Buddy Rich: Final Recording


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In 1983, I saw Buddy Rich and his big band at a long-gone New York club called Wednesday's on East 86th Street. I recall a mid-week gig and that the place was a disco on the weekends. The only table available was the one directly in front of Rich's bass drum. We took it. People had avoided the table as if it had been placed amid Hell's Angels at a rock festival. Sitting there, your teeth were sure to rattle or you'd suffer Rich's glare if you weren't fully engaged. In truth, it wasn't as bad as all that. To see Rich from that proximity was to be a virtual member of the band and quite a thrill. As the band cooked through song after song, I was thunderstruck by the power and swing.

Listening to Buddy Rich: Just in Time, the Final Recording (Gearbox) reminded me of that night. Newly released this past Friday, the album is one of the finest historic jazz releases of 2019. Recorded at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London in November1986, the album documents Rich's last performance at the Soho nightspot. I believe there was one more recording made by Rich at the Grendals Lair in Philadelphia in December when the band returned to the States. Rich died in April 1987.

The band in London had been together for about two years—a lifetime for Rich, as his daughter Cathy remarks in her liner notes. The personnel includes Eric Miyashiro, Greg Gisbert, Dana Watson and Kevin Richardson (tp); James Martin, Tom Garling and Ric Trager (tb); Bob Bowlby and Mike Rubino (as); Steve Marcus (ts,sop); Chris Bacas (ts); Jay Craig (bar); Matt Harris (p); Rob Amster (b) and Buddy Rich (d).

To record live, the band brought in the Rolling Stones Mobile Unit, a recording studio on wheels that parked outside and ran wires inside to microphones. It's easy to forget how great Rich's bands were well into the 1980s. This one was especially good, with solid pick up and go and killer soloists. Playing together for so many live engagements polished them to the point of swing perfection. (Regarding the image above, bet you never thought you'd see the Rolling Stones logo next to Buddy Rich's name.)

The songs are Wind Machine, Night Blood, Ready Mix, The Trolley Song, Winding Way, Harco Shuffle, Just in Time, Loose, Love for Sale, Shawnee, Up Jumped Spring, Why Bother?, a Porgy & Bess medley, Twisted (with a vocal by Cathy Rich) and a few bonus tracks—Wind Machine as a single and Good News, Parts 1 and 2.

Of note is the Porgy & Bess medley arranged by Keith Bishop. It runs 10 1/2 minutes and is in the spirit of Rich's West Side Story Medley from his Swingin' New Big Band recorded live at The Chez in Hollywood in 1966. There are solos by Marcus (ts), Martin (b tb) and Bowlby (as). Also here, and from the same '66 album, is Bill Holman's Ready Mix, with solos by Harris (p) and Marcus (ts). Also swinging is Matt Harris's composition and arrangement of Why Bother? Featured on solos are Marcus (ts) and Gisbert (tp).

A couple of others: Love for Sale, with Pete Myers's terrific arrangement from 1967 on Big Swing Face. Solos by Bowlby (as), Gisbert (tp) and Marcus (ts). And Cathy Rich's Twisted is terrific. It must be daunting to hear your father work the cymbal while counting off, “One... two... three... four." The lyrics and melody (tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray's 1949 solo with words by Annie Ross) are far from easy to sing. In typical Buddy Rich fashion, he calls Cathy “a good kid" at the end. But you can hear how proud he is.

There isn't a bad track on this album. All tear down the runway and lift off neatly. I just wish there were notes that provided background on who had possession of the Ronnie Scott tape, how it was discovered and why it wasn't released 30 years ago. Which leads one to wonder how many other Buddy Rich gems are gathering dust in tape limbo. Kudos to Cathy Rich for getting this one finally released.

JazzWax clips: Here's Wind Machine...

And here's Ready Mix...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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