“New Blues” (1967) Buddy Rich

“New Blues”

Composed and arranged by Donall Piestrup.

Recorded by the Buddy Rich Big Band on June 15, 1967 for Pacific Jazz/Liberty in Hollywood.

Buddy Rich, drums, directing: Ollie Mitchell, Chuck Finley, John Scottile and Yoshito Murakami, trumpets; Jim Trimble, John Boice and Robert Brawn, trombones; Jim Mosher and Ernie Watts, alto saxophones; Jay Corre and Robert Keller, tenor saxophones; Meyer Hirsch, baritone saxophone; Ray Starling, piano; Richie Resnicoff, guitar; Jim Gannon, bass.

The story: Buddy Rich was without question one of the greatest drummers ever. Many have said that he was the greatest, including Buddy himself. I was privileged to have seen him perform a number of times over a period of about ten years, from the early 1970s into the mid-1980s. I can say without reservation that what I saw and heard was astonishing. All of the technique and flash he had were usually on display at some point during a Rich concert because audiences demanded that he wow them with his spectacular playing. But there was much more to Rich’s drumming than what appeared on the surface. (Rich is shown in the late 1960s at right.)

There was also the famous Rich personality. Buddy acquired a well-earned reputation for cockiness as far back as 1938, when he started his big-time career as a jazz drummer with the hard-swinging Bunny Berigan band. This reputation continued to be burnished during Rich’s time as drummer in Artie Shaw’s band (1939), and then in his long association through the early 1940s, and intermittently after that, with Tommy Dorsey. In Dorsey, Rich found an ego as large (or larger) than his, an intimidating manner used to control his musicians, and above all, a fierce dedication to musical excellence, all of which Rich incorporated, at least to some degree, into his own personality.

The bedrock of Buddy Rich’s persona however was his immersion in the world of show business and performing, which began, quite literally, when he was a toddler. Rich’s parents were vaudeville performers. They took note of his unusual and extraordinary talent as a drummer even during his early childhood, and soon incorporated him into their act. (At left: Buddy Rich at age four, 1921, as Traps, the Drum Wonder.) What young Buddy did with drums was so remarkable, that he soon became a vaudeville act unto himself. He also sang, danced, and acted an an emcee. He traveled extensively all through his childhood and adolescence, playing not only the vaudeville circuits in the United States, but also overseas.

He was during the late 1920s and early 1930s one of the highest paid juvenile acts in show business. (At right, twelve year-old Buddy Rich in a Vitaphone movie short. Brooklyn, New York, January 24, 1930.) By 1935, all of this was just about over, simply because Buddy Rich was no longer a child.

Rich was always very close to his parents, who settled in Brooklyn, New York after Buddy began essentially supporting the Rich family with his earnings as a performer. They guided his vaudeville career through the years when it was very successful. But when that was over, they were at a loss as to what Buddy should do next as a performer. Rich’s ever-increasing interest in jazz through the early 1930s would eventually link him with performers where his drumming excellence could be put to good, if limited, use. At first, and indeed for some time, Rich’s huge technique and boundless enthusiasm as a performer caused him to play too much in jazz settings, overwhelming what the other musicians were doing.

Buddy Rich performs, spring 1938.This photo shows from L-R: bassist Sid Weiss; trumpeter Louis Prima; a clarinetist I do not recognize; and a 20 year-old Buddy Rich.

Rich worked in many settings from the mid-1940s into the mid 1960s, including leading his own band in the later 1940s, being featured with Jazz of the Philharmonic in the 1950s, and being featured with trumpeter Harry James in the early to mid-1960s. Rich’s 1940s big band was a solid musical organization, but failed to survive in the postwar years. Nevertheless, the highly addictive condition known among jazz musicians as “leaderitis” had infected Rich in the 1940s, and he had never shaken that condition. He believed that with his undeniable talent and his long show business experience and reputation, he should lead his own band. In 1966, at a time when jazz was being marginalized by rock in the musical mainstream, and fewer and fewer permanent, touring big bands were on the scene, Rich launched a new big band.

It is now apparent to me that the new Buddy Rich big band had excellent management, which was essential for its survival and its ultimate success. There was strategic thinking behind presenting the new Rich band on many television shows, including mid-1960s TV staples like The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Hollywood Palace, The Garry Moore Show, and most notably, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. 

Whereas the presentation of the Rich band on the other TV shows was used to launch the band, Rich’s many appearances on The Tonight Show over the next twenty years (mostly without his band), provided ongoing promotion for what gradually had become an internationally successful series of big bands led by Buddy Rich. Beyond that, Rich was something of an adored figure on The Tonight Show. Carson himself, who was an amateur drummer, idolized Rich, and the Tonight Show band, first in New York, and then after 1973 in Hollywood, was filled with top notch musicians who were always glad to have Buddy sit-in with them and get them some camera time on this long-running and very popular show. And Rich was much more than a drummer when he appeared on The Tonight Show, even if he was the world’s greatest drummer. Buddy also had excellent comedic instincts, and razor-sharp comedy timing. This always led to witty repartee’ between him and Carson.(Rich and Carson are shown together above left.)

