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13

Buddy Childers

Robert Spencer By

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The Big Band sound of legend, the Big Band sound of Duke and Basie and the Thundering Herd, the Big Wide Enormous Fat Sound, is alive and well. The Big Band sound is alive and well and living in the horn of Buddy Childers.

Mr. Marion Childers turned 75 on February 12, and from the sound of his recent releases, he's playing as strong a trumpet now as he was in 1942, when Stan Kenton hired him at the tender age of 16 to be the lead trumpet in his band. As Buddy himself later told the story to Steve Voce: "At the rehearsal he sat me down in the first trumpet chair, had the first trumpet player sit out. I played about eight or nine things in a row and the adrenalin was really flying that day. I was 16 I probably looked about 13, but I played considerably more maturely than that. 'Well, what do you want to do?' he said after that was over. 'I want to join your band.' 'But you're so young.' 'I gotta join your band,' I said. I had this thing in my mind that I had to join a name band at 16 or I'd never be able to make it as a musician. I was thinking of Harry James so young with Ben Pollack and then with Benny Goodman, and Corky Corcoran who joined Sonny Dunham when he was 16 and then became Harry James's leading soloist the next year. So I made it by three weeks. I only had a couple of months before I graduated but I wasn't interested in that, I was only interested in playing."

And man, did he play. He worked with Kenton for years, played with Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, and others. He worked on TV and films, and kept the big band torch alive all these years. In the Eighties and Nineties, when his old friends and associates were long gone or retired, Buddy put together a big band of tremendous strength -a band that Candid Records has ably documented on the four discs reviewed in the Unsung Recordings section. Buddy's tone is fuller than ever and he can still reach the bravura high notes, and when you listen to any one of these discs you realize immediately: this is what swing is. So many large outfits threaten to tip over from their own weight. They're so afraid of falling into pieces that they play ponderously. But not Buddy's. Buddy's band, like the man himself, is a dynamo of action and energy. A wonder to hear.

They play standards and a good bit of material from Buddy himself. It's fresh, powerful, and essentially jazz. As Buddy told Voce: "I've moved ever onward because that's the way I am. People say 'Why don't you play Kenton music?' Because I don't want to. It's not that I have anything against it, it's just that it's his music. He started his band so that he could play his music. I started my band for the same reason, so I could play mine, not so I could play his. There's a lot of guys out there who want to keep his music alive. Good! Let them! I write most of the stuff for my band. My writing is starting to come together and I'm pretty proud of what's there."

As well he should be. Give Buddy a listen, and you'll be proud too. Proud that you were open-minded enough to savor the artistry of a consummate professional. An Unsung Hero of the Big Bands.

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