What's so good about Buddy Rich?

Calling anyone "the greatest (insert instrument) player of all time" is recipe for endless debate. However - if the greatest jazz drummer of all time had to be crowned, Buddy Rich would certainly be a contender.

By age 4, Buddy Rich was already known as Traps the Drum Wonder. He would go on to play with the biggest names in jazz: Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson and many more. In the mid-1960's he assembled a big band which would tour until his death in 1987 - it's for his work driving the Buddy Rich Big Band that he is perhaps best known. Memorable solos, powerful drumming, incredibly intense playing - he put out 110% for every show and, as we can see in this clip, he expected the same from his band members (check out his drum solo at 3:25):

We won't have Buddy Rich at this year's Festival, but in some ways we'll have the next best thing: to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Buddy Rich, an all-star big band of local musicians will perform under the direction of John LaBarbera - the Grammy Award nominated composer who contributed more works to the Buddy Rich Big Band repertoire than anyone else. In fact, the clip above features "Dancing Men" - one of John's tunes. For one special night, some of Canada's top musicians are going to bring the music of the Buddy Rich Big Band to life - and with names like Alex Dean, Jason Logue, Al Kay and Don Thompson (and so many more!) on the personnel list, I am confident they'll recreate the excitement seen in clips like this one, a performance of Don Menza's "Time Check":

Now, if you were watching closely, you might have recognized the saxophonist who solos starting just before the one minute mark. That's Toronto jazz stalwart Pat LaBarbera, who played in Buddy's band from 1967 to 1974. Pat is respected internationally as both an outstanding saxophonist and a committed educator. He has made his mark on bandstands around the world, and, for the past several years, in the classroom at Humber College. Pat will be a featured soloist for this special Buddy Rich celebration, providing a unique perspective on the repertoire.

But wait - there's more! And by that, I mean more LaBarberas:

Brother number 3, Joe LaBarbera, can be seen playing drums in the video above. And while taking on the role of Buddy Rich for this show may seem like very big shoes to fill, Joe is better equipped to do so than any other drummer: he is the only drummer, other than Buddy Rich, to ever occupy the drum chair of the Buddy Rich Big Band while Buddy was still alive. Joe started his touring career with Woody Herman and the Thundering Herd, and went on to play with some of the biggest names in jazz; his performance as a member of the Bill Evans trio from 1978 to 1980 is particularly acclaimed. The opportunity to hear Joe play the "Channel One Suite" - which, I understand, he helped teach to Buddy - is not to be missed.

As a big band leader - and having played some of John's arrangements - I'm particularly excited about this show. The band on its own is going to be outstanding; but to have such a direct line to Buddy - to hear the music led by the composer and performed by musicians who have an intimate knowledge of the repertoire (including Don Englert, another Buddy Rich Big Band alumnus) - will be particularly special. We're in for a treat!

The John LaBarbera Big Band "Celebrating Buddy Rich" performs Thursday June 29, 8 pm at The Concert Hall. Buy tickets now or, for more information go to their concert page.


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