with Krupa he influenced a whole generation of players who in turn went on to inspire the next generation of players who in turn influence the players of today. These musicians wrote the DNA code of drumming which is common to us all, and don’t you forget it.
For me it all started very early. My parents were in their early 30s when I was born in 1963, and they had been raised on a musical diet of big bands, jazz, and popular singers of the Sinatra school. Their tastes were fully formed well in advance of Rock Around the Clock. They had no time for the new musical trend and found it simplistic by comparison to what they were accustomed to. Don’t be fooled by the history books; regardless of the fact that Elvis’s baby left him, all the established musical styles continued much as they had done. They whole world didn’t suddenly re-tune to rock and roll overnight despite what the revisionists may want you to believe.
Having being born into a family where the popular jazz of the mid 60s (Brubeck, Oscar Peterson and the like) was very much at the top of the playlist was one of those lucky flukes of circumstance that go on to shape your destiny, added which my father was a very good semi professional drummer who had studied with a legendary Birmingham (UK) based Rich disciple named Tommy Webster. Added to which my mother came from a huge Irish family all of whom played instruments and sang, as is the tradition.
It was in early 1968 that the perfect storm broke. Having taken the UK by storm the previous year (measured by audience reaction rather than ticket sales it has to be said) the Buddy Rich big band became staple listening fare for musicians of my father’s generation, and in order to listen to his LPs in the highest possible fidelity he spent £150 (a huge amount of money then) on a Bang and Olufsen ‘Beogram 1500’ record player. I had just turned five and had never heard anything quite like it. Speakers that stood as tall as I did at the time exploding with music reproduced with an immediacy, power and clarity the like of which I had not previously experienced. From that moment Buddy’s name was added to my list of identifiable jazz drummers that already included Joe Morello, Shelley Manne and Cozy Cole.
Seeing is Believing. The exact date is unclear but the intensity of the moment is as powerful as it was roughly forty-five years ago, when quite unexpectedly Buddy appeared on a talk show on British television. It was called ‘Magpie’ and was broadcast on ITV, then the UK’s only commercial network and was aimed at hip youngsters, (the squares were watching ‘Blue Peter’ on BBC). No band, just some chat and a drum solo.
Ka-boom!! I ran upstairs and started woodshedding and haven’t stopped. There’s a profundity about those formative influences when your knowledge is in its infancy, and you’re still so youthfully idealistic to believe that you can achieve anything, and whilst I had been listening to jazz drumming on records since my earliest days the impact of the moving image closed the deal. Later that evening my mother, who had witnessed my enthusiasm, commented to my father, “That’s it, he’s going to be a drummer”, more with resignation than enthusiasm if I’m honest.
I invested a disproportionately large percentage of my teenage years trying to come up with ideas that resembled the kind of things I had heard Buddy play. At that point not the greatest reader of notation and never having seen the merit of transcribing I set about this Herculean task by listening only, as this was just prior to the VHS/Betamax explosion, and all I had to check my work against was fleeting glimpses of Buddy’s hands seeing him on television or playing live a couple of times each year. Adolescence brought with it the chance to play big band jazz for real and I was afforded the opportunity to put my hours of practice before an audience. My fellow drummers all talked about Buddy, but players of other instruments would talk about Mel Lewis, from which I concluded that to occupy a hypothetical middle ground between their two contrasting styles might be a good plan.
It was/is. Many times I have wondere if Buddy had played a genre other then the big band jazz for which I knew him at the time, would the impact have been quite as strong?
Much as I was massively in awe John Bonham and particularly Ian Paice, the musical context of their playing didn’t move me half as much, and whilst my playing influences and wide ranging and almost incalculable, it is Buddy Rich and Buddy Rich alone to whom I owe my lifelong affinity with big band music. Rock and pop got me excited about the industry, but jazz, especially of the big band variety, made me want to play.
