Buddy Rich story -- April issue of JazzTimes
Few musicians in jazz history have been as revered -- and reviled -- as drummer Buddy Rich (1917-1987). Two recent remembrances chronicle those extremes. Author Pelle Berglund's biography, #One of a Kind: The Making of the World's Greatest Drummer# (Hudson Music), reveals the self-taught musician's natural brilliance and infamous temperament, from an 18-month-old in his parents' vaudeville act to leading his final self-titled big band at age 69.
#Just In Time: The Final Recording# (Gearbox), recorded live at Ronnie Scott's in London less than five months before his death from complications with brain cancer, displays Rich in top form to the end as both drummer and bandleader.
Being demanding of other musicians was a mindset that stemmed from Rich's quest for perfection within his own playing. The Stockholm-based Berglund, a fellow drummer, witnessed that quest first-hand.
"My first experience seeing Buddy was here in Sweden," Berglund says, "in a town called Vaxjo in 1977. I was only 20 years old, and it was like seeing a drummer with turbo feet and hands. Buddy had serious back problems. They had to lead him to the drums, but when he started playing, he was magic."
That magic is charted by Berglund in #One of a Kind# through interviews with friends, family and fans. The Brooklyn, NY-born Rich first emerges as "Traps, the Drum Wonder" in parents Robert and Bess Rich's stage show, displaying an uncanny ability to follow rhythms by their accompanying band. The stock exchange crash of 1929, as well as the young drummer's adolescence, help hasten the end of both child star status and his parents' act. But jazz is emerging everywhere in New York City, and Rich becomes influenced by the drumming showmanship of Gene Krupa, with Benny Goodman's band, and drive of Chick Webb (1905-1939) in Duke Ellington's orchestra.
As the swing era emerges, Berglund paints a vivid picture of Rich's initial troubles getting steady employment. Two reasons are his volume, later tempered, and inability to read music, counteracted by the fact that Rich can memorize musical charts upon first listen. Rich is also typecast as a Dixieland drummer via his early work with clarinetist Joe Marsala and trumpeter Bunny Berigan, the reason famed big band clarinetist Artie Shaw first declines his services.
Finally hired by Shaw, Rich primarily learns a disdain for the business side of music from the bandleader. Trombonist Tommy Dorsey employs Rich afterward, and the drummer eventually incorporates some of his iron fist techniques to lead his own ensembles. Both jazz orchestras appear in motion pictures, an important component of fame that helps the young drummer's name recognition. From the mid-1940s through the next 40 years, Rich increases that recognition with big bands whenever possible and affordable.
"I saw Buddy two more times," Berglund says. "In 1979, he was a guest player with a Swedish big band at the amusement park Grona Lund in Stockholm, and I saw the rehearsal two days before. Two of Buddy's best friends also joined the band, [trumpeter] Harry 'Sweets' Edison and [saxophonist] Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis. Both performances were absolutely great."
#Just in Time# provides compelling closing audio evidence of Rich's greatness. As daughter Cathy Rich writes in the liner notes, his young 15-piece band had been together for two years, and plays with the power, confidence, and even swagger of its leader. Favorites like Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" and Mike Barone's "Shawnee" get burning treatments; longtime elder saxophone statesman Steve Marcus shines, and the Rolling Stones mobile recording studio captures the performances exquisitely.
Rich sounds relaxed and restrained on Matt Harris' "Harco Shuffle" and Bill Holman's "Loose," and brings down the house late with signature flurries on George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess." It's a final reminder of the drummer who helped bring his instrument to the forefront of jazz, with all the inherent reverence and admiration; jealousy and disdain.
Berglund is a fan who never met Rich, making his book the counterpoint to #Traps: The Drum Wonder#, a personal, chronological 1992 recollection by singer and friend Mel Torme. Rich's famed drum battles with Krupa and Max Roach are portrayed, fueling Berglund's title claim of Rich as "The World's Greatest Drummer," an athletic, non-musical term based on speed and technique. Rich didn't like improvisational bebop, popularized in the 1940s, although he recorded and performed with titans like saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Ditto electric jazz/fusion, which emerged in the 1960s via trumpeter Miles Davis. So stylistically, he wasn't a better bop drummer than Roach or a better fusion drummer than Tony Williams.
The world's greatest big band swing drummer is more plausible; the greatest drum soloist more ironclad. Like other virtuosos -- Parker and bassist Jaco Pastorius come to mind -- Rich had the rare, innate ability to translate whatever he heard in his head through his instrument, with zero lag time, truly making the drummer one of a kind.
