Buddy Rich at 100: with Tommy Dorsey –“Quiet Please” and “Deep River”
This is the third and final part of swingandbeyond’s centenary tribute to drum legend Buddy Rich, who was born on September 30, 1917.
The story: Buddy Rich reached the acme of his career as a featured swing era sideman in the years he spent with Tommy Dorsey. Dorsey understood what a powerful audience-pleaser Rich was, and featured him extensively. This helped his band achieve and retain great popularity on radio, on records, in movies, and in many and varied in-person appearances all around the U.S.in the early 1940s. It also nourished Rich’s already healthy ego, which caused inevitable clashes with two other people in the Dorsey band then who also had gigantic egos: Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey. In retrospect, these conflicts are funny. But at the time they were happening, they sometimes threatened the stability of Dorsey’s band. It seems that the major factors in keeping the band together and on-track were Dorsey’s iron discipline, enforced when necessary by threats (from Tommy) of physical violence, and paradoxically TD’s own highly developed sense of humor. Moreover, the Dorsey band was so busy and so successful that differences among performers usually subsided because everyone, despite their youth (most were in their early 20s, TD was in his mid-30s), was either exhausted, or frequently, bombed.
Also, Tommy was a compulsive, generous host, who reveled in throwing parties, either at his Bernardsville, New Jersey estate, or at his palatial offices in the penthouse of the Brill Building, on Broadway and 49th in Manhattan, or anywhere else where he could gather people around himself. The people who attended those parties recalled them being notable for TD’s tremendous hospitality, and for the frequent fisticusffs that broke out when partiers, under the influence, felt obliged to defend their honor, or themselves. At one such party in 1944 at TD’s Hollywood apartment, at 4:30 in the morning, Jon Hall, an actor, embraced Tommy’s then-current wife, actress Pat Dane. This enraged TD, who punched Hall on the chin, knocking him onto the external balcony of the apartment. A melee ensued, during which Ms. Dane grabbed a woman by her hair and held her head in a hammerlock. By the time it was over, Hall was bleeding profusely from wounds to his face, nose and right ear. Civil and criminal litigation arising from this brawl ultimately came to nothing, but not before the press had a field day.
When Tommy Dorsey wasn’t hosting parties, brawling, or getting himself out of legal hot water, he led some of the best bands of the swing era. He himself was a superb melodic trombonist. In fact, he was largely responsible for transforming the ungainly trombone from an instrument that was often played in a crude, blatting fashion, to one that, in his skilled hands, was a golden-toned, satin-smooth purveyor of beautiful melodies. He also actively sought out and hired the best musicians he could find, including many great jazz musicians, arrangers, and singers. His most notable singers were Frank Sinatra and Jo Stafford, both of whose careers were greatly helped by their work and association with TD. They and most others who worked with TD also learned a lot about music from him. Finally, he led his bands in such a way that he demanded every bit of talent from his band members at all times, made sure they had good music to play, kept them working at the highest-profile venues in the country, and generally paid them well.
Composed and arranged by Sy Oliver.
Recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra for Bluebird on July 17, 1940 in New York City.
Tommy Dorsey, first trombone, directing: Ray Linn, first trumpet; Jimmy Blake and Clyde Hurley, trumpets; George Arus, Les Jenkins and Lowell Martin, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, first alto saxophone; Johnny Mince alto saxophone and clarinet; Don Lodice and Paul Mason, tenor saxophones; Freddie Stulce, baritone saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Clark Yocum, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.
In November of 1939, Artie Shaw was leading the top swing band in the country. He was also having a slow, steady meltdown. For myriad reasons, Shaw felt besieged. He repeatedly threatened to leave his band, despite his enormous popular and musical success with it. Most of his sidemen shrugged all of this off, and continued to make fine music with Artie. Then, suddenly, it happened: in mid-November, Shaw left his band in the middle of a highly successful, high-profile engagement at the Cafe’ Rouge of Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan.
Shaw’s drummer, Buddy Rich, had been under a siege of his own in the fall of 1939. Tommy Dorsey, and his personal manager Bobby Burns, were besieging Rich with phone calls and telegrams imploring him to join Tommy’s band. After Shaw departed, Rich was flown to Chicago at Dorsey’s expense. There the TD band was in the middle of a long engagement at the Palmer House. Tommy rolled out the red carpet for Rich, ensconcing him in a suite and paying all of his expenses. Rich deigned to listen to the TD band for one evening. After one set, he pronounced the band “square,” and returned to Manhattan.
Dorsey being Dorsey told Burns, “now we’ve got him!” Burns, perplexed, asked Tommy what he meant: Rich had returned to New York without joining the TD band. “I’ll talk with him tomorrow on the phone, and he’ll be my drummer, you’ll see.” The next day Tommy did call Rich on the phone. He told him he would redesign his band, and build it around Buddy’s drumming. Now, Rich was becoming interested. “I’ll have Sy Oliver create terrific showcases for your drumming!” Tommy promised. Rich being Rich then said: “How much bread are we talking about Tommy?” After brief negotiations, a generous salary was agreed upon. Dorsey immediately had his attorney in New York personally deliver a contract for Rich to sign at Buddy’s parents’ home in Brooklyn (Buddy at age 22 was still living with them). Buddy signed, and a new chapter in swing history began.
As 1939 wound down and 1940 began, the idealistic picture Dorsey had painted for Rich slowly began to fill in. Tommy began gradually reshaping his band’s musical identity along more swing/jazz oriented lines. Rich always had a couple of features in each show. More jazz was being featured. Rich was content. Then Tommy Dorsey hired Frank Sinatra in January of 1940. TD knew immediately that he would have to balance his band’s jazz and swing presentations with dreamy ballads sung by Sinatra. Audiences were demanding it. (Tommy was one of the first to notice Sinatra’s inexplicable power over the young women in his audience.) Sinatra’s gains were Rich’s losses. Buddy boiled. Still, TD did continue to present Rich’s drumming to a far greater degree than any other bandleader ever had featured a drummer. One of the first showcases for Rich’s drumming that Tommy had Sy Oliver create was “Quiet Please.”
The label of the Bluebird record that carried “Quiet Please” requires some explanation. The subtitle (“It’s the Drummer in Me”) is a pun on the title of a very lovely ballad from the late 1930s called “It’s the Dreamer in Me,” which coincidentally was co-composed by Tommy’s brother, bandleader Jimmy Dorsey. The use of the identification Tommy Dorsey and His Sentimentalists is in my opinion, a blatant mistake by the people at Victor/Bluebird. The Sentimentalists were initially a small group drawn from the Dorsey band, sort of a successor to the Clambake Seven, a name Tommy used in the 1930s to identify a Dixieland group of musicians from his big band that he used to make recordings. Later, Tommy had a singing group with his band identified as “The Sentimentalists.”
The music: In addition to highlighting the incredible drumming of Buddy Rich, Sy Oliver’s “Quiet Please” also spots Johnny Mince’s exciting clarinet, first in its low or chalumeau register, and then after an upward leap, in the medium-high register. Take note of how trumpet soloist Clyde Hurley carries Rich’s rhythmic intensity into the first few bars of his solo. In the finale, Rich doubles his speed. This would become a trademark.
Traditional African American spiritual, arranged by Sy Oliver.
Recorded on February 17, 1941 by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra for Victor in New York City.
Tommy Dorsey, first and solo trombone, directing: Chuck Peterson, first trumpet; Ray Linn, Jimmy Blake, Ziggy Elman, trumpets; George Arus, Les Jenkins, Lowell Martin, trombones; Freddie Stulce, first alto saxophone; Johnny Mince, alto saxophone and clarinet; Paul Mason and Don Lodice, tenor saxophones; Heinie Beau, baritone saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Clark Yocum, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.
Although Buddy Rich was a nonpareil drum soloist, he also was a tremendously inspirational ensemble drummer. This is demonstrated conclusively in the performance of the spiritual “Deep River.”(**)
I am struck by the awesome tightness of the Dorsey band here, something that definitely emanated from Buddy Rich’s aggressive, driving drumming. When I spoke with clarinetist Johnny Mince (who has a great solo in this recording, one of his last with TD), about this in 1986, he laughed: “With Buddy, you either go along with what he’s playing, or he will cover you, like a tidal wave. He has always been very strong, and very loud. There never was another drummer like him, and never will be. Those up-tempo things we did with Tommy, my God!” This is one of those up-tempo things.
After an introduction and some interplay between the brass and reeds, Mr.TD steps out with an open trombone solo that states the melody. Notice how pianist Joe Bushkin joins TD for a bit of instrumental dialog before he takes his own very swinging solo. Mince is up next, with an intensely rhythmic clarinet solo. He is followed by tenor saxist Don Lodice, who maintains the brisk pace nicely. Trumpeter Ziggy Elman then ratchets up the excitement a notch, leading into the romping, stomping finale, with Mince’s clarinet on top of the sonic mix, and Rich’s drums on the bottom.
I must also mention the superb playing of the trumpet section throughout this recording. Listen to the hair-raising eight bar interlude they play immediately before TD’s solo. The piercing first trumpet part on that was played by high-note expert Chuck Peterson (who a bit later created one-half of the exciting trumpet duel with Ziggy Elman on TD’s great recording of “Well, Get It.”) On the blasting brass finale, I think Elman plays (and swings brilliantly) the first trumpet part. Listen as Mince’s clarinet flys over the smoking ensemble at the end. As Johnny Mince said …my God!
(**) “Deep River” was one of dozens of public domain songs dressed up in the finery of swingin 1941 when the dispute between ASCAP and the radio networks prohibited for most of that year the broadcasting of any songs written by composers who were ASCAP members. “Deep River” had also been adapted in 1921 into the pop song “Dear Old Southland.”
As further demonstrations of Buddy Rich’s great drumming with Tommy Dorsey’s band, you can listen to them rock the house on Sy Oliver’s “Loose Lid Special”…
…and their terrific live recording of “Hallelujah”…
To close the circle on the Buddy Rich – Tommy Dorsey story, I am providing a link to a TV special on which Rich appeared in early 1987, which included him playing some selections that he played in his days as TD’s star drummer, including “Hawaiian War Chant”. The band he appeared with was the Tommy Dorsey band directed by Buddy Morrow. The trumpet soloist was Daryl “Flea” Campbell,(#) who like Rich and Morrow, had been a member of Tommy’s swing era band. As you will see and hear, Rich at age 69 was still playing brilliantly. What no one knew then was that within a short time, a life-threatening brain tumor would be discovered, Rich would undergo complicated surgery, and sadly would perish shortly thereafter on April 2, 1987.
(#) Further research has led me to the conclusion that this trumpeter may be Lin Blaisdell, another long-serving member of Buddy Morrow’s band.
My thanks to Bernhard Castiglione for posting this on You Tube.
All recordings contained in this post (except the video below) were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.