“Chavala” (1968) Buddy Rich with Art Pepper and Al Porcino


Composed by Sheldon Harnick (lyric) and Jerry Bock (music); arranged by Allyn Ferguson.

Recorded by Buddy Rich and his Band for World Pacific Jazz on July 7, 1968 at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Buddy Rich, drums, directing: Al Porcino, first trumpet; David Culp, Kenneth Faulk, Bill Prince, trumpets; Jim Trimble, Rick Stepton, trombones, Peter Graves, bass trombone; Charlie Owens, first alto saxophone;  Art Pepper, alto saxophone;  Pat LaBarbera and Don Menza, tenor saxophones; John Laws, baritone saxophone; (all saxophonists double flute); Joe Azarello, piano; Walt Namuth, guitar; Gary Walters, bass.

The story:

Recently, I received notice that the lyricist Sheldon Harnick died at the age of 99 in his apartment at the Beresford, on Central Park West at 81st Street, in Manhattan. Harnick is best remembered as the lyricist who worked with composer Jerry Bock on a number of Broadway musicals in the 1950s and 1960s, most notably Fiddler on the Roof (1964).

Harnick’s career path was similar to that of many young, talented people who were drawn to New York after World War II by the lure of show business, specifically the musical theater. The creative atmosphere in which Harnick found himself then included many brilliant and eccentric people (including comedienne Elaine May, to whom Harnick was briefly married), who worked in the entertainment business that in postwar Manhattan was a haven for them. In this milieu were opportunities in popular music, jazz, theatrical music and music for television. Musicians mingled freely with writers, actors, comedians, dancers, directors and producers, among others involved in the business of entertainment. The creative ferment of that often resulted in stimulating new productions in feature films, television shows (many performed live), and the Broadway theater.

Fiddler on the Roof was a sensation on Broadway. The original production of the show had the first musical theater run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. Fiddler on the Roof held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease (what a name for a show) surpassed it. That production was extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed. It won nine Tony awards, including best musical, score, book, direction and choreography. It spawned five Broadway revivals and a highly successful 1971 film adaptation, and and has enjoyed enduring international popularity. Fiddler, as it is referred to by its fans, has also been a popular choice for school and community productions.(1)

The original production also utilized highly effective marketing, targeting various communities within a radius of 500 miles of Manhattan, offering bus tours to New York that included tickets to the show. I well remember the busses that were loaded with excited theater-goers departing from the parking lots of the synagogues in my home town. As a callow teen-ager, I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. (Above right: Sheldon Harnick, standing, and Jerry Bock -1964.)

Buddy Rich and his band at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas in July of 1968. The tenor saxophonist standing is Don Menza.

The music:

“Chavaleh, little bird,” is a song from Fiddler on the Roof. I suspect that at some point during that show’s initial run on Broadway, Buddy Rich may have attended a performance so he could come to his own conclusions about what all the fuss was about. One of the many remarkable things about Rich was his ability to hear something, and then almost immediately transform whatever he heard into a vehicle that he could present either as an arrangement for his band and/or as a feature for his virtuoso drumming. However Rich came to “Chavala,” or vice-versa, the arrangement he commissioned on it from Allyn Ferguson is a feature for his unique ability to make music on his snare drum. It is also constructed in a way that to some extent utilizes the slow, dynamic build-up technique Maurice Ravel used in his composition Bolero.

Maestro Rich plays the introduction as a small solo on his snare drum, establishing the tempo of the performance and setting the mood. The martial rhythm he establishes here will continue more or less through the entire performance. The melody is stated at the beginning of the first chorus by the saxophonists, playing their flutes in unison. Then a pedal point is set up by the repeated note played by bass trombonist Peter Graves, along with a two-note figure played by his two section mates in response. A tenor saxophone/trumpet unison then repeats the melody over the ostinatos that have been fixed.

When the saxophone quintet returns, they are harmonized, with lead alto saxophonist Charlie Owens’s gleaming sound singing the melody. Toward the end of this passage, the open trumpets warm the way for alto saxophonist Art Pepper. (Above left: Art Pepper around 1970.)

