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The Beat Diacritic: Buddy Rich


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Jazz is an American classic, therefore we present it as such —Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich and His Band: Channel One Suite emphasizes the two main purposes of the man: to reanimate big band music and to look forward. This retrospective Digital Video Disc (DVD) was restored from the ruins of fire and water to stunningly portray Rich’s last recorded performance on April 3, 1985 in San Francisco. Channel One Suite is one of two sets that were recorded in a television studio-turned-club for a night.

The eccentricity of Buddy Rich seems almost a necessity of the minstrel spirit within. He often wore sweaters on stage despite heat and a bath of perspiration. His second floor tom held a towel; that was its only purpose (at least in this video). Rich tilted his snare drum slightly away from his body – a decision that has always seemed contrary to the forces of physics.

Channel One Suite contains a wealth of rearranged compositions. Versions of “Sophisticated Lady” (or as Rich would call them, dynamite chicks), “Love for Sale” and “Birdland” all picture a balance between the overt presence of Rich and the excellence of his entire band. This collection also features original music by Rich’s long time associate, John LaBarbera. “Channel One Suite” sizzles with the force of stylistic voyeurism, including a mid-section that is entirely bound by the integrity of Steve Marcus’s tenor saxophone exhibition.

“If you can play, you can play anything. I don’t like classifications,” Buddy Rich once said. No kidding. This man taught himself to play and never could read a note of music.

The production deserves great praise. Technology has redefined itself so quickly that we risk losing sight of the fact that, in 1985, DTS Digital Surround Sound was revolutionary. The video production of this concert won an Emmy Award and it is little wonder. The opening shot of “One O’Clock Jump” freezes the moment in immortality: Buddy Rich flanked by a beam of blue or red on either side, the man and his drums perfectly framed by a pink neon outline with the infamous “BR” shining over him. The production here is as good as the music in it.

Producers and the Rich family want us to remember more than the drumming. Although we are mostly drawn to Rich’s playing, the native New Yorker does not take a bona fide drum solo until the 34th minute of a 55-minute set. While he accentuates arrangements of songs originated by Count Basie, Duke Ellington and The Beatles, Rich’s focus reminds us of how the eye of a hurricane must feel. Although this DVD discusses Buddy’s legendary associations with Johnny Carson and Frank Sinatra, its most moving moment is a recollection of anonymous generosity. Rich secretly sent money to his valet’s mother after her son had been hit by a car and rendered unable to return to work. Joey Denoia breaks into tears at the tragedy of not discovering his boss’s generosity until after Buddy Rich departed our world in 1987.

The extra material in this DVD allows us to see Buddy Rich as a person of tremendous exactitude. One needs only watch him play briefly to see that Rich’s mind knew where the sticks would go long before they were thrown; his music leaped into the future from the glory of its own past; Buddy Rich lived in transition: as a drummer, as a person. Channel One Suite serves as a reminder of how far Buddy Rich advanced in his lifetime.

Gene Krupa once commented on Buddy Rich: “I suspect a good deal of my profound esteem for him is governed by the fact that...there is that quality of sureness present which denotes absolute control, acquired only by long and good experience.”

How special was Buddy Rich? Two years before this concert was recorded, doctors performed quadruple bypass surgery and told Rich to forget about drumming. He continued to play and recorded Channel One Suite.

Two years after this concert, Buddy Rich was gone.

Production Notes:

Studio: Lightyear Entertainment
Picture Format: 4:3
Sound Format: 4.0 Channel Dolby Digital and DTS Digital Surround

DVD Extras:

Interview segments
Behind-the-Scenes Footage
Bonus Track
Slide Show

Web sites:

Lightyear Entertainment:

Official Buddy Rich:


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