The First Major Retrospective From Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich created a sound that is unmistakable, set standards that were unshakable, and achieved a level of stardom rare in any style of music. Always a fan favorite, Rich scored with critics as well: The Downbeat Hall of Fame Award; the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame Award; the Jazz Unlimited Immortals of Jazz Award; the list goes on and on.

Even the legendary Gene Krupa - doubtless, on that top ten list as well - honored Rich by declaring him "The greatest drummer ever to have drawn breath." Rich would have agreed, but then his legendary ego always kept pace with his talent.

With all the international fame and his musical legacy, it's amazing that there has never been a major retrospective on CD - until now. The Classic Argo, Emarcy and Verve Small Group Buddy Rich Sessions (Mosaic Records) is a complete look at Rich when he was, without question, a top star. The seven-CD set features studio dates and live performances from 1953 to 1961 in quartet, quintet, sextet, septet, and octet settings - plus, an 11-piece orchestra. There's one complete session that was scheduled for release but never issued. A few tracks only issued in Japan. And delightful surprises from a sea of known talents that include Harry 'Sweets' Edison, Benny Carter, Thad Jones, Ben Webster, Oscar Peterson, and more. The set is expected to ship early December.

Rich was in the middle of re-inventing himself after his success as a support player in the big band universe. But then, he was used to the spotlight: it first found him when he was 18-months old.

The story is familiar, but retelling it is delicious: tiny Bernard Rich wanders on stage during a rehearsal of his parents' vaudeville act; picks up a pair of sticks; and starts banging time on the stage floor, in perfect rhythm. "Traps, the Drum Wonder" joins the act that same day. Variety later hails him by declaring he possesses "the ability of a veteran jazz drummer." He's five and already a child star, seasoned performer, and addict to applause.

Years later he shows up on 52nd Street, his press clipping meaningless to jazz bookers. He finally gets a break from clarinetist Joe Marsala during an after-hours encore. Rich provides a one-man cavalcade, and is hired immediately.

His first breakthrough is with Artie Shaw in 1939. The band is popping, and provides Rich with numerous opportunities to drive the band. He is simultaneously getting renown as a popular entertainer. He leaves Shaw for Tommy Dorsey, and stays until the Marines take him in 1943. After the war, his perfect time seems to fail: Rich attempts to form his own big band, but the era has passed. He tries singing; the world is unimpressed.

Meanwhile, Norman Granz adds him to Jazz at the Philharmonic, and Rich secures international stardom alongside Bird, Dizzy, Basie, Tatum, and countless others. He works with Harry James, again with Dorsey, and in the mid-1950s, finds himself leading a small combo.

That's where these Verve sessions come into play. For a man who never took a lesson, learned to read music, or practiced, he seems to know where every stroke should go. It's unfair to call his approach intuitive; it is simultaneously ingenious.

His solos are virtuoso presentations of licks known and invented on the spot. Like no one before him, he coaxes melody from a rhythm instrument. Rarely will you find such agility and power, simultaneously. Even on blues numbers, which want naturally to drag, Rich pushes, producing maddening tension. And when he needs to lay back and let someone else solo, he is respectfully ever-present.

The 1954 session includes inspired playing by Harry "Sweets" Edison and swinging solo work by Rich.

Webster's and Peterson's presence (along with Ray Brown) on a 1955 date with borrowed Basie-ites Thad Jones, Joe Newman, Frank Wess, and Freddie Green, make for exciting listening. Another date later in the year features superb playing by Sonny Criss. The "orchestra" assembled in 1956 includes two sets of great Basie tunes with a all-star band featuring Frank Rosolino, Pete Candoli, Edison, Buddy Collete, Jimmy Rowles, Joe Mondragon and others.

Rich scaled back to a quartet in 1957 with Flip Phillips on tenor saxophone, Ronnie Ball on piano, and Peter Ind on bass. It's a highlight of the set, with fabulous blowing by Flip. The set recreates the feel of the outstanding Flip Phillips-Buddy Rich date for Mercury in 1948.

His 1960 and 1961 dates feature Rich fronting a distinctive, regularly touring group which includes flutist Sam Most and introduces vibraphonist Mike Mainieri.

The Mosaic collection includes 78 tracks, including 13 that have never appeared anywhere. The exclusive booklet features a complete history of Rich's career, as well as a track-by-track analysis of the music. There are many vintage photographs, and our discography of the sessions clears up a few discrepancies, errors, and omissions from previous listings.

Before Rich, drums played a customary support role. His devotion to performance put them center stage. This set finally gives him his due.

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