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Buddy Rich: In a Zone of His Own

Jack Bowers By

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One of the channels that came with my Dish Network package is Classic Arts Showcase, which is a treasure trove of film clips documenting classical, ballet, folk, pop and other forms of music that one is unlikely to see anywhere else (although some footage is presumably available on YouTube, which more and more seems to encompass almost everything musical and beyond). When there is nothing else of interest to watch (which, alas, is much of the time), I sometimes press the remote control buttons for Classic Arts and can usually count on seeing something that is at least historic and educational if not spellbinding. Case in point: once upon a time, when Hollywood produced "film shorts" that showcased various aspects of American culture, music was one of the staples that helped lure audiences into theatres. Strange as it may seem to today's generation, a number of bandleaders were well-known celebrities in those days, and so it was that some of them could be seen leading their ensembles in slickly produced (and cleverly stage-managed) film shorts designed to heighten interest in their particular brand of music. A few days ago I came across one such narrative from 1939, "The Art of Swing," starring clarinetist Artie Shaw and his orchestra. As the film opened my gaze was drawn immediately to Artie's drummer, who looked to be in his late teens. He was of course the incomparable Buddy Rich, whose extraordinary technique, even then, affirmed the promise of larger worlds to conquer. Buddy was actually around twenty-one when the short was made. Watching it now, almost three-quarters of a century on, the thought endures that if anyone was ever born to be "the world's greatest drummer," it was Buddy Rich. He started drumming at age three (as part of his parents' vaudeville act) and continued doing so until shortly before his death in April 1987. In fact, he taped a BBC documentary in February of that year, and appeared to be in the best of health. During his long and storied career, Rich led a number of big bands including several from the mid-1960s onward that are widely considered to be among the finest ever assembled. Yes, Buddy was demanding, and a perfectionist, but that insistence on never taking one's foot off the accelerator and always doing things the right way was one of the qualities that raised his bands to a higher level than their contemporaries. Another was his unrivaled talent as a drummer, one who, in my opinion, was and is in a class by himself. Every performance by Buddy Rich epitomizes a textbook lesson in how to vanquish the impossible and make it look improbably easy. Among his ardent admirers is the British drummer Steve Taylor, whose DVD tribute to Buddy is appraised below, under "Sight and Sound."

The Best Keeps Getting Better

As if things weren't impressive enough already, Ken Poston has announced a special Sunday event to be held as a part of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute's Big Band Spectacular, set for May 23-26 at the L.A. Marriott Airport Hotel. The Sunday brunch, under the rubric "Birth of the Cool and Origins of the West Coast Sound," will consist of three concerts: The Real Birth of the Cool (Music of Claude Thornhill), The Birth of the Cool (Music of the Miles Davis Nonet) and Miles Ahead (The Classic Miles Davis +19 Collaboration with Gil Evans). Details are being finalized, but each group will feature star soloists and other special guests. The $75 cost covers the three concerts and brunch.

In addition to Sunday's special event, two more bands have been added to the weekend lineup, bringing to eleven the number of groups scheduled to take part. The newcomers are big bands led by Don Menza and Davids Angels. They join the ensembles already signed and ready to play: The Bill Holman, Tom Kubis, Mike Barone and Steve Huffsteter bands; Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band; Bob Curnow's L.A. Big Band; Roger Neumann's Rather Large Band; the Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra, and the L.A. Jazz Orchestra playing the music of William Russo. For information or reservations, phone 562-200-5477 or go online to www.lajazzinstitute.org

The New York What . . . ?

I don't know how it slipped past me, but I never knew there was a New York Jazz Museum. Apparently, it opened in 1972 and lasted only about five years, brought down by a struggle for control within its ranks that led to lawsuits and its demise. The story of the ill-fated museum is recounted in a new book, Jazz Expose: The New York Jazz Museum and the Power Struggle That Destroyed It, written by Howard Fischer, the museum's founder and executive director. For information about the book, phone Howard Fischer, 212-864-1479. An e-book version is available at Amazon.com and Smashwords.

The Wilbur Ware Institute

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