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A Salute To Buddy Rich

featuring Phil Collins, Dennis Chambers, Steve Smith & The Buddy Rich Band


When the Big Band tour ended in 1998 Phil Collins stayed in New York for some more live performances from 01/10 to 03/10/98. On October 1 he played a Live By Request in the Sony studios with the Big Band, the day after that he played the Hard Rock Café for the VH-1 Hard Rock Live programme. On October 3 he played a tribute show with the Buddy Rich Big Band by invitation of Rich’s daughter Cathy Rich. Rich (1917-1987) was not only a fantastic singer but even better known as a legendary drummer. His drumming was at the same time forceful, fiery, fast and creative; it made him the hero of the performances though it was never overly intellectual.

The big band Buddy Rich (who, like Phil, could not read sheet music) founded in 1966 has deeply impressed Phil. Collins makes no bones about it: Yes, Buddy was his reason to set up a big band himself, Phil confesses in an interview that has been released on video to honour the man who outshone even musicians like Gene Krupain. The video contains twelve pieces with the Buddy Rich Band. Phil drums on seven of them and sings on an eighth. For the other four songs two drummers sat down at the kit who have made a name for themselves in the jazz and rock scene, namely Dennis Chambers from Baltimore and Steve Smith, who was in Journey for seven years. Luis Conte, a percussionist who has already played with Phil and bass player Will Lee from David Letterman’s Late Show were also in the band. 

Cover DVD / VideoBetween the songs there are brief interviews with all three drummers about their work and about Buddy Rich as well as five very impressive clips that show Buddy Rich himself. The introduction and the credits also show interesting snippets from the show rehearsals. The first of the twelve songs is I Don’t Care Anymore as we know it from Phil’s own big band. The solo trombonist, who plays with a muffler, has an impressive tongue technique. Curiously this song was, according to the end credits, written by Phil and one David Charles – perhaps just a mistake because someone was confused about Phil’s second and third given names?

Steve Smith hits the skins on the next two arrangements. Airegin (“Nigeria” backwards) by Sonny Rollins is very fast and ends in a calm waltz rhythm. There are several solos on the saxophone and the piano. No Jive, a piece by Bob Mintzer, who occasionally works with the SWR big band, contains solos on the saxophone, bass (with Will Lee’s very eccentric gestures), two saxophones in a duet and also an extended solo of Steve’s that proves how well-versed he is in this genre of drumming. Phil, who has taken up this kind of music only a couple of years ago, seems rather pale in comparison as a big band drummer. The next two tracks have drum work by Dennis Chambers. All Blues is one of two Miles Davis tracks on this video. Dennis plays with the brushes while the piano leads the song. Rocky And His Friends by Frank Comstock features a piano and a drum solo. Rocky’s friends are represented by a series of saxophonists who try to outdo each other in their respective solos. More accessible tracks follow: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy and its sax solo was written by Weather Report’s Austrian keyboarder Joe Zawinul. It sounds almost as famous and recognizable as the Lennon/McCartney song Norwegian Wood where the trombone soloes.

The trombone solo that Phil would have in his big band for That’s All is replaced by a saxophone solo. After another song by legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, Milestones, the familiar solo by Phil and Luis (who turns out a good comedian here) leads into Jon Hendrick and Joe Zawinul’s Birdland. Phil admits that he cannot play along to Birdland like Buddy did – it is too fast for him, he explains – and so he chooses a different approach. After Sussudio, an essential song of a Collins big band gig, Phil addresses the audience and tells them the true story of how Buddy Rich and Tony Williams asked him to play with them. Phil had chickened out because he felt superfluous. He also mentions that he was to produce an album for Buddy, whose heart condition and sudden death after a hospital stay unfortunately cancelled these plans.

Supposedly at Cathy Rich’s request Phil then sings the Dorothy Fields / Jerome Kern song The Way You Look Tonight with little accompaniment and hardly any involvement by the brass group. This song was an occasional encore at some of Collins’ big band shows along with Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me. It was sometimes dropped or replaced by Always.

Five historical clips with Buddy Rich show him at a drum solo with the Tommy Dorsey Combo, in the “Steve Allen Show”, with a big band 1986 in Copenhagen (an excerpt from Bugle Call Rag), playing a bit from Birdland (filmed at Jacksonville in 1983) and playing the Channel One Suite by William Reddie in a 1984 Berlin performance. The latter clip consists of an extended drum solo by Buddy Rich that encompasses the quintessence of his music: The range of timbres, the contrasts from hitting the skins full blast to the tenderest brushing of the drums and lots of humour are most impressive.

If you are interested in drumming you will find this video very worthwhile, for not only do we get to hear lots of it, but we also see it frequently because of the nimble camera work all around the drum kit. The video is also a consolation for everybody who missed a video for A Hot Night In Paris – after all, this video shows Phil on four songs that are not on the big band CD and were not played on the big band tours either. If you would like to hear more of Buddy you may want to buy one of his solo albums; Phil recommends the West Side Story Medley (based on Leonard Bernstein’s opus) which can be found on one of the big band albums.

by Andreas Lauer
translated by Martin Klinkhardt

Phil Collins


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