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Buddy Rich: The Beat Goes On

Jack Bowers By
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Having set the stage with a clever and amusing discourse, the "alumni band" roared from the starting blocks with Pete Meyers' decisive arrangement of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale," on which Fusco, Findley and La Barbera fashioned blistering solos while Smith offered a preview of explosions to come. Shew, who was doubling as emcee, said the next number, Oliver Nelson's "Step Right Up," was "the first one I played lead on after joining Buddy's band . . . and I'm still trying to get through it." Needless to say, Shew nailed the chart, as did everyone else including soloists Owens, Gonzales and Ahrend. Joe Zawinul's classic "Mercy, Mercy," one of three songs on the program that inspired album titles, was next up, followed by Horace Silver's "Nuttville" (from a later album, Ease on Down the Road) and Don Menza's "Groovin' Hard" (from Keep the Customer Satisfied). Following Bill Holman's alluring arrangement of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," Smith, who'd been largely held in check, had the shackles removed for extended, jaw-dropping solos on Paul Simon's funky "Keep the Customer Satisfied" and Bill Reddie's high-octane "Channel 1 Suite," which, Shew said, was written because Reddie, who'd been commissioned to compose an extended piece for Buddy's band, had no new ideas in mind so he simply reupholstered some music he had written for a Las Vegas show. To say it turned out well would be an understatement. Speaking earlier about Rich's unique approach to such seemingly tortuous charts, Shew said, "Buddy didn't read a note of music. He'd hire a backup drummer, then sit out front and listen while the band rehearsed. After a single run-though, Buddy would say, 'Okay,' climb on the bandstand and play whatever it was perfectly. It's true, he couldn't read music, but his memory was amazing. He only had to hear a piece of music once before he nailed it."

After an intermission, the band returned with Holman's "Readymix," Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone" and Menza's mercurial "Time Check." Everyone was groovin' hard, with scorching solos by Shew, Fusco, La Barbera, Owens, Ahrend and Saunders. Another Holman chart, the angular "Loose," which wasn't included on the album Big Swing Face but was added as a bonus track on a CD version of the LP, preceded one of the most admirable charts ever recorded by Buddy's band, namely "Big Swing Face" itself, written by the late great Bill Potts. Ahrend, Fusco and La Barbera sat in for their illustrious forebears—Ray Starling, Ernie Watts and Jay Corre. From Rich in London came the incendiary "Dancing Men," composed by Pat La Barbera's brother, trumpeter / bandleader John La Barbera. Pat soloed on that one with trombonist Finberg. Before announcing the closing number, Shew told the audience there would be "no encores, not even if you beg us or sign a petition," adding that they would soon learn the reason. The finale was yet another suite by Bill Reddie, "West Side Story," from the album Swingin' New Big Band. Not only did everyone onstage nearly flog themselves into exhaustion, their efforts were complemented by another of Smith's mind-boggling drum "clinics," one that all but brought down the house. Wherever he was, Buddy must have been smiling broadly. No tongue-lashings for this valorous group; they came, saw and conquered whatever music was placed before them, no matter how demanding. In short, a fabulous once-in-a-lifetime concert that should have been recorded for posterity.

Postscript

For our "encore," Betty and I drove to The Cooperage steakhouse two evenings later to see and hear another impressive concert, this one by the outstanding Albuquerque Jazz Orchestra. As we've mentioned before, the AJO is comprised for the most part of music educators in the Albuquerque area, some of whom boast impressive professional experience as well (leader Glenn Kostur, for example, was with Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau group for a number of years and served for a time as its music director). Perhaps inspired by the tribute to Buddy Rich, in which Kostur, trombonists Ben Finberg and Chris Buckholz, alto Sam Reid and pianist Jim Ahrend had taken part, the band was cookin' from the outset, opening the first set with Sammy Nestico's even-tempered "Queen Bee" and following with a Latin version of Clifford Brown's "Blues March," the standards "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Come Rain or Come Shine," Tom Kubis' clever "Exactly Like This" and another standard, "Alone Together," before closing with Bob Washut's superb arrangement of "Cherokee," featuring Reid on alto.

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