A great musician, a great guy…


When I bring my big band over to Britain; what would be terrific would be if Buddy Rich could be here around the same time with his band. Because this guy and I, we go back about thirty-five years; we've maintained a friendship that is really rare, you know. I guess it's because of the tremendous respect that we have for one another, not only musically but also as dear friends. And, of course, there's nothing I can say that has not already been said in print about Buddy Rich; here's a tremendous natural force, who has contributed greatly to our music industry. He's a hard-working man; his entire life has been dedicated to good music, and he has been able to exploit all these energies, so that the people can enjoy all the wonderful things he's done. I don't know of another drummer who has created any more than this fabulous man.

Talking about our two bands. . . as a result of the unfortunate riot at Newport a few years ago, we found ourselves in Boston, with nothing to do on a weekend. And, after Lennie's On The Turnpike burnt down, a few people got a bright idea; they found out that there was a thousand-seated room in the Holiday Inn, run by a trumpet player who was jazz-orientated.

He suggested: "If the Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson bands are here, why not get them together for two days? We can put a big sign out in front, 'Percussion Power'." Of course, as soon as they did that, the place was a complete sell-out.

What we did there: I played a forty-five-minute set with my band, and then Buddy's band played for the same amount of time. Then, after Buddy finished his set, my band came on, and it vas set up so that Buddy and I were together, in the middle, with our rhythm sections, and the bands were on the outside, but still in a spot so they could hear one another. And for a finale we took Don Menza's "Groovin' Hard" arrangement, which we both had in our books, and near to the end of it, we opened it up, so that Buddy and I played fours for maybe ten or fifteen minutes. During the end of the composition, for some reason-un rehearsed-I got up off my drums and so did Buddy, and with out missing a beat, I manoeuvred over into his band, while he came over into mine and we finished up that way. The audience reaction was just fantastic; it was an absolute highlight for .us.

As a result of that, we both decided that some day we should do some kind of a tour over here, also in Europe, and all over the world, as well as the States. I think this would really be marvellous, because with the powerful forces of our bands, with our terrific mutual respect, and our playing ability, it would be not only a very sellable item, but a great musical venture that would be long remembered.

When I have to play alongside Buddy, I have to pull out all the stops, because he plays for keeps all the time-which I think a player should do. It's a respectful love affair, that's really what it is. We have so much fun together, and it's always a delight to hear that man play he's so great.

I know that if we did get that together, there are a lot of people in the States now who would buy it in a minute. And we're trying to co-ordinate that now in Buddy's Place in New York. I think Buddy already did it last September with Maynard Ferguson's band and his own, and it worked out beautifully.

Our band has a steady personnel, but it's very interesting to note an amazing thing in the States now: with our music set-up, we have such tremendous musical ability in our high schools and colleges. And if I were suddenly to go on the road for a year now, to be truthful, I would not be able to get people like Snooky Young" Bobby Shew, and some of these heavy weights, as I call 'em, because they are making a lot of money doing studio work; for them to leave for a year is a bit of a problem. But, I can assure you, I could draw three or four young players from the great North Texas State University, four from the L. A. City College, four from U. S. C. and a couple from Berklee-and inside of two weeks I would have a terrific band.

Not only are they good in the band ensemble-wise, but they're wonderful soloists. The only thing that you would lack would be name quality; maybe you would need names to help draw the people in.

Here again-a very wonderful thing happened during the past year. The entire rhythm section of Leon Breeden's One O'clock Lab Band from North Texas-the piano player, the bass player and the drummer-joined Woody Herman's band, around nine months ago. And Woody has enjoyed them so well that during his programme he gives them a chance to play just by themselves. I understand they're doing great. The young piano player, Lyle May, I first heard not too long ago, when Leon Breeden had Pete Jolly, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and myself go down there to do a clinic as a rhythm section, also to play with their band. 'We met this youngster, and he's not only a great pianist, he's a great composer, and does a lot of beautiful arrangements-and he's only about nineteen or twenty years old. At the present time, he's working on something for us. So it gives you an idea what's happening.

I think you can honestly say there are maybe a dozen extraordinary college groups in the States-and then if you want to talk about good and excellent, that's next. They're just fantastic. That's right-a whole reservoir of talent. The only thing is: we have to find a place for them. That's the big question now. And when I talked to Stan Kenton about this, he said he used to feel guilty about it, but now he doesn't, because he feels that even if the young people have had the high school and college experience of playing music that many years, they're miles ahead-they've done it: Now, he said, what we have to work out is some way of getting some new talent exposed. In other words, getting maybe nine or twelve new bandleaders on the scene, get them to record, and give them some television expo sure, so they in turn will hire another eighteen young people who are worthy of it, you see.

