Drums: On Stage
Buddy Rich With The Louisville Symphony
by Rick Mattingly
by Eloise Fink
Recently, Rich appeared with the Louisville Orchestra as part of their “Super Pops” series. Those familiar with Rich through his talk-show appearances might have expected him to tell a few jokes. Instead, with a quick wave and a bow to the audience, Rich sat down and went to work.
The first number was a Tommy Newsom arrangement of “Strike Up The Band.” Rich was in control as the orchestra responded to his driving rhythm and probably came as close to “swinging” as could be expected of a symphony orchestra.
The second part of the program was devoted to the Buddy Rich Trio. Rich was joined by Tom Warrington on electric bass and Bob Kaye on acoustic grand piano. This was not a drummer with a couple of musicians playing background for him, this was a Trio. Though Rich is an acknowledged star, he always gives his fellow musicians plenty of solo space while he functions, in his own words, as “just the drummer with the band.” Warrington played a couple of bass solos and, at one point, Rich and Warrington dropped out while Kaye played a beautiful piano solo. Rich did not solo during this part of the program, but demonstrated his technique with brushes. My personal favorite from this set was a swinging rendition of “Someday My Prince Will Come.”
The orchestra returned for the finale, “West Side Story.” The arrangement, also by Tommy Newsom, was closer to Bernstein’s original than it was to Rich’s big-band version. Rich became a member of the orchestra, adding delicate cymbal colors with sensitivity and exquisite taste. As the piece progressed, Rich gradually began taking over, constantly building in intensity, until the orchestra dropped out, leaving Rich to do the solo everyone knew was coming.
Symphony orchestras are used to having famous virtuosos in their midst, performing great classical works. But this was different. Rich was not playing something that was written years before. He was creating his own solo right there on the spot. When it was over, members of the orchestra joined the audience in shouts of “more!” But Rich had given of himself fully and after taking several bows, left the stage.
Before the performance, Rich said there has been talk of recording one of these concerts, but no definite plans have been made. For the present, if you hear of Rich playing with your local symphony, plan to attend. You won’t be disappointed.
Ed Thigpen Returns
Standing there looking around, expectant, trim in his green leather jacket, he could have been almost any one of them — magic, but no pomp, no you’ve-gotta-do-it-my-way. When they asked about how to hold the sticks, he said, “Whatever is comfortable,” explaining that drums which used to be played on the slant in marching bands don’t need a specific grip anymore. About the bass drum, he said, “I do a dance-action,” but he described a student of his: “He uses his heel — a double clutch!” That worked too.
Thigpen got everyone sitting up a little straighter. “Posture’s the same as dance. Keep that spinal cord in line.” Then everyone counted out loud: “One and two and three and four,” and “playing the air,” on pretend drums. The whole audience was motion. “Keep that foot going four,” he reminded them. As a member of the clinic staff for Ludwig Drums since 1958, he has developed an easy way with the audience.
It’s got to be total involvement, “Eyes, ears, hands, both feet, and the voice to activate co-ordination.” The rhythm felt great. “You’re like a jockey,” he said. “The horse is gonna run, and you’ve gotta hold it.
“In a combo the drummer doesn’t let the meter fluctuate, “or it sounds like a guy walking around with a bad heart.””Any other points? This is your clinic,” he said. Hands up; someone asking about the bass drum again.
“They’ve moved the time from the bass drum up onto the cymbals so that the bass drum can punctuate now… Horns need the bass drum to hold it together… You should feel it instead of hear it… The boom can get in the way…”
Someone mentioned the bossa nova. “It was discovered by mistake — like most things.”
He was into the demonstration by then, squinting like a surgeon, looking for the right stick. On to the tambourine — a shake, then a sound like the hiss of wind through tall dune grasses, and his fingers raining all over the tambourine.
“Then we have another little toy — the quica.” He rubs a squeaky laugh from it, “squeaking” the audience to make them laugh too.
Practicing? “I always thought, give me a gig. As long as I stay behind a drum set, I’m gonna get better.”
Reading music? “If you can read your name, you can read music. Can you count to four? You can read music.”
Difficulty with rhythm sections? “You have to sit down and decide where you want that beat to be: layin’ back on the time, or right on it like a metronome. The combo’s like a good marriage — you each have a function.” He had been with jazz long enough to be part of the music of Johnny Mathis, Pat Boone, Andy Williams, Peggy Lee, Carmen McCrea, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Any changes since he was with Oscar Peterson? “I looked up one day and I was thirty-three years old and I was gonna be a has-been. I couldn’t play rock. The Beatles had gotten hot, and a new kind of thing was happening.” He didn’t need to tell them something was going on with his music, too — much of it the last few years as instructor in Malmo, Sweden’s Jazz Institute and the Music Collage Vid Lunds Universitet.
The drums began again, almost as if by themselves. Of cliche rhythms he said, “I’m rather tired of them.” He leaned in over the rhythm, cradling it in close. The cymbal was like an oriental sun, and he spun it ’round with his finger. Then the drums took over the universe — very sure — telling everyone who Thigpen was, where he’d been, and what he had to say.
And the audience was glad to be there. He smiled. It was his “audition day” and he had wanted to please them — “the way we all want to make things that have some validity, some meaning.”