The first notable gig for the new Buddy Rich big band took place in September 1966 at a place called “The Chez” on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles. Recordings document that event. They were issued initially on two Liberty/Pacific Jazz LPs entitled Buddy Rich Swingin’ New Big Band – Live at the Chez, ST 20113, and  Big Swing Face, ST 20117. Thirty years later, Capitol reissued on CD some of the recordings that appeared on those first LPs, plus several other performances from that inaugural engagement.

The music: I will quote from the recollections of Dean Pratt, who was a trumpeter in the Rich band in the late 1970s, to set the context for Don Piestrup’s lovely composition/arrangement “New Blues”: “I remember … ‘New Blues’ very well as Buddy played it often when I was with the band. It also stayed in the book until the end, and eventually became a soprano sax feature for Steve Marcus, who as the musician who would hold the longest tenure with the band, always got the crowd going on this chart.”  Don Piestrup himself remembered: “The first chart I brought to Buddy was ‘Never Will I Marry.’ Buddy liked it and wanted me to start writing for the band. At the time, I was living in Oakland, California, but Buddy wanted me to come to L.A. to become a staff writer for the band. He said the band would be coming out to Los Angeles to do a TV show, and offered me $100 a week to move to L.A and start writing. I spoke to my wife about it and six months later we packed our bags and moved to L.A. Unfortunately, when we got to Los Angeles, Buddy didn’t have the $100. Things worked out OK for me though. With all of the film and television work I got, the relocation became a good career move for me. I wrote quite a lot of new things for the band, but ‘New Blues’ had been in my own big band book for about four years before I brought it to Buddy.” (1)

This arrangement begins with a brief introduction that includes a creative blending of a gently played open trumpet and a baritone saxophone. This voicing will reappear later. The first chorus has a slightly different blend of instruments including a Harmon-muted trumpet, and a flute. Note Piestrup’s backgrounds employing the open trombones and the massed saxophones. Ray Starling, who played mellophonium in Stan Kenton’s 1960s mellophonium band, plays a tasty piano solo next. His first chorus is supported only by the rhythm. Then the blends of instruments from before reappear. Rich’s whispering accompaniment here is perfection. The band returns with a bright tutti that leads to Jay Corre’s (2) dynamic and heartfelt tenor saxophone solo. The backgrounds against which he plays are at first provided by gently played but rhythmic open trumpets and trombones, then just the rhythm.Starling’s comping here is especially tasty. (Rich and Jay Corre are shown at left at the Chez in Hollywood, September 1966.)

After Corre’s solo, the entire ensemble returns, quietly at first, and then after an upward modulation, louder, moving the arrangement to its climax. In this sequence, Rich provides a provocative series of drumming punctuations and emphases. The finale consists of a reprise of the sounds that were heard at the beginning of this arrangement.

In this performance, Buddy Rich demonstrates that he was a complete drummer, not just the spectacular soloist most people remember him as. His drumming here shows that he could and did support and inspire his band and soloists in a most understated way, but could also add provocative coloration and emphasis when necessary.

(1) Liner notes for the Pacific Jazz/Capitol reissue of Big Swing Face, by Dean Pratt (1996).

(2) Jay Corre (real name Jay Lischin; 1924-2014).

The recording presented in this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

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3 Comments

  1. In the late 1960’s I was the student rep at Rutgers University helping with a concert featuring Buddy Rich, Blood Sweat and Tears and Nina Simon (who did not show up) Its not bragging if what you say is true and Buddy was the best of all time. With all due respect for many others like Gene Krupa etc, Buddy could simply do things on the drums no one else could equal.

  2. I saw Buddy Rich perform several times over the years, but the most memorable for me was in 1964 when I was 16 years old. I went with a friend to see the Harry James band, which was doing a one night stand at the ballroom of the Westward Ho Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. Buddy Rich was the drummer in James’ band. We stayed for the entire dance date and after it was over we went back stage to talk to Joe Riggs, who played alto sax. I then spotted Buddy Rich sitting in a chair surrounded by a group of “hipsters” who were hanging on his every word. I walked up to Buddy and said “Mr. Rich may I have your autograph.” This apparently was considered uncool and Buddy and the others began to laugh at me. Somewhat taken aback, I said “don’t laugh, I have Sonny Payne’s autograph.” To which Buddy replied “then I will laugh.” Nevertheless, he did sign the dance poster I had with me. I then sheepishly walked away. A while later, Buddy approached me and asked if I would mind holding the keys to his Jaguar XKE for a while. I don’t recall why he needed someone to hold his keys, but I do remember that the Jag was parked in front of the hotel behind the band bus in a no parking zone. Why he selected me for this task is a mystery, but perhaps he thought I had an honest face or maybe he felt bad for making fun of me earlier. In any event, I agreed to hold the keys. Sometime later, Buddy walked back toward me with a gorgeous blonde I had seen earlier at the dance accompanied by a well-dressed older man. I gave him back his keys and he and the blonde rapidly split the scene. I then saw the older man walking around looking bewildered about what had just happened!

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