Friday, February 10, 2006

Musical Timekeeper for a Generation

If you're a fan of great drumming and/or big band-style jazz, check out the "Buddy Rich Collector's Edition" DVD. It's a 2 DVD set that includes two programs recorded in April of 1985 on King Street in San Francisco. The first is called the "Channel 1 Suite" and the second is "The Lost West Side Story Tapes." Taped 2 years before the drumming icon's death, they were his last recorded performances. Buddy was 67 at the time, and had undergone quadruple bypass heart surgery two years previous. His doctors told him not to perform anymore, but he ignored their pleas. In 1990, a fire swept through the studio where the programs were recorded and it was thought that the master video tapes were destroyed. Ten years later the tapes were discovered and were able to be restored. The latest video and audio technology of the day was incorporated into the high quality project. The lighting director won an Emmy award and the set design had an art deco look that resembled a classy jazz club. Four channel surround sound was recorded by a 12 foot by 4 foot array of microphones attached to a 200 pound plexiglass field. Two half circle domes made of plexiglass were placed above Buddy's drum kit. Each contained a pressure zone microphone (pzm). The director was a musician himself and the music was marked to correspond with the camera shots. There was a camera mounted below Buddy's snare drum looking up to show a unique perspective of the percussion virtuoso at work. It was a first class production with Buddy involved in all aspects.

The discs contain vignettes with interviews with the producer, audio engineer, and Buddy's daughter and wife. Audio commentaries are by drummers Steve Smith and Dave Weckl. One segment reveals that Buddy's grandson Nick is a drummer in a rock band. An interesting profile is included that features Joey DeNoia, Buddy's longtime assistant which shows the softer side of Buddy. Tracks on the DVD include Machine, Best Coast, One O' Clock Jump, Norwegian Wood, and others. There is lots of behind-the-scenes footage and a booklet with photos of Buddy.

Buddy Rich and Johnny Carson were good friends and they each admired one another. Buddy gave Johnny a drum set that was a replica of his own. Rich would appear on the Tonight Show four times per year and the DVD set includes a visit from 1976. Buddy was on the show that night with Don Rickles and Buddy's daughter Cathy, who is a singer, made an appearance too. In 1973 Buddy had spinal surgery and Johnny and Ed McMahon paid him a visit in the hospital. The pair performed an X-rated Carnac bit that left Buddy in stitches. Buddy also was friends with Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis. Buddy and Jerry appeared together in the film "Visit to a Small Planet" where Jerry portrayed an alien. Ironically, Buddy was a UFO buff and took his belief in extra terrestrials seriously.

Buddy lived from 1917 to 1987 and amazingly he never read music. He could listen to a piece once and play along with it flawlessly the second time hearing it. He was a musical pioneer and this DVD set is a must have for people who love great music. Fans of Rich should check out the CD entitled "Burning for Buddy." It has today's greatest drummers performing in a tribute to the man known as "Mr. Drums." It was produced by Neil Peart, the great drummer for the Canadian power rock trio Rush.
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