John LaBarbera is a Grammy-nominated composer and arranger whose works have been recorded and performed for nearly fifty years by many of the top artists of jazz, including Woody Herman, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Mel Tormé, Bill Watrous, Phil Woods, and the man often called the greatest drummer in history, Buddy Rich. LaBarbera is also a two-time recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts award for Jazz Composition and a retired professor emeritus of music at the University of Louisville School of Music. His original works span multiple genres, and can be heard everywhere from television commercials to a contribution to the soundtrack for the Academy Award–winning film La La Land.
Modern Drummer readers might recognize John as the composer of iconic tracks such as “Dancing Men” that were made famous by Buddy Rich, whose career we celebrate with an exclusive timeline in the current October issue of the magazine. We recently had the opportunity to sit with John at his home in southern Indiana—to hear his story, and to learn just what it was like to work for the toughest employer in jazz history. Enjoy!