It’s worth remembering that the 70s produced a great deal of very good big band music. It was a time before post-modernism and forward thinking leaders and arrangers were keeping the music relevant. In addition to Buddy I soon discovered the then current incarnation of Woody Herman’s Herd, Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton, Thad/Mel, Don Ellis, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and a whole heap of top drawer American college bands from North Texas State One O’Clock Lab Band on downwards, but it was the music of the Buddy Rich Big band from 1966 onwards that provided the all-important gateway. That’s not to say that I didn’t develop an appreciation of Rich’s earlier work, but that would come later, and for all the excitement generated by the 1950s Verve imprints (play along with Verve Jam Session Vol 7 some time if you want to get a handle on swinging hard) for me it all begins with Swinging New Big Band.
The opening title, Bill Holman’s ‘Readymix’ is not so much an opening tune as a statement of intent. There’s almost a feeling of anger in Holman’s counterpoint and you hear a fresh, new orchestra with a point to prove. Buddy’s playing on this track in particular is like an accelerant, and sets fire to everything it touches. I love how he can sit on the front of the beat without speeding up (most of the time), but it’s a skill that big band drummers should use judiciously, and is perhaps best held in reserve for those days when you are meeting the band payroll yourself: suffice to say it doesn’t lend itself to an evening of melodies from the Glenn Miller era.
Now, let’s take a step further back in time to another Rich-led big band record date, ‘This One’s For Basie’. More than ten years prior to Swinging New Big Band but the 1966 Buddy Rich is a wildly more contemporary and hip sounding drummer then a decade previously. None of us can definitively say why (just like nobody knows quite how his left hand technique worked-videos with titles like ‘Buddy Rich’s Left Hand Technique Explained’ leave me somewhere between despairing and murderous; how Buddy’s left hand or for that matter any part of his playing worked is not the point, about which more later). The modernisation of style is self-evident. Was it the ascendancy of the likes of Joe Morello and Sonny Payne that made him dig deep into that vast reserve of talent to remind the young Turks of the status quo? (More than once I’ve heard it said of the Rich vs Roach session that Max finished in third place}. With nobody to answer these questions we have no choice but to resort to conjecture, but a listen through recordings of Buddy with Harry James between 1962 and 1966 clearly display a new stage in his evolution. The sound changes (thank you Remo!) and the unrelenting virtuosity of tracks like ‘Explosion’ (Chicago Opera House, October 2nd 1955) remains, but seems somehow tempered with space, more considered, (‘Caravan’ August 1961) and becomes even more dazzling as a result. There’s a live recording of King Porter Stomp recorded at Chicago’s Holiday Ballroom with the James band that epitomises rhythmic hipness by today’s standards. What that must have sounded like to the ears of 1964 we can only imagine.
Key to all this though, is whatever modernisation, self-reinvention, or whatever you want to call it took place, he’s still unmistakably Buddy Rich. Only once briefly was this not the case, the truly dreadful Buddy-Rich-Plays-Disco abomination ‘Speak No Evil’ possibly BR’s sole significant lapse of integrity as a recording artist. In fairness, he was by no means alone. Jazz musicians were fair game for record labels looking for a cash-in; records like this could be recorded quickly and relatively inexpensively and who knows? Surprise chart success couldn’t be entirely ruled out. In case you don’t know this recording and I’ve piqued your curiosity I say one word to you. Avoid. Others may cite the MCA record from the early 80s, but I actually rather like the chart of Never Can Say Goodbye, even if Buddy’s tom sound is such that he could have probably got a similar result from playing the empty cases.
Similarly, with only slight and usually short-lived variations he stuck to the same, no-nonsense, simple drum set layout. I remember in about 1980 some friends had been in New York and came back to the UK having seen Buddy at the Bottom Line. We were told that he was “using concert toms” and nightmarish images haunted my young mind of a marine pearl Quadra Plus outfit replacing the much-loved ‘Krupa’ configuration (for that’s what it was). Having being previously alarmed by Roy Haynes’s flirtation with concert toms could Buddy have gone down the same pathway? Happily, not.
