Saturday, May 19, 2007

Buddy Rich Tribute

BUDDY RICH 1917-1987

When considering great drummers of the modern era, one man stands at the top of the heap: Bernard "Buddy" Rich. I did not pay near enough attention to this legendary musician in my youth. All I knew about him was that he was a jazz drummer who could play lightning quick buzz rolls and was a favorite on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

As I began taking drumming more seriously in my late teens, I began exploring all types of music, including jazz. I marvelled at the percussive wizardry and technical acumen of such greats as Billy Cobham, Dave Weckl, Alex Acuna, Jeff Porcaro, Harvey Mason and others. Still unaware of the influence of jazz's all-time master, I idolized these modern drumming marvels, along with rock's best Steve Smith (toured with Journey early in his career), Neil Peart (Rush) and of course Porcaro (a drummer who truly transcended genre).

It wasn't until the 1990's that I became more aware of the influence Buddy Rich had on all of my favorite drummers. When Neil Peart released the "Burning for Buddy" tribute CD in '94, I was simply blown away. Because of the dabbling I had done in jazz and big band swing, I immediately appreciated the prowess of Rich and his disciples. And this tribute CD featuring Rich's own band included performances by some of my favorite drummers, most notably Peart, Smith and Weckl. They assembled to pay homage to the man who is arguably the best to have ever picked up a pair of sticks.

After wearing out my copy of "Burning for Buddy, Vol. 1" and ordering "Vol. 2," I stumbled upon a best of Buddy Rich compilation that included some of the famous drum duels between he and Gene Krupa. I was mesmorized. So when I found that the Burning for Buddy sessions had been captured on DVD, I had to own a copy.

It arrived in the mail last weekend!

To hear my idols, Peart et al, talk about the impact Rich had on their lives and careers kind of put his iconic status into perspective for me. What's more, they all admired and respected each other, as well. They approached this project with fear, humility and much exhiliration. Some of them, Peart included, had never played with a big band so they were really out of their element. That just makes watching them perform that much better.

I only wish I had paid more attention to Buddy while he was still alive. Some of his performances from the early to mid 80's are astonishingly great. Here's a clip of his appearance on the Muppet Show in 1978: Buddy Rich v. Animal

As you can see, the man was amazingly fast with the sticks and made the double-stroke roll look effortless at any speed. He was very creative in his approach to the drums, milking the percussive quality out of every conceiveable part of his kit, including the stands. He was a pioneer who cut a path for all drummers of the modern era, regardless of genre. (In fact, one of the drummers featured on the DVD was a metal head who played for Guns'N'Roses.) His legacy is evident by the sheer number of drummers, including myself, who feel obliged to pay tribute and who watch the old footage with much awe and admiration.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Drummers Dilemna

Some of you may not know that "in another life" I worked as a radio personality and semi-professional drummer. The short-lived smooth jazz station in Tallahassee was where I called home for the last semester of school back in '97 and for several months after graduation. Money was the main reason I left that job for greener pastures. But throughout my whole adult life, I've found ways to pursue my passion for drumming. Opportunities have dwindled since leaving the church music scene back in Tally, but the passion is still there.

Any time I am in a concert setting, at a music store or around other musicians, I get the urge to pick up a pair of sticks and bang on something. That was the case this past Thursday.

Indy's smooth jazz station, WYJZ, was hosting a listener appreciation party at a small music venue, featuring saxophonist Walter Beasley. He brought his whole band and for 90 minutes they rocked the Music Mill. Paying close attention to the drummer, I thought (as I often do), "I could be doing that!"

And it's true. While not the most technically-precise or fine-tuned musician, I do pretty well to hold my own with most contemporary forms of music. A self-taught drummer, I really prefer to play smooth jazz, R&B and gospel for their rhythm-centric groove and syncopation.

And its not just the magic of music or the thrill of performance that calls out to me in the shadows of the club, church or music hall. It is the whole atmosphere and the connectedness that joins musician and audience member. It is the power of creation at work, drawing people in on an emotional and physical level.

Even when I handled events for the radio station in days gone by, I sensed that I was part of the larger music scene. I was able to go out and enjoy good music while feeling a part of some larger community not bound by race, socio-economic status or religion. I miss that.

Thursday's concert was just another reminder of what I am missing. And while I've tried to fill that void with the occasional church appearance as guest drummer on a worship team, I yearn for more than just a four-song set on a Sunday morning.

I think it is important to seek creative outlets and to explore the things you are most passionate about. Sometimes life can get in the way of that pursuit, but it helps to be reminded that you make time for the things of most import to you. If you are passionate about something, if you have a creative spark inside you, why aren't you passionate in your pursuit of it? I find myself asking that question more and more.