Heidi Deleuil obituary - Feb. issue of JazzBluesFlorida
Long before 79-year-old Heidi Deleuil died on January 18 after a long illness, she'd earned fame within Florida's jazz community.
She was co-owner, along with husband/chef Edmund Deleuil, of the Heidelberg Restaurant and adjacent Heidi's Jazz Club in Cocoa Beach. The restaurant opened in 1986; the club in 1992, after the couple moved from Austria in 1985.
Both establishments developed top-shelf reputations. Edmund worked at some of the finest restaurants in Austria and Germany, and Heidelberg's continental cuisine earned rave food critic reviews.
Heidi's father hosted jam sessions in the 1950s in Vienna, some featuring legendary Austrian keyboardist Joe Zawinul (Miles Davis, Weather Report), which helped fuel the couple's impetus to add live music.
Through its namesake's attention to detail and nurturing of the Cocoa Beach arts scene, Heidi's thrived. DownBeat voted it one of the world's top jazz venues over many years. Heidi not only welcomed creative jazz artists domestic and international, but encouraged area students to perform at Sunday open jams, and confidently helped nearby establishments get started despite their inherent competition.
Perhaps that rare vision -- of long-term music and arts scene success over short-term profits -- is Heidi's most enduring legacy, one exemplified by a recent Heidi's online post: "As we prepare for services, which will take place in March so all of our friends and family can join us, we ask that you celebrate her life by donating in her honor to the music scholarship programs of Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High School and Satellite Beach High School." https://heidisjazzclub.com/donation
War on Live Music story - Jan. issue of Palm Beach Arts Paper
There have been times, some relatively recently, when Palm Beach County actually seemed to flirt with having a creative live music scene that featured full bands playing original material.
Now is not such a time.
Between the influx of noise ordinances, worded to imply that music is equitable to "noise," and implemented to counteract the growing number of outdoor live music venues; ever-popular solo artists and duos singing and playing acoustic guitars, cover bands and even their modern, acid-for-the-masses counterparts -- tribute acts to actual artists who are [i]still[i] recording and touring -- and deejays, the number of full area bands playing original compositions seems purposely stifled.
One need only to look back 10 years or so to see when things were different, and where things started to turn, in a couple of disparate Palm Beach County towns: small Lake Worth in the center of the county and sprawling Jupiter in its north end.
In Lake Worth, open town forums debating a proposed noise ordinance in 2010 routinely featured 90 percent of speakers who were in opposition. Many who spoke in favor were, predictably, the retired owners of the small, antiquated homes surrounding the downtown east-west thoroughfares of Lake and Lucerne avenues. More predictably, perhaps, the seemingly pre-ordained ordinance passed, helping to result in the more recent dissolution of popular open-air live music sites like South Shores Tavern (on Lucerne Avenue) and Havana Hideout (on Lake).
Even the popular "Evening on the Avenues" events, which once featured live bands on the first and third Fridays of every month on the outdoor Cultural Plaza stage in-between Lake and Lucerne, are no more.
"With an outdoor venue, it's only logical to assume its intended purpose is for the sound to extend out," says Lake Worth-based singing solo flamenco guitarist Adrian Montijo. "It's an obvious collaborative public event. But you know you live in a democracy when someone in the neighborhood is not happy."
Solo performers, particularly Caucasian males singing and playing acoustic guitars, enjoy a romanticized, exalted status here. Especially since Mississippi-born singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett somehow fooled his Parrot Heads into thinking he embodied the native South Florida sound over the past several decades. Soloists routinely get paid more per person than members of a full band, yet still cost less overall, and are less of a volume complaint risk for venues, especially open-air ones. The noise ordinance solution at most of those is to tell bands to turn down or get fired rather than invest any money in volume control equipment.
"The formula goes like this," says Broward County-based singing multi-instrumentalist Richie Schmidt, who often performs at the indoor venue the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton with the duo Twocan Blue (with his wife, singing keyboardist Tess Schmidt) and quintet the Funky Biscuit Allstars. "City sells permit to outdoor venue to have live music; city imposes impossible decibel level restriction, and city then fines venue for exceeding level restriction."
