At the risk of coming across all Whiplash, there’s going to be an awful lot of Buddy Rich here. While there is a universe of other artists I could focus on, Buddy is the person I keep going back to. It goes without saying that his big band comping and soloing is top tier but the thing that keeps pulling me back is his idiosyncratic approach to straight grooves. It makes him a goldmine for sampling - - something that come up in my first selection:
The Cinematic Orchestra
"Channel One Suite"
While I’ve been playing in big bands since the age of 18, I was first drawn into serious interest in music by the world of early 2000s left field hip hop such as Mr Scruff and Quantic. This led me to the work of Mr Scruff’s Ninja Tune label mates, The Cinematic Orchestra. The Manchester-based nu-jazz ensemble put together a series of phenomenal albums which I still adore, the first of which (Motion, 1999) included this tune.
A sample of the Buddy Rich Orchestra’s tune of the same name serves a springboard for some incredible groove-based soloing throughout the piece from drummer, T. Daniel Howard. I was fortunate to see the piece performed live with drummer Luke Flowers taking the helm who managed to take it even further. As with many who approach jazz having already immersed themselves in sample-based music, hearing this sample cropping up in it’s original form when I eventually heard the original Buddy Rich version was an invaluable foot in the door to my exploration of big band jazz. Buddy Rich Big Band "Mercy Mercy Mercy" <span data-mce-type="bookmark" style="display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;" class="mce_SELRES_start"></span> My second selection comes from the same album as Buddy’s Channel One Suite, the incredible Mercy Mercy recorded live in 1968. This is the A1 example of Buddy’s straight groove playing I mentioned previously: rock solid and yet ebbing and flowing with a hard swing. I loved the tune in most incarnations but the way the band continually builds across this arrangement always takes my breath away. It also remains a personal favourite as it was the closing number in my final recital as part of my music degree in which I convinced (read: begged) SSBB to perform with me. James Brown with Louis Bellson Orchestra "I Need Your Key (To Turn me On)" <span data-mce-type="bookmark" style="display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;" class="mce_SELRES_start"></span> While not really a drum feature (it’s hard to imagine James Brown allowing one of his tunes to be a feature for anyone other than him) this tune really swings. As a James Brown fanatic this whole album (Soul On Top, 1970) holds a very special place in my heart. Elsewhere on the album we see Brown performing killer big band arrangements of some of his biggest late 60s tunes (Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag and It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World) as well as a mix of blues, R&B and jazz standards (even a Hank Williams tune) but it’s on I Need Your Key that we hear Bellson cutting loose with a barnstorming solo. We might have to wade through a fairly incomprehensible James Brown monologue to get there but it’s worth it in the end! Joe Williams with Thad Jones & Mel Lewis Orchestra "Get Out of My Life Woman" <span data-mce-type="bookmark" style="display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;" class="mce_SELRES_start"></span> I first heard this tune on a soul/funk/jazz mixtape circa 2002 (though I can’t for the life of me remember which one!) and, as with Channel One Suite, it was really exciting to hear it much later out in the wild and have that snap of recollection as I delved in big band recordings with a fervour. Not at all a drum feature but the contrast between the opening dissonant fanfare, the delicate piano line that follows and Lewis’ heavy heavy groove still gets me. I’ve always had a fascination with the funk and soul of New Orleans and that this is a cover of a tune written by Crescent City don Allen Toussaint is just another reason to love it.
Buddy Rich Big Band "West Side Story Medley" <span data-mce-type="bookmark" style="display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;" class="mce_SELRES_start"></span> It only seems fitting to round off with another Buddy Rich tune. I have always loved musical theatre and West Side Story is a particular favourite. It always amazes me that the tunes from West Side Story never seemed to cross over into true standards in the same way other musical theatre tunes did. There’s a number of historical reasons for this but the tunes certainly stand up to reinterpretation (just ask Little Richard...). Rich’s medley has been written about and discussed at length so there’s not much more I can add aside to say that the blend of Bernstein’s music and Rich’s ensemble borders the sublime at times.
If you enjoyed reading this please check out other blogs from SSBB such as Dave Kerridge’s top 10 big band recordings. While you're here... Thanks for reading! Take a look at our calendar of public shows, recent videos, and more blogs We'd also love to stay in touch - you can sign up to Strictly Smokin' Big Band's mailing list below: