“Basically Blues” (1966) Buddy Rich with Jay Corre, Walter Battagello, John Boice and John Bunch

“Basically Blues”

Composed and arranged by Phil Wilson.

Recorded live in performance by the Buddy Rich Big Band for Pacific Jazz in Hollywood, California on September 29, 1966.

Buddy Rich, drums, directing: Bobby Shew, John Sottile, Walter Battagello and Yoshito Murakami, trumpets; Jim Trimble, John Boice, Dennis Good, tenor trombones; Mike Waverly, bass trombone; Gene Quill, Pete Yellin, alto saxophones; Jay Corre and Marty Flax, tenor saxophones; Steve Perlow, baritone saxophone; John Bunch, piano; Barry Zweig, guitar; Carson Smith, bass.

The story: 

I am going to quote selectively, with edits, from Leonard Feather’s liner notes for the 1966 Pacific Jazz LP entitled Buddy Rich Swingin’ New Big Band to give you a sense of what was going on in Rich’s world when he organized his new band then. “Some months ago, I read an interview with a leading New York studio drummer, Grady Tate. He was discussing some of his contemporaries. There were complimentary comments on several, but only one stands out in my mind. ‘As for Buddy Rich,’ he said, ‘here is a drummer I would listen to under any circumstances – in total darkness, all by himself, no orchestra, nothing. The man is just a phenomenon.’ 

The tribute is characteristic of the respect in which Bernard Rich is held, not only by other percussionists, but by every musician who has had the unique experience of working with him. Buddy Rich’s mastery is so overwhelming that he has broken down my decades-long resentment of extended drum solos. His infinite variety of shadings, coupled with almost unbelievable rhythmic complexity, speed and inspiration can be considered virtually melodic in themselves.

In April of 1966, Rich quit the Harry James band, leaving the highest-paying sidemen job in jazz, to take another flyer at leading a big band during a period when everyone knew that big bands were moribund. ( I do not agree with Leonard on this assertion. There were a number of vital and creative big bands on the scene in the mid-1960s. MZ) Asked how he could keep a band together at a time when musicians are more reluctant than ever to go on the road, he shrugged: ‘Listen, if they’re happy with the music, I can keep the same personnel a hundred years. You can pay a guy five grand a week, but if the music is boring, he’ll quit.’

The Chez, where this album was recorded, is a room formerly known as the Action, and under that name was a rock house. Buddy’s band inaugurated a listener’s only (jazz) policy at the venue. There was magic in the air throughout this engagement, that was extended from two to four weeks. Night after night, the room was jammed, often with celebrities, including musicians, studio composers, actors, comedians, agents, relatives, friends, and fans.” (*)

That engagement and the recordings made at it provided Buddy with a nice send-off on what turned out to be the final phase of his career. For the next twenty years, Rich led various big bands more or less continuously, and with considerable success. A substantial amount of inspired music was created by Rich and his musicians in those years.

The music:

This original blues, composed and arranged by trombonist/arranger Phil Wilson in the 1960s, is not to be confused with a tune performed by Cab Calloway in the 1940s having the same title. There are no complicated twists of orchestration to be found in this music; it is just straight-ahead relaxed swing, with a dash of soul here and there.

Veteran pianist John Bunch (shown at left) plays the band on with a chorus of tasty blues (there is no introduction), accompanied with skill by his rhythm section mates. The saxophones then appear with the melody for twelve bars. In their second go-round, they get a bit of assistance from the open brass, playing a counter-melody. There follows a brassy interlude, and then the first jazz solo, by trombonist John Boice, who plays well for twelve bars. The next interlude is played by the rhythmically intense saxophones. This leads to the next solo, a lazy blues exposition by trumpeter Walter Battagello, who dirties up his tone a bit toward the end of his solo. (Hear Rich’s vocal approval for this.)

A brief blast of unison trumpets and diving trombones (an inspired Wilson arranging touch) bring on tenor saxophonist Jay Corre. He and they have a tart dialogue for several bars, then he plays alone for a bit, with his gleaming tenor saxophone sound being underlined by oo-ah brass toward the end of his solo.

Pianist Bunch returns for two felicitous choruses, accompanied as before only by the guitar, bass and drums.

Then the band perks up for some smoldering ensemble play, their intensity and volume building in conjunction with Rich’s more aggressive drumming. Notice how the brass employ shakes here and there, and an upward key change, to further heighten the excitement. This sequence ends with the band taking the music down dynamically, then playing a piquant blast an octave up. Then for a complete contrast, the singing saxophones return immediately and in another key with the melody. This contrast never failed to stir applause in audiences. Then comes the bright finale. (Above right: Three men who definitely knew what swing was: L-R – Buddy Rich, Benny Goodman and Count Basie – in 1972.)

This is a well-paced arrangement brought vividly to life by Rich’s band and soloists. And Mr. Rich, the flashy, explosive soloist, functions perfectly well here as an inspired and inspiring ensemble drummer whose skill and taste enhances every aspect of the performance.

Buddy Rich and his band in action in 1967. Jay Corre is taking a solo on tenor saxophone. The only other faces I think I recognize are Carmen Leggio on alto saxophone, who is at the end of the first row right, and Yoshito Murakami, who is at right among the trumpets.

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

Notes and links:

(*) The Chez was located at 8265 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. It was operated by Jerry Ranieri and Mike Carozza.

Here are links to some other great performances by Buddy Rich and his band:



And here are some classic performances that demonstrate how deeply Rich’s musical roots reached into the swing era:





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