Wednesday, June 1, 2011

3 Amigos--Gene, Barrett, and Buddy

In the aftermath of the Chicago Drum Show, I thought I'd post this picture. Perhaps many of you readers have seen it and are familiar with it, but it's a great picture that captures three drummers who excelled in the art of big band jazz drumming.

The picture is a promotional shot that Barrett used to promote his orchestra's salute to Gene Krupa. I have no idea of the time frame here. I'm guessing middle 1950's, if slightly later. Barrett is sitting behind a Ludwig drum kit. He endorsed Ludwig from 1948 until late 1950's. Buddy, too, was an endorser of Ludwig at the time. Gene, on the other hand, was a Slingerland man all the way.

Older drummers and musicians would have no trouble identifying who is who in the photo. But for younger players, a brief description of each might suffice.

Gene Krupa is in the center of the photo, in between Barrett and Buddy. It was Gene who brought the drums out front and center during the Swing Era. Before Gene, drummers weren't even considered musicians. A big band was described as, " 14 or 15 musicians and a drummer." Gene had such a charismatic presence that it was only a matter of time before he ventured out on his own. He fronted his own big band and he featured great soloists (Roy Eldridge) and singers (Anita O'Day). Gene Krupa was truly an ambassador for drummers everywhere.

Barrett Deems billed himself as "the world's fastest drummer." He played with Louis Armstrong and, as the promotional photo shows, fronted his own orchestra. Barrett played in all sorts of groups in his hometown of Chicago. He played well into his 80's and I remember seeing him hanging out at the Jazz Showcase whenever a famous jazz drummer came into town to play the club.

Buddy Rich is standing next to Gene. If you're a drummer, and you don't know who Buddy Rich is, you're in serious trouble. I still remember the first time I heard him on record. Max Mariash, my teacher, played a tune on his record player with Buddy playing drums. He then asked me to write down what I thought he was playing. I sat there open mouthed. True, I was only 14 at the time and Max did this exercise with other drummers' recordings e.g. Max Roach, Jo Jones. It was a great way to learn about drumming style and technique. More often than not, Buddy Rich, occupied center stage in these listening sessions.

Buddy's history with big bands, both his own and others, is well known and there's no need to rehash it here. Suffice it to say that his technical virtuosity remains unmatched, even in this day and age.

We drummers of today stand on the shoulders of giants

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