Buddy Rich at 100: 1939 with Artie Shaw – “Traffic Jam,” “Shoot the Rhythm to Me, John Boy” and “Carioca”

Very recently, swingandbeyond.com has hosted its 10,000th viewer! That is very good news for me and for everyone who likes this thing called swing. This blog has been up and running since March of 2016. The first couple of months were challenging from the technical standpoint. I had to learn how to use the tools necessary to create posts. By mid-summer last year, we were really on our way. Thanks to all who visit the blog and look around. More great music, stories and images are on the way. Mike Zirpolo

During the six months Buddy Rich was the drummer with Bunny Berigan’s band, that band was one of the better swing bands in the country. When Rich joined Berigan, just after July 4, 1938, the band was still operating on a solid financial base. However, during the summer of 1938, a number of misfortunes befell Berigan and his band, the largest being the Great Hurricane of 1938, which blew them out of a prime two-week engagement at the Ritz Carleton Roof Garden in Boston. After that, they had to scuffle to fill in more than a dozen open dates in their schedule. Meanwhile, the costs for operating the Berigan band continued unabated. By December, Bunny was having difficulty paying his band each week.

The first major defection from the Berigan ranks occurred when Bunny’s star tenor saxophone soloist, Georgie Auld gave his two-weeks notice around December 1. Here is how Auld remembered that:

“Bunny wanted me to play alto and tenor on this album. (Really it was a grouping of six tunes, all of which were either composed by Bix Beiderbecke, or had some connection to him. Berigan recorded them with a small band of musician drawn from his big band on two succeeding days. MZ) I hadn’t touched the alto in a long time. I squeaked a couple of times. Bunny took his trumpet and threw it up against the wall, cursed me out and said, ‘Blackie (Bunny’s nickname for Auld), you sonofabitch, you’re doin’ the squeakin’ so we can go overtime.’ It broke my heart. Those were the first out-of-the-way words we ever had. I go back to the Forrest Hotel, and run into Billie Holiday and Tony Pastor. They say ‘Artie has been looking for you all day. Where have you been?’ They were working at the Lincoln Hotel. So I said, ‘I’ll come by tonight.’ I went by that evening and Artie hired me. The next evening I went back to RCA to finish Bunny’s album. I walked into the men’s room to take a leak, and Bunny’s in there taking one. He looked at me and said: ‘Jeez, Georgie, I was overtrained last night. I never should have done what I did. I hope you’ll forgive me.’ ‘I forgive you Bunny. I hope you’ll forgive me.’ ‘Why? What did you do?’ ‘I joined Artie Shaw last night. I’m going with his band in two weeks.’ He says: ‘You make a move and I’ll knock every one of your f……’ teeth out.’ One minute later, he’s hugging me and saying: ‘No matter who’s in your chair with my band, if you’re not happy with Shaw, that chair always belongs to you.’[i]

Like many jazz musicians, Georgie Auld (at right Georgie Auld on the way to Hollywood with Artie Shaw’s band – April 1939.) was a good storyteller; indeed he was a good actor. He appeared on Broadway in The Rat Race in the 1950s, and later appeared in the film New York, New York, as a jaded bandleader in the late 1970s. (In that film he stole more than one scene from stars Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli. It was also the sound of his tenor saxophone that was heard on the film’s soundtrack when De Niro was “playing” the saxophone onscreen.) I have ascertained that Auld’s first night with Artie Shaw’s band was December 16, 1938. That means that he probably gave his notice to Berigan two weeks earlier, on December 2. How much of the above-cited story is true is open to discussion. But I think the general outlines probably are true. Bunny undoubtedly was not happy about losing Auld. Nevertheless, their ultimate parting was on good terms, with Bunny being very gracious about it.

It was apparent to those inside the world of swing in the fall of 1938 that Artie Shaw’s band, after more than two years of only marginal success, was now headed for much greater popularity. Their Bluebird recording of “Begin the Beguine,” (posted elsewhere on this blog), which was made toward the end of July, had been released in early September, and was hitting big.That in turn, led to the Shaw band being featured weekly on a network radio show, CBS’s Melody and Madness, with comedian Robert Benchley, making a couple of short-subject music movies (the forerunner to the music videos of today), and landing a prime lengthy booking at the Blue Room of Hotel Lincoln in New York, which included almost nightly sustaining (unsponsored) radio broadcasts over the NBC network. As a result, Shaw suddenly found himself consistently on the positive side of his weekly income/outgo money ledger, probably for the first time. Week-long stands at major movie theaters, and ultimately, being featured in a Hollywood film, MGM’s Dancing Co-Ed, were being discussed by his managers with his booking agency, General Artists Corp. (GAC). Big money was now a real possibility for Artie Shaw and his band.

