Monday, October 8, 2007

big swing face

I've always been drawn to the '60s-era big band leaders. Maybe it's because they were on the cusp of my emerging musical awareness. Guys like Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, seemed like a cross-breed in the '60s, neither fish nor fowl... neither swinging swagger like Sinatra.... not pseudo-hip like the fusionists--not rock, not jazz, and not, really, big band. But I remember one of my buddies in eighth-grade band class bringing his cassette recorder to school; he had taped a Stan Kenton concert. His father had taken him the night before. And I thought, "I wished I could be as cool as that." Some sounds you never forget. It took me three decades to buy my first Stan Kenton CD... but I always remembered the majesty of tinny, cassette recording.

I knew about Buddy Rich. Brutal and cruel like his friend, Frank Sinatra, but somehow without the out-sized persona that made you overlook Frank's flaws. Still, I agree with many critics who say that he was the best drummer ever. Long after I laid down the drum sticks, I picked up Buddy Rich.

While listening to "Big Swing Face," I read (for probably the tenth time) his biography on Wikipedia. Buried beneath the acclaim and the praise, were references to "the tapes." Apparently on a regular basis, Buddy Rich flew into rages against members of his band. Some of these tirades were secretly taped by band members who, understandably, thought that it was due dilligence. You can read a transcript of one of them here. Reportedly, while on his deathbed, Buddy asked Mel Tormé to play him "the tapes." Was Buddy feeling remorse? Did some inner urge prompt him to confront his demons, finally? Was he pondering the grand philosophical question of whether random acts of cruelty cancel out an otherwise good life? I dunno. I just think it's significant that, while he lay dying, that's what he wanted to hear--"the tapes."