Because, like Stan says: "I'm not gonna be around for ever; neither is Woody, neither is Basie." They're gonna retire, get old, or something. We already lost Duke. There's a time when all of us have to go; we have to face that. So I think it's important for the major record companies and the major television people to really get together with Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, and people like Matt Benton of the National Educators Association, and say: "Let's survey the musical scene." And I'm not only talking about jazz; I'm talking about all kinds of music. They could sit down and consider who's gonna follow in whose footsteps; they could look into the future, and start to groom a set of young people who deserve to handle organisations, who know what they're doing.

All these major companies certainly have enough money to experiment with. When it comes to tax write-offs, why not do something with the money that's gonna be that constructive and good, where everybody's gonna have some benefit? The point is, you're dealing with a product that works. If we were dealing with something that wouldn't work, then we'd have to say it wasn't anything that's true and honest, not a creative form, and we'd drop it. But, like Duke said, we're dealing with music. And that's a big word.

It just needs somebody to come up with a format, and the people will really enjoy it. For instance, I can cite one great ex ample in the States-Johnny Carson and the Tonight show. He happens to be a great music-lover, and he's responsible for get ting Buddy Rich on his show, because he respects him as a thorough musician; he also has a lot of fun with Buddy-he's very witty, as you know-and they're dear friends. He always demands to have a Buddy Rich, an Oscar Peterson, a Dizzy Gillespie, a Sarah Vaughan or an Ella Fitzgerald. He's a man who knows good talent, and he probably has the highest rating of any talk show in the States. Now, he told me he gets many letters about having Doc Severinsen and his wonderful organisation play; Doc has all these tremendous players, like Conte Candoli, in the band. So if thousands of people write and say: "We enjoyed Doc Severinsen and the band playing that number.

Let's hear more of them", this is a strong indication that much more of this is required.

But the only musical show we have on television is Lawrence Welk. Okay-I'm not gonna put him down; he's got some good players, and what they play they do nice. He supplies a programme for a lot of the older people; he dances with 'em, and so on. For what he sets out to do, he manages to get what he's after. But if that's the only man who can get some music on television, that's kinda sad-with all the great people there are in the States.

What would be wrong with something on the lines of this youth programme that Leonard Bernstein did? He had young people in there listening to the great symphonic works. These were kids of ten or eleven years old; he explained to them what they were gonna hear, and they were really getting the gist of what they were hearing. And that kind of approach is where the answer is, I think. I've experimented this way, even with my own family. If you educate the people enough, they're gonna know some good things, d want to listen to them. That's important-to let people in, not only record-wise, but television-wise, to everything that's good. Don't just let 'em listen to one particular thing, be cause that is not enough. Like Duke used to say, music covers a big territory, and you have to be aware of what's going on musically, not only in one little phase, but in a lot of phases.

Duke used to get irritated about people saying: "Well, just go out and do some kind of a performance-they're not gonna know any better." I heard him say: "I beg your pardon. They do know better.

I have never played to an audience where the people didn't know what they were listening to." There's also that wonderful old saying: you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time. So, whether your audience is big or small, it's important to perform at your level best-that's the sign of a true artist.

My wife Pearl is a great humorist, as you know. She tells the audience: "Don't worry, I'm gonna do my whole act-I don't care if they're hanging from the rafters. In fact, I remember one time when there was only one person sitting in the audience, and I told this person: 'Okay, I'm gonna do my full programme, with all the high kicks and everything. ' And this per son said: `Well, I wish you would hurry up and do it, because I'm the janitor-I want to clean up the place'!" I really feel, though, that our music in 1976 and the years to come is going to get much better. I think we can look forward to a great musical future, due to our young people being so extremely talented, with such a lot to say. Eventually we'll get into another cycle of bigger and better organisations; the level of music is bound to get progressively higher.

6. still talking

In the States we use five trumpets with the band-mainly because it's such a demanding book. You need that extra guy, because when they play two or three sets it's hard. And our fifth guy is Cat Anderson-or Snooky Young, if we can't get Cat.

They're giant players, of course, who can play lead and yet play great jazz; then these guys know how to do the plunger bit-which is something out of the Ellington and Basie tradition, that a lot of other bands don't do.

Players like this can stay in one place and make a lot of money, but they still like to play. They would not be satisfied just taking their instruments to do film scores, and things like that. Sometimes those guys go to work for three weeks and they don't play anything. So they do not get it all out from them selves; it's like having a cap on a bottle and never releasing it-after a while they explode. They have to have their inner feelings come out. There are other players who are content with doing session work-and that's fine, if they like to do that. But these players-they have to play. I know people thought I was doing a lot of session work for a while, but I really wasn't-I was just doing work for Quincy and a few other people, just to say that I could go in and do it. But I couldn't do that continually-it would not be enough playing for me.