Shaw’s focus as he languished in the ranks of second-tier bandleaders, had always been on Benny Goodman. The bedrock of BG’s great success in the late 1930s had always been his weekly network radio show, the Camel Caravan, sponsored by Camel cigarettes.That provided Benny and his band with great ongoing exposure to a sizable audience of mostly young people who bought Goodman’s records, and came out to see and hear the Goodman band at theaters and ballrooms through the nation.It also provided Benny with a stable source of income, from which he was able to keep his band musically strong. Among the top-notch musicians employed by BG during this time were: drummers Gene Krupa and Dave Tough; pianists Jess Stacy and Teddy Wilson; trumpeters Harry James and Ziggy Elman; saxophonists Vido Musso, Bud Freeman, Hymie Shertzer, Jerry Jerome and Dave Matthews. Shaw, in contrast, had built his band with young unknown musicians. The two seasoned performers he had been able to hire for his band were the singer/tenor saxophonist Tony Pastor, a long-time Shaw acquaintance, and the young and not so well-known (in 1938) singer Billie Holiday.

But by the end of 1938, Shaw finally had enough cash-flow each week to strengthen his band. His first personnel changes took place when he brought in the young jazz trumpet soloist Bernie Privin (shown at left 1939), who replaced journeyman Claude Bowen, and veteran jazz trombonist Les Jenkins, who replaced non-soloist Russell Brown. Then Bob Kitsis, a very capable pianist in the Teddy Wilson mode, replaced Les Burness. The most drastic change however, was the replacement of tenor saxophonist Ronnie Perry with Georgie Auld. Auld could hold his own with any of the better young (he was 19 when Artie hired him) tenor players then, and was a crack section player as well. Gradually, the tenor sax solos in the Shaw band, especially those requiring jazz, were taken by Auld. Tony Pastor, a very capable melodic tenor sax soloist, had far fewer solos on that instrument, but many more vocals, where he received a lot of positive recognition. Auld was in place in the Shaw saxophone section by mid-December 1938.

While all of this was going on, the drummer in Shaw’s band, the excellent Cliff Leeman (shown at right in 1938 with Shaw), encountered a major problem. (He later explained this problem to me as being the world’s worst case of the piles.) His affliction got so bad that he simply could not sit on his drummer’s stool without agonizing pain. Various short-term subs were used, and then Shaw was able to secure the services of A-list drummer George Wettling (borrowed from Paul Whiteman), for broadcasts and recordings through the last two-plus weeks of December.

Being a helpful person, Georgie Auld then approached Shaw, and suggested that Buddy Rich, the drummer in the Berigan band, might be a good fit for the drummer’s role in the Shaw band. Shaw was not too receptive, because Buddy was loud, was assertive (some would say cocky), and he couldn’t read drum music. As Shaw became increasingly concerned with the non-progress he was having in finding a drummer, he finally told Auld to ask Rich to come by the Blue Room and sit in for a set. Rich’s effect on the Shaw band was immediate and electric. Yes, he was loud; yes, he was aggressive. But he also propelled the Shaw band with a controlled exuberance that they had never experienced before.Shaw agreed to hire Rich as soon as he (Rich) could complete his two-week notice with Berigan. In the meantime, George Wettling played drums on Shaw’s radio broadcasts. Wettling, and probably other subs, played the dance sets at Hotel Lincoln.(*)

Immediately after the 1/1/39 Melody and Madness program, Shaw took a few days off, and flew to Cuba for a holiday. He returned in time for the 1/8/39 Melody and Madness show. The Shaw band evidently did not broadcast during this interval. It is likely however, that for at least a part of this time, the band rehearsed, probably under the direction of Jerry Gray (at left 1939), Shaw’s chief arranger at the time. At any such rehearsals, Rich would have been present and had time to listen to the band, and acclimate himself. Shaw often stated that when he discussed with Rich the problem of him not being able to read drum music when they first met,Rich told him that he couldn’t, and didn’t need to. He said he needed only to listen to the band play its current repertoire once or twice, and he’d then know what to play. This is exactly what he did, and there was never any problem with him not knowing what to play with the Shaw band.

