A Salute to Buddy Rich

John Kelman BY

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'A Salute to Buddy Rich' is entertaining and informative, and is essential viewing for anyone who wants to see the impact of the man who called himself "the world's greatest drummer," and had the technique and musicality to back it up.
When drum legend Buddy Rich's daughter Cathy decided to organize a tribute to her late father, the choice of drummers was on one hand predictable, on the other, surprising. Steve Smith had, of course, formed a small group, Buddy's Buddies, with alumni from Rich's big band, and both he and Dennis Chambers were vocal about the impact that Rich had on their development as players. The surprise was the inclusion of ex-Genesis drummer and pop superstar vocalist Phil Collins. But, truth be told, Collins has dabbled with jazz throughout his career, including the fusion band Brand X, and cites Rich as a primary influence as well. The result? Three very different drummers with three very different slants on the powerhouse that was Buddy Rich, and a DVD, A Salute to Buddy Rich , that captures much of the excitement of the event.

Scattered throughout the twelve performances by Chambers and Collins with The Buddy Rich Big Band, and Smith with Buddy's Buddies, are interviews with the drummers discussing the impact that Rich had on them, as well as some entertaining and enlightening anecdotes. One, in particular, stands out as Chambers recounts seeing Rich play with a broken spring on his bass drum pedal, still managing to pull off astounding work that would have challenged most drummers with functioning gear. Also featured are clips from the rehearsals and, more importantly, some vintage footage of Rich at various stages in his career, demonstrating the energy and virtuosity that few have been able to match since.

In fact, as strong as each of the three drummers providing tribute is, the reality is that when placed up against the footage of Rich himself, none can compare to his sheer power and bold ego. But they all acquit themselves well and demonstrate, in different ways, that Rich has clearly affected the way they play, but can never be purely imitated. This is homage that does not attempt to copy. Collins' arrangement of "Birdland" doesn't even try to capture the blinding speed at which Rich delivered the famous Joe Zawinul/Weather Report composition, yet it does manage to convey the capacity for invention and challenge.

One of Rich's less considered, but equally remarkable, talents was his ability to recall complex and often lengthy arrangements on the bandstand without the use of charts. In this regard Chambers has to be considered if not an equal, then certainly in the same group; Chambers doesn't even read music, and so his ability to recall difficult charts here, and in much of his overall body of work, is equally noteworthy.

While the DVD is clearly a drum-lover's feature, that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of other great playing from members of The Buddy Rich Big Band, and Steve Smith's group, Buddy's Buddies. Saxophonists Steve Marcus and Andy Fusco are featured in both groups, and deliver consistently exciting and musical solos. Bassist Will Lee is always a joy to hear, and in this case a joy to watch. Rarely considered in the same category as more overtly virtuoso players like Marcus Miller or Victor Wooten, Lee possesses a more formidable technique than one might think, and swings as hard as the best of them. Rumour has it that he doesn't really consider himself to be a jazz player, but on the strength of these performances alone - not to mention countless other recordings on which he is featured - that is clearly a misconception on his part that is not shared by many fine musicians.

The DVD production work is of the excellent quality that Hudson Music is known for: great camerawork that makes the feature valuable to musicians and non-players alike, and a warm stereo mix. With three bonus tracks that were not available on the original VHS issue of this title, there is well over two-and-a-half hours of great interviews, rehearsal footage, live performances...and, of course, Buddy Rich himself - one of the true benchmarks in modern jazz drumming, and someone whose influence, nearly eighteen years after his death, is still being felt. A Salute to Buddy Rich is entertaining and informative, and is essential viewing for anyone who wants to see the impact of the man who called himself "the world's greatest drummer," and had the technique and musicality to back it up.

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Personnel: Phil Collins (drums), Dennis Chambers (drums), Steve Smith (drums) Featuring The Buddy Rich Big Band, with Steve Marcus (tenor and soprano saxophones), Andy Fusco (alto saxophone), Will Lee (bass), Luis Conte (percussion) and others; and Buddy's Buddies, also featuring Steve Marcus, Andy Fusco and Will Lee

Track Listing:
Phil Collins with The Buddy Rich Big Band: That's All; Norwegian Wood; Milestones; Birdland; Sussudio; The Way You Look Tonight; I Don't Care Anymore; Mercy, Mercy, Mercy Dennis Chambers with The Buddy Rich Big Band: All Blues; Rocky and His Friends
Steve Smith with Buddy's Buddies: Airegin; No Jive

Bonus Tracks:
Steve Smith: Nica's Dream; Big Man's Blues
Dennis Chambers: New Blues

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