Indoor venues feature no such issues. The Bamboo Room, one of South Florida's best rooms for original touring and local acts in its initial 1999-2008 incarnation in Lake Worth, reopened in 2011. Yet the upstairs club subsequently closed; opened again in 2015, closed again, reopened in 2018 and then closed again, all before its current incarnation -- as a private party rental venue that features almost exclusively deejays for its themed nights, most centering on R&B or Latin music.
Deejays have become increasingly popular with venue owners and managers, and have practically taken over wedding receptions from live bands. They have nearly every recorded song at their fingertips; often cost less than a full band, and can control their volume. Not that they're always asked to. Multiple South Florida clubs feature both deejays and live bands, the latter of which are consistently asked to turn down. Then a deejay takes over, pumps up the volume to stadium level with no volume complaints, and the dance floor fills with people who wouldn't dance to live original music specifically because they find it unpredictable.
The definition of a non-music scene is one in which people only want to hear what they've heard before rather than what they've never heard. In an era where a lowest-common-denominator TV show like the FOX network series [i]Flirty Dancing[i] debuts, that isn't surprising. Dancing certainly has its place as a fun, cardiovascular pastime, but it's also the opposite of thought-provoking. As is dance music. Dancers' only thoughts are about what might happen later with their dance partners, or whether anyone is watching them on the floor. Coincidentally or not, the genre became more popular after musical education was eliminated in public schools.
Area School of Rock locations in Lake Worth (since 2012) and Palm Beach Gardens (since 2008) have helped to replace some of that once-valuable public school curriculum, yet they focus on teaching the 7-to-18-year-old students cover material rather than on writing original compositions. What's more, local clubs book the schools' underage ensembles for unpaid onstage rehearsals, knowing that their parents will both attend and spend. Then routinely leave before an original act takes the stage after they watched their kids perform.
As a partial result, venues and series from Boynton Beach (The Venu) to Lake Park (Kelsey Theater) and Palm Beach Gardens (Downtown at the Gardens Summer Concert Series) routinely feature predominantly to exclusively tribute acts -- to still-active artists from Aerosmith and Buffett to Bruce Springsteen and U2.
Lake Worth officially became Lake Worth Beach in 2019, yet its original music scene is now at low tide. CWS on Lucerne Avenue remains the only downtown open-air venue; Propaganda on J Street is its sole indoor club featuring primarily original acts. Other indoor rooms include Rudy's (once the Bamboo Room's downstairs office area), the Rhum Shak, Igot's, and Brogue's, and the vast majority of material played throughout them involves covers. The Rhum Shak is even controlled by a booking agent whose prerequisite for any band they consider hiring is to know a high volume of cover songs.
"I don't believe there's a war on originality," says West Palm Beach-based keyboardist Jeff Crofford, who plays with the area Foreigner tribute act 4NR2. "Real money is tribute bands with a good agent. That's what it's become."
Perhaps, at least with the outdoor venues, it's a war on drums, the acoustic full band instrument without a volume knob. Yet two area drummers offer possible explanations that expand further than outdoor decibel levels.
"People don't respect musicians as tradesmen or professionals," says West Palm Beach-based freelance jazz and pop drummer Tim Moss. "Bars think we are there to bring people in, when we are there to entertain the people who come there. We're making the same money as they did in the 1950s. Who would earn $100 for six to eight hours of work, and no raises in 40 years? We play for the love."
"Music is no longer a common cultural touchstone," says Palm Beach Gardens-based freelance rock drummer Ed Schaeferle. "I remember when an older kid got a new Beatles LP and I begged to get a listen. That kid saved in advance to get that album. I read that there's almost an exact percent of teens' money that was spent on records that now goes toward video games."
Many venue owners and managers will gladly pay musicians playing for the love with more "exposure" than cash, and music becoming more of an Internet than physical product has certainly played a role. As have more strict DUI laws, and bars gaining stereotypically less-than-reputable meeting place status over the years. As clubs saw attendance wane, the bands they hired often became saddled with the extra expectation of bringing a following with them. Resulting in an influx of mediocre hobbyist musicians who earn impressive day job incomes, thus are often willing to play at a venue for a lesser price -- and bring their friends with equally-disposable incomes out to drink.
Club owners, less concerned with helping to craft a thriving music scene than in nightly receipts, thus become co-conspirators with the undercutting, marginal talent in that waning scene's downfall.
"As a club owner, you still have to promote your live bands," says Boynton Beach-based singing guitarist Mike Hill, who plays covers with the Rosario Craig Band. "Otherwise, it's a master-slave approach. Yes, the bands need to promote, but so do you. It's a business partnership. If you book live entertainment, you should not be spending that money so the band can be your marketing agents."