As of the last couple of years, I've told my agency now that I want to work more with the big band. My dear wife Pearl was doing quite a bit on the road at that time, and I had to set aside a certain amount of time to work with her. Now she's a student at Georgetown University-although she has not given up; she's still doing a lot of dates, and performing as well as ever.

I still like to devote some of my time to clinics, because I feel that doing at least forty to fifty, clinics a year keeps me in contact with what's happening in the high schools and colleges.

It gives me a chance to get some of these young players for my band, like Gordon Goodwin and Matt Catingub. Because they're the future-and they really are brilliant. They've got all the talent that's needed; all they need is a chance to sit in a band, the way Gordon and Matt are doing. They are sitting in the section with Joe Romano and Don Menza, and letting some of that experience rub off. That's what you can't find in school.

They get their schooling up to a certain point, but after that they've got to get out and do what we call "getting your feet wet"-get on a bus, do some one-nighters, know what it is to play in different places, to different audiences. You exercise your ability, put your thing together, and now put it in front of the audience-that's experience. You've got to just go out and do that.

Sometimes I take the band on a clinic, but most of the times I go alone and perform with that particular college band. I send my charts ahead of time, so that they'll have two or three weeks, or maybe a month, to work on 'em. And it's wonderful to say that I take my charts out of my book just as they are-I don't water down any of the lead trumpet parts-and they play 'em, beautifully well. Those kids have the energy, and they work hard; so by the time you get there, you only have to add your little detail things, about tempo, intonation, dynamics-and it all comes together.

For my future trips to Europe, I plan on recruiting some of my sidemen from the schools. Now, Menza has already told me: "Look, man, any time you want to come over here, you got it." He'll go-because Don is one of those rare guys; he'll give up anything in L. A. just to come and play. It's important for him to keep writing, keep creating and keep playing, because he's that kind of an artist. Bobby Shew also. And these guys have got families, don't forget. But they'll turn down x amount of dollars in order to be in the band. That's a true musician-no question about it. I feel that same way myself.

I used to hear Ellington say: "There's nothing like getting on the bandstand." You may have had some serious problems at home, and a lot of strife, but the minute you get on the band stand, you can catch one of those nights where everything is electrifying and the audience gets it. There's no feeling like that: when you come off saying: "Yes-it happened"; it's like somebody opened the window, you got a beautiful hush of fresh air, somebody said: "I love you"-and what more can you ask for? This happens to all those performers, when they work with a live audience. That's why the great Shakespearean actors still love the theatre as opposed to films and television. In films and TV, you're involved in make-believe, but in the actual theatre, there they are-the public, That's why I respect people like Woody and Buddy. A lot of people ask them: "When are you going to retire?" When you say that to those guys, they say: "What do you mean, retire? What do you want me to do-go home and sit in a chair, and just die?" There's no such thing-the word retire should be excluded. I was with Basie in Las Vegas not long ago; he's seventy-five years old-somebody asked him about retiring. He said: "' No, I don't know what that word means. I've been doing this all my life; if I suddenly stopped, then I would die. But I love what I'm doing, and I'll keep on doing it until I go wher ever I'm supposed to go after that." Like Duke-that was his life; if he couldn't have the band, then what else was there? That's total musicianship. As Buddy says: "I'll keep on playing till I have my last breath. And if I have to go playing drums, what could be a better way?"
The fact is, there are a 1ot of fine rock-slanted groups to day. A musician I've had the pleasure of working with in L A.

is Lee Ritenour; there's an example of a young player who can play everything-he's like the Steve Gadd of the guitar, He can play in our band and feel comfortable, end then sit in with a wonderful contemporary group and make it all happen.

I must listen to at least fifty albums a week-new ones, as well as some of those I haven't heard before, As a clinician, also a bandleader, I think it's very important for us to listen to all kinds of music We're going to listen to some bad jazz records, as well as bad contemporary things-but there are a lot of good ones too. There are new beats, new rhythms that are continually happening, and you have to stay up with it. Guys like Don Menza and Bobby Shew do the same thing; they're constantly listening to records, and being aware of what's going on.

What I'd like to do some time, too-I've got six major symphonic works to my credit, and I'd like to really book something out with the London Symphony some time, to come over and maybe bring a nucleus of my guys. Some of the things that I've written are just me with the orchestra, with no saxo phones, and there's one or two of them that would require my band right in the middle of the orchestra. We're going to try to set up a couple of things like that in the future; that would really be wonderful to do. We did one recently where I had my entire band in the middle of the T. A. Philharmonic, and that was terrific.

We were able to do a few numbers with our band; then at intermission the orchestra came on, and we played two pieces with the entire orchestra and the band. One way or the other, we have to co-ordinate that.

Copyright © 1967 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.