Many years later, Artie Shaw reflected on the impact Georgie Auld and Buddy Rich had on his band: “I hired Georgie Auld and Buddy Rich at about the same time. They were totally opposite to what the band was. They came in and did their thing…and that added a spice to the whole band. They changed the band overnight, not that they knew it.” (**)

The four recordings I am posting here as great examples of what Buddy Rich sounded like with Artie Shaw’s band were made in the spring and summer of 1939.The first three were made when the Shaw band was in Hollywood making the feature film Dancing Co-ed for MGM. They come from three different sources: a Melody and Madness broadcast, and a remote broadcast emanating from the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, and an RCA-Bluebird studio recording.

The classic 1939 Artie Shaw band: L-R front: Artie Shaw,Al Avola,Georgie Auld,Hank Freeman,Les Robinson,Tony Pastor; rear:Sid Weiss,Chuck Peterson,Bernie Privin,John Best,George Arus,Les Jenkins, Harry Rodgers. Buddy Rich sits atop his drummer’s perch. This is a still from Shaw’s February 1939 Vitaphone movie short Symphony of Swing.

 “Traffic Jam”

Recorded in Los Angeles, California by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra on May 30, 1939 from the Melody and Madness NBC(***) network radio show.

Artie Shaw, clarinet; directing: John Best, first trumpet, Chuck Peterson and Bernie Privin, trumpets; George Arus, first trombone; Les Jenkins and Harry Rodgers, trombones; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone; Hank Freeman, alto and baritone saxophones; Tony Pastor and Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Bob Kitsis, piano; Al Avola, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.

The music: The great drummer Chick Webb (whose “Spinnin’ the Webb” is posted elsewhere on this blog), was performing at a location in Boston in the spring of 1938 when Artie Shaw’s very good but struggling band was playing at the Roseland-State Ballroom in the same city. Artie had long been fascinated by Webb’s drumming, and his uncanny knack for firing up a band. Shaw took to listening to the Webb band on his off nights, and got to know one of Webb’s saxophonists and arrangers, Teddy McRae. Eventually, Shaw asked McRae to write and arrange some jazz originals that his band could play, and hopefully swing. One of the first of McRae’s efforts was the happily swinging “Back Bay Shuffle,” which Shaw recorded for RCA-Bluebird in the summer of 1938. Shaw’s record became a very strong hit, eventually exceeding the one million sales mark. Shaw was delighted, his audiences and record buyers were delighted, and Teddy McRae, as composer was delighted to receive the composer royalties.

The natural inclination when there has been a success is to analyze the success and try to figure out why success was achieved, and then try to duplicate the success. Most second tries are not as successful as the first ones. After the success of “Back Bay Shuffle,” Shaw extended McRae a continuing offer to come up with another swinging jazz original that would display the power, precision and exuberance of his band, which by 1939 included the dynamic Buddy Rich on drums. Late in his life, McRae reflected on what happened: “…One day after rehearsal, it was about five o’clock, I was standing right across the street from Symphony Hall. Well, here it was, rush hour and the Boston Pops was getting out, and businesses and factories were pouring out people and all of those cars were stopping and starting and horns were blowing. It was like a whirlpool (of sound). I got excited. I called up Artie and said ‘Man, I got a hit for you–a traffic jam.” (****)

Eventually, McRae composed the tune, wrote the arrangement and got it to Shaw. The Shaw band was riding high in Hollywood when it broadcast this performance as a part of the Old Gold cigarettes Melody and Madness radio show. In addition to Rich, whose explosive drumming is heard throughout, the soloists are Shaw on clarinet, Georgie Auld on tenor saxophone, and George Arus on trombone. Rich’s vocal interjections are always fun to hear–they reflect his unstoppable enthusiasm. At one point in this performance when just the rhythm section (piano, bass, guitar and drums) are playing, Rich exclaims (in rhythm) “hey, hey, yes, yes, yes, yes….aaaahhh!

Artie Shaw’s 29th birthday celebration at the Palomar Ballroom – May 23, 1939: To Shaw’s right-Robert Benchley; L-R behind them:Tony Pastor, Helen Forrest and Buddy Rich.

“Shoot the Rhythm to Me, John Boy”

Composed and arranged by Artie Shaw.

Recorded from a broadcast by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra emanating from the Palomar Ballroom, Los Angeles, California on June 10, 1939.

Personnel as above.

The music: “Shoot the Rhythm to Me, John Boy,” (alternate title: “Shoot the Likker to Me, John Boy”), was a rhythmic showpiece for Shaw’s clarinet that was recorded by Artie on September 17, 1937 on the Brunswick label (with a scat vocal by Leo Watson). That recording was made in the early months of Shaw’s conventional swing band’s existence. Despite the band’s newness, that recording swings. The drummer on that recording was Cliff Leeman, a very good big band drummer who was finding his rhythmic identity working with Shaw. Leeman was to remain Shaw’s drummer until December of 1938, when a physical problem took him out of the band. (This is explained above.) Shaw’s hiring of Buddy Rich to replace Leeman was somewhat tentative, because he couldn’t read music, and he tended to play loud, neither of which pleased Artie. But as soon as Shaw saw how audiences reacted to Rich’s playing, he was convinced that he could be a very positive asset for his band, which he definitely was.

This performance comes from a broadcast from the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles on a night when there was a packed house that responded strongly to the playing of Artie and his band. Rich’s dynamic presence takes this piece to a far more intense rhythmic level than those recorded before he joined the Shaw band. The soloists are Shaw on clarinet, trumpeter Bernie Privin, and trombonist George Arus. Note the instrumental dialog between Shaw and the band: this was designed to excite audiences, and it most certainly does that here. (Above left: Rich and Shaw – June 1939. Photo – Lee Brenkman.)

“Traffic Jam”

Composed by Teddy McRae and Artie Shaw; arranged by Teddy McRae.

Recorded for RCA-Bluebird in Hollywood, California(#) on June 12, 1939.

Personnel as above.


Composed by Vincent Youmans; arranged by Jerry Gray.

Recorded live at the Summer Terrace of the Ritz-Carleton Hotel in Boston,Massachusetts on August 19, 1939.

Personnel as above.

After completing work on the MGM film Dancing Co-ed on July 31, 1939, Artie Shaw and His Orchestra left Hollywood and worked their way back east. They opened at the Roof of the Ritz-Carleton Hotel in Boston on August 18. As one can hear from listening to this great performance of “Carioca,” the Shaw band was on fire in the summer (and indeed into the fall) of 1939. Shaw and his band had recorded “Carioca” for RCA-Bluebird on January 23, 1939, but that performance, good as it is, pales in comparison with this one. The arrangement had become longer, with excitement-building riffs being added, and the superb drumming of Buddy Rich inspiring Shaw and the band greatly. This recording, one of the best of the swing era, is the one that is usually played for people who have some doubt about Shaw’s ability to swing. In addition to Shaw’s heated clarinet solos, there is a brief tenor sax passage played by Georgie Auld.

Shaw’s rhythm – 1939: L-R: Al Avola, guitar; Buddy Rich, drums; Sid Weiss, bass.Pianist Bob Kitsis’s right shoulder is at the bottom left corner of the photo.

[i] Traps, the Drum Wonder—The Life and Times of Buddy Rich, by Mel Tormé, Oxford University Press (1991), 39–40.

(*)To my ears, George Wettling was definitely the drummer on Shaw’s CBS Melody and Madness radio shows of 12/25/38 and 1/1/39. Likewise, he was clearly present on I Cover the Waterfront, from the same 12/29/38 Blue Room broadcast as Jeepers Creepers.  Indeed, it doesn’t appear (aurally) that Rich’s drumming is a part of the Shaw band sound until the Melody and Madness broadcast on 1/8/39.

(**) Quote appeared on the dust jacket of a series of Jazz Guild LPs documenting much of Artie Shaw’s Melody and Madness radio show issued on the Jazz Guild label.

(***) In mid-May 1939, the Melody and Madness show switched from CBS to NBC.

(****)The Swing Era – Encore, Time-Life Books (1971), page 57. Notes on the music by Joseph Kastner.

(#) The Victor studio where this recording was made was located at 1016 North Sycamore in Hollywood. The natural acoustics of that studio, coupled with the skill of Harry Myerson, the man in charge there, resulted in many of the best-sounding recordings of the swing era.

The recordings used in this post have been digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.


As an extra bonus for Buddy Rich fans, I am posting a link to the performance of Artie Shaw and His Orchestra in the MGM film Dancing Co-ed, which was made in the summer of 1939. My thanks to Swingman 1938 for posting this sequence on You Tube.

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