This brings me to another point, and it’s an important one. Rich’s virtuosity was often a soft target for the self appointed jazz intelligentsia, the British journalist (and sometime drummer) Richard Williams is amongst the worst offenders, and many such chin strokers have wasted much copy bandying about a relatively limited repertoire of clichéd, unfounded and shallow barbs, so allow me if you will to take a moment to torpedo a handful of these right now.
‘Buddy Rich didn’t invent anything he played, he merely took from others’. The great consolidator, Buddy took the best of everything that his late 1930s peer group could do, rolled it all into one and did it better. His playing of that era is full of all kinds of influences, from Krupa to Chick Webb, Tony Briglia to Jo Jones. Philly Joe Jones did something similar a couple of decades later where he tool all the best bits ofbop’s founding fathers and assimilated them in his own recognisable style. We all do this; it’s called being influenced. Not only that, in later years there are a number of things that appear in his playing that are his alone, and owe little or nothing to what went before.
Groove playing. How many times have I heard drummers say, “Buddy Rich couldn’t play rock”? My recollection is that I never heard him play anything other then jazz with jazz musicians. If there exist bootlegs of him jamming with Jimi Hendix, Moby Grape, or the 1910 Fruitgum Company for that matter I am happy to be enlightened. The self proclaimed ‘too hip for Buddy Rich’ brigade of drummers of the time (I could name names!) were quick to accept the received wisdom about this aspect of his playing, a point of view which history has comprehensively disproved. Like much of the jazz/rock crossover drumming of the late 60s there is a strong element of improvisation in the time feels, an unrelenting straight beat would have been way too vanilla for the context of the music. And as for some of those breaks, just check out the call-and –answer shout chorus on ‘Love and Peace’. I know those two bar phrases inside out and they still sound incredible. Testimony to this is the amount of times Buddy’s breaks and fills have been sampled by more contemporary artists.
The Jazz Waltz. Undoubtedly the Shaw and Dorsey orchestras would have played in ¾ for dancing but the jazz waltz came into vogue from the late 50s. Having a far from encyclopaedic knowledge of the Harry James repertoire I can’t be completely certain but it’s a fair bet that Buddy probably didn’t play a jazz waltz until his late 40s. Jazz drummers of the day, tended to play jazz waltzes like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ with space and a lightness of touch. Contrast this with Buddy’s four-limbed turbocharged approach. It’s like harmony on the drumset rather than time with a few left hand comments. You can hear it in development on ‘Willowcrest’ (that eight bar solo would change beyond recognition on later versions) and it was fully formed by ‘Preach and Teach’ and ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ just a year later.
Right until the end there was ongoing development. The last time I saw him play on his final UK tour in late 1986 he came onstage and rather than setting the tempo for the opener on the hi hat, he began to play the ride cymbal instead. Then with his left hand he unleashed continuous eighth notes with syncopated accents. It was breathtaking and he had proved the point yet again before anyone else on stage had even played a note.
Imitate then innovate. Over the years I’ve seen a number of players who had Buddy’s style down cold, which is without doubt an extraordinary achievement however you look at it. For myself I’ve always had enough trouble sorting out my own solos never mind playing anyone else’s, but listening to Buddy and other early influences instilled in me the habit of reverse engineering, whereby I would strip back an idea I liked in order to get to the root of it, and then look at all sorts of different ways in which the idea could be extrapolated. I remember mixing a Buddy idea with one of Gary Chaffee’s concepts years and years ago and I still haven’t worn it out. Listen first, then listen some more and then learn how to learn. That’s the point.
I’ve never tired of those great big band records of the 60s, 70s and 80s considering that some of that music has been part of my life for nearly half a century. There isn’t much music that many people listened to through their childhood and adolescence that is still so cool. After he passed I didn’t listen for a very long time until the Pacific Jazz reissues appeared with all the missing tracks that we had known about for years, but that all changed about a decade ago.
Having a long established track record as a big band leader myself there had often been requests to play ‘hit’ tunes associated with other bands, and Buddy’s repertoire was always very close to the top of that list. Always I had resisted as my modus operandi as leader was to showcase new musicians playing and recording work by new or little-known writers.