Pepper was a fine jazz artist. What he plays during this performance is an interesting abstraction of musical sounds one might hear at a bar mitzvah party (after a lot of Mogen David has flowed), or perhaps at a bagpipes recital. It is a creative solo that ascends into a blaze of rhythmic open brass, fired by lead trumpeter Al Porcino. A climax is reached with entire band playing the melody, their sound embellished by Rich’s strategically placed cymbal crashes, and guitarist Walt Namuth and pianist Joe Azarello adding their sounds to the continuing ostinato.

Rich’s solo centers on his crisp-sounding snare drum, with a few strategic emphases on his bass drum. How he dials down the intensity and volume toward the end of his solo and returns to the ostinato is but one of many indications in this solo of his total mastery of the art of jazz drumming. I was fortunate to see Buddy perform many times, and he never failed to thrill me with the way he creatively applied his immense technique as a drummer. And never did I hear Buddy play a misplaced beat.

The denouement comes via a return of the unison flutes played over Rich’s snare drumming.

More story:

Here is a bit more context for this recording of “Chavala.” A number of other recordings made at Caesar’s Palace in July of 1968 by Buddy Rich were gathered and issued in 1968 on a World Pacific Jazz LP entitled: Mercy, Mercy …The Buddy Rich Big Band Recorded Live at Caesar’s Palace. That album, which was produced by Richard Bock, contained a couple of tracks that would become hallmarks for the Rich band, including “Channel One Suite,” along with a number of then-current pop tunes, like “Big Mama Cass,” “Ode to Billy Joe,” and “Alfie.” Bock’s intention was to try to reach the late 1960s pop music market, including a younger audience, with Buddy Rich’s interpretations of current pop hits. Of course, Rich himself also had input into what tunes made it onto that LP, and I think Buddy understood Bock’s motivation. But he also wanted to present his band and his drumming in the best possible light, so the performances that were issued on the LP are uniformly beautifully played, with a number of excellent jazz solos by Rich’s sidemen, and by him, on a variety of arrangements. (Above right: Buddy Rich, always the acme of fashion, is shown in a Nehru suit with beads and some sort of talisman dangling from his neck. He is standing in front of a colorful, symbolic(?) background. Does anyone now remember what all of that symbolism meant?)

Fast-forward 28 years, to 1996. Rich had passed away in 1987, and a number of his former sidemen, led by trumpeter Dean Pratt, knew the whereabouts of many recordings made by the Rich band at Caesar’s Palace and elsewhere. They found a sympathetic producer, Michael Cuscuna, then at Blue Note Records, assisted by Bob Belden. The tapes of the unissued Rich band recordings were accessed and they went to work assembling CD reissues of the original LP material, plus several unissued recordings, including “Chavala.”

Lead trumpeter Al Porcino (shown at right) provided his recollections to Dean Pratt of how the recordings were made: “We were working two shows a night with Tony Bennett at Caesar’s. After the second show one night, as the band was getting ready to get off the stand, Buddy told us all to stay put. He said an audience of show people had been invited, and that we were going to record a live album. The first chart Buddy wanted to do was ‘Channel One Suite.’ Just imagine, it was about 3 a.m. before we got started, and I was a little worried about my chops since the gig at Caesar’s was tough, with Buddy’s spot and two shows with Tony. I think I held up pretty well.”(2)

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

Notes and links:

(1) The summary of information concerning Fiddler on the Roof was derived from the Wikipedia post on it.

(2) liner notes for the CD reissue of Mercy, Mercy …The Buddy Rich Big Band Live at Caesar’s Palace, Capitol Pacific Jazz 7243 8 54331 2 2 (1997).

Here is another great performance by Buddy Rich and his band from the late 1960s: https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/12/08/new-blues-1967-buddy-rich/

Related Post


  1. Michael, your digital mastering is always very impressive, as it is with this Buddy Rich performance. May I ask, what is your process? I have a background in audio production. Thanks.

  2. Thanks Jim. I put a lot of effort into remastering the recordings I present on this blog. But for me that work is a joy, because it makes me listen to the music we love very closely.

    I will follow up with you by private email regarding what I do in my studio to get the results you and others appreciate.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.