In Jupiter, the waterfront Harbourside Place opened in the early 2010s as a popular open-air dining and shopping destination, complete with a stage for live music, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 1 and Indiantown Road. Almost immediately, the volume complaints started coming in from affluent owners of adjacent properties and homes across the Intracoastal Waterway. Harbourside compensated by booking acoustic acts and installing massive plastic sound baffles across the back of the stage for full electric band nights, but those property owners eventually, and predictably, ensured that the complex is now almost exclusively for dining and shopping.
The residents around Harbourside are often boat-owning baby boomers, or older, who may yearn for the music of the swing era -- or now lean away from their youthful tastes of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin toward the post-Woodstock era's easy listening stars like Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond. They're simply registering noise complaints because they're not hearing the music they like, and their property values usually give them an inflated say in the matter.
"A unique feature of South Florida life that I've always loved is live music, outdoors, year-round," says Schmidt. "In many cases, city commissions put their priority on development, placing no value on sustaining this unique part of our coastal culture. Time and again, in city after city, council meetings are convened to address this 'terrible plague' of live music outdoors. In one court case in Broward County, a judge asked a condo owner, 'Would you have complained if the band was playing a Frank Sinatra song?' The senior resident answered no, and the judge ruled in favor of the outdoor venue owner."
North of Harbourside along North State Road A1A, the waterfront outdoor venue Square Grouper requires its bands to have no amplifiers onstage, which lowers the volume -- but in the process practically requires them to invest in costly in-ear monitors (a tactic Harbourside also tried) to hear their instruments.
Across the street, the open-air Guanabanas spent money to address the problem rather than putting the onus on bands. Talent buyer and sound engineer Matt Cahur, at the venue since 2008, helped come up with barely-noticeable sound baffles along the club's east walkway around the stage, and to install Apex Hera and Argos sound controllers and limiters to reduce decibel levels. What's more, Cahur (also a guitarist with longtime area alt-rockers Boxelder) actually encourages bands at Guanabanas to play original music.
A short drive to the south on U.S.1, Jupiter-based singer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Vince Flora decided to open an indoor live music venue featuring originals and covers with his wife, Kelly Flora, in 2014. Double Roads Tavern, named for the popular oceanside make-out spot for teens along the beach nearby in the 1970s, was born. And with no such outdoor sound restrictions, it's thriving, recently advertising its "10 shows a week, 520 shows a year for 5 1/2 years."
"The club owner has a very large investment to protect, and the bands really do not," Flora says, citing a valid distinction in such business relationships. "It's the same, in many respects, as it's always been in that you treat your band like any other business and watch it grow. Go out and get contacts and promote yourself. Clubs can't afford to pay bands that do nothing but show up and bring no added revenue."
Perhaps Palm Beach County, with its hobbyist musicians and year-round warm weather attracting tourists and creating an array of distractions from live music, could never host a scene like Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, Nashville, or New York City. And perhaps that's why, even with myriad universities with respected music programs, especially in the Miami-Dade area, the students those colleges produce can't find work in a shrinking South Florida market of venues. Especially outdoor ones.
"It's a total, blatant disregard for for creativity and sonic exploration," says Miami-based percussionist Steve Kornicks.
And perhaps it's a problem that extends not only beyond the boundaries of county, but also state and even country.
"I made more money 40 years ago in music," says Ontario, Canada-based vocalist and bassist Steve Van Stiphout. "When I explain to club owners that my trade is as worthy as any other profession, they don't care, saying, 'If you don't do it, somebody else will.' I'm retired now, and just play for my own enjoyment and peace of mind."
* Disclaimer: I currently sing and play drums and percussion with a handful of area groups. One started out as a Bob Dylan tribute act in the early 2000s, but has since morphed into roughly 40% Dylan, 35% other covers, and 25% originals on a given night. The other acts play anywhere from 60% to 90% originals. One motto I've carried is that musicians have to either place a greater emphasis on music, by performing originals, or on money, as in cover and tribute acts. Another is that generally the more money you're making at a gig, the less fun you'll have. And the more money your customers have, the more curious their musical tastes. On well-paying gigs for affluent customers, locally to the Bahamas, I've been asked, with a straight face, to play "Macarena" by Los Del Rio and "Gangnam Style" by PSY.