That all changed in 2006 when I got calls to appear on a couple of drum shows, the condition being that the content would include some of ‘Buddy’s Greatest Hits’. So well received were these performances that Tony Bennett’s former manager Derek Boulton offered me a UK tour headlining in theatres if I was prepared to do something similar. How long do you think I took to consider that decision?
For my own amusement I ditched the double bass drum pedal and secondary ride cymbal and got hold of a period correct set of Slingerlands for that cool, classic look. I don’t consider myself a ‘heritage’ player and big band accounts for probably only about fifteen percent of my work as a freelance professional but to have been gifted with opportunities like these helped me to connect with all the reasons I wanted to learn to play in the first place, something which every player should always keep in mind.
In conclusion a personal reminiscence - Years ago the BBC used to run an annual big band competition, and as well as winning bands there were prizes awarded to individual players, so it was quite a coup aged just 16 to be awarded with the Jack Parnell prize for best drummer. This was quite prestigious and I was featured in the newspapers, on television and radio. A few months after all this palaver Buddy’s band were playing in the UK and I went to the concert in Nottingham. The promoter knew me because of my recent glancing brush with success and arranged for me to meet Buddy prior to the concert. To my embarrassment, the concert promoter proceeded to regale Buddy with full details of my recent achievements and alleged prowess. Buddy very graciously congratulated me, and asked if I would like to sit in (!)
I knew he had hung one or two over confident young players out to dry so thinking quickly I responded thus; “Oh no, these people have come to listen to you, they don’t want to hear me”.
He gave me that look, wished me luck in the industry and then went out and played with a casual, almost nonchalant virtuosity, which no one who ever saw him at the peak of his powers will ever forget.
Thank you Buddy Rich. If it hadn’t have been for you, I wouldn’t be me.
Pete Cater Photograph by Scott Choucino
I still remember when I first heard Buddy's drumming. My grandmother gave me the Buddy Rich album Mercy, Mercy. I was about ten years old and it grabbed me. That was how powerful his playing was, I was only a young boy, and it was not easy to get my attention. There was no denying the excitement and intensity of what he was able to convey through his command of the drum set. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Cathy Rich at PASIC. I expressed to her what a hero her father was to me as well as so many other wonderful players. It was a really great feeling for me because unfortunately that's about as close as I'll ever get to Buddy. I never had a chance to see him live. This is a year to celebrate the man’s life and appreciate him as the hugely influential artist that he was. I still love listening to Buddy Rich interviews, and hearing stories about peoples’ experiences with the man. I look forward to hearing some new ones this year.
- Thanks again David. All the best, Greg Estabrooks
I had played piano in grade school and clarinet in Jr. High School, but switched to drums when I was 15. I had been taking lessons forabout year and seen Buddy Rich on TV a couple times and was amazed by him. For my birthday my folks bought me my first Buddy Rich record, Big Swing Face. I was playing drums in the high school stage band at the time and practiced many hours a day by playing along with my favorite records wearing headphones.
When I got Buddy's album I played along with it over and over again, trying to catch all the horn figures and perfect my performance with it. (Back then, you could make the turntable continuously repeat by lifting the stabilizing arm up and over to the side.) I soon knew it by heart, and while I could not play exactly what Buddy played, I could play all the tunes fairly well using my own approach. But the one thing that always blew my mind on every listening was that dramatic four bar single stroke roll break in Love for Sale. It was way too fast for me to play as singles, so I always used doubles.
When the Buddy Rich band came to Minneapolis, I went to the show at the old Prom Ballroom. It was a big venue, but only about 1/2 full that night, still a lot of people. Mind you, this was 1970 or 1971, a time when Rock and Roll was drawing bigger and bigger crowds while big bands were drawing less and less. The band sounded great and he was spectacular! About half way through the show he kicked off Love for Sale. But NOT at the record tempo. This tempo was SIGNIFICANTLY faster. I thought to myself there is NO WAY he's going to play that break the same way as on the record, it's way too fast, it's impossible!
