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 Bob Girouard, Rob Gottfried, Jack Scarangella, and Gary Stevens.
"Buddy Rich's contributions to Jazz drumming remain gargantuan in scope. We can take all the superlatives out of the English language and still not come up with the right "word" to describe the standards he set on the instrument. Simply stated, Buddy was anomaly; one in a million, and as the kids today say...he was "sick." In the day, as good as his contemporaries were, none could out swing, out-stick (rudimentally-speaking) and with such finesse, kick a band, (big or small) like he could. Because of his brilliance with every aspect of the instrument, many, including myself, thought he was a being from another planet (sent here by aliens) to destroy ultra-cocky, & vain drummers everywhere.
Oh, how I miss his appearances with Johnny Carson on the Tonight show. In fact, my friend David B. (the author of this article), and I used to live and die by them. We couldn't wait to commiserate on what he did or how he played this or that...no to mention, Buddy, himself, was distinctly funny and a perfect foil for Johnny's barbs. However the verbal jostling between the two of them was always about "respect." It's been said that Buddy was such a great drummer because he was a tap dancer as a kid. That may be true, but his abilities were such that it was just a part of who he was as a person. (How many people do you know go through heart bypass surgery and "comeback" as good if not better than before in just a matter of weeks, mind you)! His love for his family was also legendary, and we can thank his daughter, Cathy, who is carrying both his music and memory to future generations.
One hundred couldn't be a better number to give tribute to Buddy, because in my estimation it'll take about 100 more years until (or, if we ever) see the likes of him again. While he was with us, he literally defined the art from.....and more importantly, on his terms. But when Buddy Rich sat down at the drum kit it was never "business as usual". It was challenging, forceful, innovative, and exciting. Some say there are 7-wonders in this world. I say, bullshit. There's 7, and then there's Buddy".
“So…Buddy… A short little Hellion-of-a-Jewish guy from New York…Attitude…Projection of Ego and Personality…Supremely-loving father to his daughter Cathy…the ‘Apple of his Eye’. Pranced out when he was only eighteen months old to become “TRAPS -The Drum Wonder…molded so early…always pushing the edge and beyond. From the very beginning - it was 'Full Speed Ahead’…Buddy reportedly would do two full shows with his band… then go up to his hotel room…and start practicing!!
Broken fingers and wrists along the way… Fighting and becoming a Black Belt…but ‘Nothing’ would stop him!! Little patience for “slackers” i.e.: anyone without his drive for performance and his ambition…as he knew nothing else.
After witnessing his playing live, early on…Probably with my Father, Murray…who was playing sax and clarinet with Big Bands throughout his life (Paul Whiteman, Bunny Berrigan, etc.), I was motivated to see himwhenever and wherever….whatever it took.
I got my driver’s license when I was 16, and immediately started traveling by myself to “Lennie’s on theTurnpike” near Boston, Mass to see him play in this little hole in the wall. Just fitting the 20-piece band…and a small intimate audience. One time, in between shows, I had the “circular objects” to stick my head into his dressing room. He was sitting with his manager talking, and he was in his underwear. Having committed myself, I had to speak up… “Excuse me, Mr. Rich, could I speak with you for a moment?” He “Grokk’ed” me…more than looked me over, sensing really…was my perception. Then he looked over at his manager, and nodded that it was OK. For the next hour and a half, we shared stories…And my most clear memory about it…because I was ‘COMPLETELY’ blown away by being able to sit there with the ‘Greatest’… In my mind, was the conversation we had about the difference between volume and intensity…that I would only deeply understand years later. He showed me on a chair, what he was speaking about - and I was ‘totally mesmerized’! This undoubtedly changed my ‘Life-Path’. I would come to see him there often…and he would always call me ‘Bobby with real and great affection.
Later, when I got on Sesame Street, he let me take some pictures with him…that we printed in my first“Modern Drummer” article…and I was of course, honored andthrilled to have him be an encouraging “Master”. I’ve spoken with JackScarangella, who was the closest thing to a son to him, aboutthese adventures, and he concurs - That for a select few folks, he was like a Dad! There wasn’t a lot of “middle ground” with Buddy…because that’s the way he lived his life; to the Hilt! Through the years, I would come to see him…and between shows, he would say “C’mon, Bobby….let’s go on thebus!” It would just be he and I. I know he had wonderful relationships with many….but when it’s YOU….and it began so early, the effect is major….as it was with me. Quite frankly, there will ‘Never’ be another like him, because the conditions that made him…don’t exist anymore. ‘He was a Lion…Amongst the Age of Innocents’.
One day my mother Amy suggested; well insisted I take my camera with me to take a picture with Buddy, I argued with mom and said it’s a small club - The Blue Note, and his dressing room is full every night. My mother kept insisting and she won! When I got down to the city to Buddy’s apartment building, Bill at the front desk would call and like always would say “Jack is here to see you” - as I went up, Buddy would leave the door slightly opened, as I entered his apartment Buddy excited, but in a matter of fact voice got up from the couch and said “you know what were going to do tonight Jack?” I said “No, what?”
Buddy said, “We’re going to take a picture, you behind my kit!” Upon hearing this I was in a surreal emotional state, didn’t expect it, what an overwhelming feeling inside me. Then he says “In case I forget remind me”. As Buddy gets ready for the show I’m standing in his living room falling apart inside with tears welling up.
That week Buddy played The Blue Note, we were together and it was perfect. He played every night greater than I can ever explain. The night this picture was taken, he played like he was totally one with it all, he was perfect. I know he was always seeking it, but that week I believe, was all of it, the ‘Hero’s Hero’ and still champion. What a privilege to see such an artist and love such a man. After the show, I went upstairs and saw he had a full dressing room when Buddy stopped the conversations and said “Jack get somebody to take the picture of us…I’ll be right down.” Who would take, what is to me the defining photograph of my lifetime with him. As I was going down the stairs Steve Peck our friend and Buddy’s tour manager was coming up the stairs I said to Steve “Buddy wants to take a picture of me behind his drums, will you take it? ” Steve said “Sure” looking as shocked as I was!
With this photo - I can forever still feel his hand in mine. Buddy Rich, a shining, shimmering and most fluid natural genius on a set of drums…‘A Hero For Us All’. I told his beautiful daughter Cathy…that the last thing I loved about him…was his drumming. In these pictures you can see a loving lifetime together with Buddy always around the cornerwith me… ‘Till we meet again. Love Jack!”
When I was about 10 or 11, Buddy Rich was scheduled to play in one of the opulent old theaters in Springfield, Massachusetts. My Dad was able to drop me off at the venue, but quite early - and I was the only person in the lobby. I walked into the men's room and froze in my tracks, there he was, Buddy Rich resplendent in a white double knit outfit, standing silently at the urinal with a rather impatient look on his face. I was afraid to move-or say anything so I just stood there, waiting for I don't know what. After a few seconds, which seemed like a few hours, he let's out a relieved sigh and I hear the faint sound of liquid against porcelain. Still in mid-stream, he turns towards me, and says, "Kid? That's the second best feeling in the world".
I had no idea what he was talking about.........