Saturday, February 27, 2010

Buddy Rich

Although I view myself as a jazz drummer, Buddy Rich is not a drummer who inspires or moves me. Chalk it up to personal taste. However, his influence on generations of drummers is undeniable, so I am including a brief piece on him, mainly because while searching other topics I came across some excellent material that should be shared.

Buddy Rich was a complex individual to say the least. He could be overbearing, scathing and profane He could also be generous and loyal to friends to a fault. Regardless of the person, his drum kit skills from a purely technical perspective are amazing.

His temper is well documented in the infamous bus tapes that - thanks to the web - have skewed how many view him as a person. A great article that balances this impression is Bill Milkowski's article, The Buddy Rich Tapes. On the other hand, Marc Myers's excellent interview of Bobby Shew shows Buddy in a different light - this excellent, three-part interview is at Bobby Shew on Buddy Rich (Part 1), Part 2, and Part 3.

A few other gems I have unearthed that will be of interest to Buddy fans are: Les Tompkins' 1980 interview and Buddy and Gene interview Metronome Magazine, March/April 1956. Interviewed by Willis Conover for Voice of America Radio. In all of the interviews, Buddy comes across as ... well, Buddy, making the bus tapes unsurprising. However, his generous side is amply shown by Don Sweeney's account of how he came to own one of Buddy's kits via Johnny Carson.

For those who are truly interested in Buddy, Mel Torme's Traps - The Drum Wonder: The Life of Buddy Rich gives a good, if not fawning, account. Mel, a pretty darn good drummer himself, was close to Buddy, so take that into account while reading the book. A more balanced view of Buddy is John Minahan's The Torment of Buddy Rich: A Biography. This book is, in my opinion, more objective than Mel's book, but both are valuable for the diehard Buddy Rich fan, as is a DVD documentary titled Buddy Rich Jazz Legend.

For performances I own (although don't often watch) Buddy Rich - At the Top is my favorite. This DVD has a great performance of West Side Story Suite, which is why I own it. It also has typical Buddy who plays way over the bar on many of the selections, which is why I am not a Buddy Rich fan. Still, the majority of drummers I have met love that kind of playing, so I have to strongly recommend the DVD. Another highly regarded video performance is Jazz Icons: Buddy Rich Live in '78, which contains a few solos that will leave you breathless. Two other DVDs that are worth a look - and both from the same concert series - are The Lost Tapes and Buddy Rich and His Band - Channel One Suite. Of the two I recommend Channel One Suite, but if you are a big fan, get both.

For audio CDs I think Very Alive at Ronnie Scott's is one of the better and representative choices to hear Buddy at his best. Of course, the seminal Rich Versus Roach is must have in my opinion (while I am not a Buddy fan, I definitely love Max Roach!) Better yet, spend a few hours browsing the catalog, Buddy Rich Albums on Amazon.

Here are a few of my favorite solos:

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