Well, needless to say, the moment came and he DID play the single stroke break EXACTLY like the record!! Absolutely mind blowing!!! Of course, he did a big solo on his feature number, West Side Story, but the impact of that Love for Sale break never left my mind. That's the Buddy story I always tell my students when they ask about him.
A few years after that I was playing a regular gig in town with an older tenor player named Bob Crea who had toured with Buddy for acouple years. I loved hearing the stories he told about thatexperience. (I'm sure many of you have heard the bus tapes!) Buddy really liked Crea because he was more seasoned than most the other band members. Bob told me Buddy liked the way he played so much he actually gave him a raise after his first night with the band!
Bob told me one night someone in the audience requested "Stardust". Bob knew most of the kids in the band did not know the tune. But for some reason Buddy decided to make a point about their lack of knowledge on stage, in front of the audience. Buddy went around allthe horn players individually, pointing at each one asking "Can you play Stardust?", "No". "Can you play Stardust?", "No. "Can you play Stardust?" No etc. When he finally got to Crea he said "Bob would you please play Stardust for us?", and of course he did.
About five years after my working that gig with Bob, he had a heart attack and was in the hospital. When Buddy came to town to play the Prom again he heard about this and went to see him. Bob's wife told me Buddy cheered him up a lot and quietly gave her $1,000 to help out with their expenses. So while those tapes do show one side of Buddy, they are not the whole picture.
If you've never seen Buddy Rich play, or even if you have, check out the Jazz Icons series "Live in 1978" DVD. To use the Spinal Tap analogy, Buddy was on "11" for this one. Crea told me when you worked with Buddy, the rule was you HAD to watch him during his drum solo, or you were fired. You didn't have to clap, but you had to watch. In fact, you can see many videos where Buddy occasionally looks at his band during his solo to police this. (This actually is an oldpsychological/show business trick you can try for yourself. Next timeyou are in a group of people, start staring at something outside the group. If you stare long enough, everyone else will eventually start staring at it too, even if they're not sure of what you are staring at!) Check the band out after his big solo on this DVD. These guys heard him solo every night, but this performance is so special even THEY applauded enthusiastically for what he did.
Buddy was a one of a kind. I've never seen anyone play drums with more control. It's amazing that he, as a drummer, was a band leader, that's very rare. It was also amazing he could still draw good crowds playing big band music in an era when rock and roll was taking over everything. That's how good he was!
- Gordy Knudtson
Steve Miller Band
McNally Smith College of Music
100 YEARS OF INFLUENCE
My brothers, ten and sixteen years my senior, found dad's drum set in the attic shortly after moving into our house in Old Greenwich Connecticut circa 1955. My dad was my first drumming mentor and teacher. Instead of setting up his old Leedy kit (we didn't know it existed, or that he was a jazz drummer!), dad brought down his old pair of wire brushes.
I watched in amazement as he whisked his cool jazz wire brush rhythms on today's newspaper. I'd never heard anything like this before nor ever knew he was capable of what I was listening too...I didn't know anything...I was 7.
I was hooked. As the years rolled by, he would turn me on to his drumming influences by bringing home jazz records. Gene Krupa was a big-time fave of dads. Gene rocked my soul every day as I played his sides over and over again. Gene was a founding father, the "George Washington" of drum set drumming. Jack Sperling was introduced. Jack was one of the finest big band drummers...ever. He was a Steve Gadd type. Heard by millions on TV shows, an NBC staff drummer...first call. Joe Morello, Louie Bellson, Mel Lewis, Shelly Manne, Osie Johnson, among many other inspiring drummers with their music came into our home via the hi-fi.
Then Buddy came home: paradigm shift; noun 1. a radical change in underlying beliefs or theory
I was thrown into disbelief. It was Buddy Rich & his Buddies Playtime album. Personnel :Bass – Richard Evans, Drums – Buddy Rich, Engineer – Ron Malo, Flute – Sam Most, Guitar – Wilbur Wynne, Piano – John Morris, Trumpet – Don Goldie, Vibraphone – Mike Maineri
Very tight and precise arrangements with drumming that was in another realm from what I had previously listened to. As a young drummer, I was dumbfounded. Buddy's style was brilliant. His ideas flowed with immaculate articulation. His swing chops amazed me flowing effortlessly from arrangement to arrangement. I couldn't stop listening...I couldn't get close to him when I tried to play along for a long, long time.
