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Butch Ballard: Legendary Philadelphia Drummer

By Published: January 9, 2007

The Philadelphia Legends of Jazz Orchestra

AAJ: When did the Philadelphia Legends of Jazz Orchestra start?

BB: I was in the starting band at the Clef Club about twelve years ago. Floyd Bracey was the bassist. I'm the oldest guy in the band.

Butch BalllardAAJ: Who writes the charts?

BB: The band leader, Leon Mitchell. He's a very fine musician. He used to play alto saxophone and some piano. Also, the Heath brothers send us some charts. Benny Golson sends us some charts—"Along Came Betty, "Blues March.

AAJ: Do you go to clubs today, like Ortliebs, to hear the guys play?

BB: Not as much as I used to. I go hear my good buddy, Mickey Roker, down at Ortliebs. After his time with Gillespie, Mickey came back to Philadelphia. He plays in his church in South Philadelphia now. He plays at Ortliebs, travels, he's still very active. And I go over to Germantown Avenue to listen to drummer Craig McIver. One of the finest drummers in Philadelphia.

[Ballard then spontaneously got up and showed me his Capitol LPs and a fine case of his recordings sent to him by the Mercury label. He has unstoppable energy. He could have gone on for the rest of the afternoon telling stories, reflecting on music, and showing me his memorabilia. He is a bundle of dynamic energy, and, even at 88, he really "swings. We stopped only because I had another appointment that evening. Guys like Ballard don't have a beginning or an end; he is like one of those long trains speeding in the night.]

AAJ: Well, Butch, I've got to head downtown now. I hate to stop you in midstream, but I've got to meet someone.

BB: Vic, thanks for coming by. Tell everyone to come hear my group at the Mozaic Club.

Selected Discography

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, The 1953 Pasadena Concert (GNP Crescendo, 2005)
Count Basie Orchestra, 1947-1949 (Classics Jazz, 2002)
Count Basie, Basie's Basement (Bluebird, 1992)
Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, Happy Birthday Duke! The Birthday Sessions [Box] (Laserlight, 1992)
Duke Ellington, Piano Reflections (Capitol, 1989)
Clark Terry Spacemen, Squeeze Me (Chiaroscuro, 1976)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Victor L. Schermer
Center Photo: Ben Johnson
Bottom Photo: Victor L. Schermer

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