In the early 1980’s, Max Weinberg asked if I’d like to see Buddy Rich playing at either New York University or Columbia University – I can’t remember which. Of course, I said, “Yes.”
I saw Buddy Rich play live about a half dozen times. I remember particular moments from each venue. For example, sitting one night on the Eisenhower Park, East Meadow, New York lawn watching Buddy’s big band burn it up. The first set over, Buddy thanked the crowd and announced a short break.
After 15-minutes or so, Buddy’s band members begin filtering back to their seats onstage. Buddy steps back onstage to rousing applause. He starts a tune intro playing swing time on his hi-hat. Then, looking left at his band, he spots a conspicuously empty chair in saxophone section in front.
Buddy stops playing. He asks the band, “Where’s Fred?” No one knows. But, a moment later Fred (not his real name) is onstage, hurrying to his chair. He sits down, pulls his sax strap over his head, and turns to the music chart.
As Fred gets ready to play, Buddy stands and walks directly in front of Fred. He extends his right hand to Fred and the two men shake hands. “How long have you been with my band?” Buddy asks. The exchange is picked up by the live band mics. Fred answers. Buddy says, “Well, enjoy your last night with the band.”
Then Buddy walks back to his drums, to his hi-hat intro, and the band burns through a second set.
I don’t remember Buddy’s band when Max and I heard Buddy in that University setting. It must have been a small band. We were in balcony to Buddy’s left. I don’t think we were in a theater. My recollection is Buddy was playing in an inside general purpose open area. People listening to the music were sitting or standing near the stage. But people (students?) were also going about their business on the outskirts of the concert goers.
I recall Buddy playing very much “for the band” that day. It was a kick seeing Buddy play that way. If you were seeing and hearing Buddy Rich for the first time, you might think, “This drummer swings. He’s a great team player.” But you were not witnessing Buddy’s technical wizardry.
Buddy’s solos were always different, but they followed a pattern. Buddy, I believe, compared playing a drum solo to delivering a good joke. The build-up, done well, leads to a perfectly timed punch line .
Buddy’s solos often (always?) included his playing a super soft, beautiful sounding buzz roll on his snare drum. Playing that buzz roll, Buddy would bring the drumsticks towards him, closer to the edge of the snare head, until finally he was playing on the snare drum rim.
Then he’d work his way back to the snare head, ending his solo with a blistering crescendo of drums and cymbals.
But this day, in New York City, Buddy plays his snare buzz roll, draws his sticks back onto his snare rim — and stops playing! He grabs a towel, stands, wipes sweat from his face and neck. He walks to the front of the stage and tells the audience – as a matter of fact, no regrets, no in-your-face – that he just didn’t feel like finishing his solo.
Buddy tells the audience “you all know what comes next” in his solo, describing, as I did a moment ago, the drum crescendo and cymbals crashing. Since the audience knows what was coming – it doesn’t matter if Buddy doesn’t repeat it.
Buddy thanks everyone for coming. The show is over.
– end –