By the time I got to Berklee College of Music; I was solidly influenced by my hero. Then the Buddy Rich Big Band came to Boston. It was a cold and rainy October day at the Boston Commons 1967. Most of the school stood in the freezing rain in disbelief that his band would even consider showing up! I stood with my schoolmates behind the band. The Buddy Rich Big Band got onto the bandstand. A limo pulled up. Buddy popped out in a tweed trench coat and hat. He immediately sat behind a small drenched 4 piece blue sparkle Rogers kit, began soloing then counted the band in. Riveting!
That same evening at Lennie's on the Turnpike, it was SRO. I managed to find myself standing at Buddy's hi hat as he soloed before counting in the band. He was in his element now, warm room, dry drum set, no trench coat: electrifying! I watch his videos on YouTube, inspiring, but... not the same! The real-time in experiencing his genius was overwhelming!
I was privileged to be a part of Phil Wilson's Thursday night Dues Band at Berklee. Paul Kondgeila/ bass, Richie Cole, Pat LaBarbera / sax, Lin Biviano / trumpet, were in the band. They all ended up touring with The Buddy Rich Big Band. For over 3 years Paul Kondgeila drove Buddy's Jag and roomed with Buddy. Paul wrote and arranged for the band. "When I had an arrangement for Buddy to learn, he would sit in front of the band and after listening 1-2 times Buddy would climb up on his drums and play the arrangement as if he wrote it!" Paul and I went on the road after his 3+ years with Buddy. I got to ask him all the legendary questions: Did he practice? Did he warm up? Did he read music? The answers; no, no and no! Paul proved the legendary rumors reality.
Before I left Berklee, I had the privilege to be introduced by a fellow student the Rich/Adler drum method by the now esteemed music producer Clyde Brooks. Clyde had been studying with Henry Adler who collaborated with Buddy in writing his snare drum book. Upon leaving Berklee, I also studied with Henry Adler and was completely and irrefutably changed. No, it didn't make me play like Buddy. No one can play like Buddy! It established my drumming vocabulary through thoroughly breaking down the rudiments in his book.
Prior to studying with Adler, I hadn't learned proper mechanics. I didn't understand drumming hand speed: the ability to react to the rebounding drum stick. I didn't know how to accent by simply touching and releasing the drum stick. I had never practiced many rudiments let alone with my foot in the down beat! Buddy was immune from being taught these essentials because Buddy Rich was born a natural drummer with God-given abilities. He was born into Vaudeville able to entertain large audiences, tap dance, sing and act. He was bringing down the house at the age of 18 months! He performed every night for most of his life!
Henry Adler, after auditioning the 17 year old Buddy Rich told me the last time I was with him in 2004, "I have never seen anyone like him, Buddy could place everything in the right place all the time, there was nothing I could show him!" Buddy said he learned from every drummer, but no one could teach him.
He asked Henry Adler to teach him how to read. "I had nothing to do with (the rumor that I taught Buddy how to play). That was a result of Tommy Dorsey's introduction to the Buddy Rich book. I used to go around denying it, knowing that Buddy was a natural player. Sure, he studied with me, but he didn't come to me to learn how to hold the drumsticks. I set out to teach Buddy to read. He'd take six lessons, go on the road for six weeks and come back. He didn't have time to practice."
"People always ask me to explain about the book. You see, when Gene (Krupa) did his book, he had a rudimentary drummer collaborate with him. But Gene didn't play that way. In Buddy's book, we actually teach the way he does things. If you see any of the kids who used Buddy's book correctly, you'll see that they play the same way, technically", Adler said.
Long live Buddy Rich...for centuries to come!
- Ted MacKenzie