MATT HARRIS ON BUDDY, THE BAND­MATE

Rhythm - - FEATURE -

BUDDY’S FOR­MER PI­ANO PLAYER TALKS ABOUT LIFE ON THE ROAD WITH HIS OLD BOSS

What were your ini­tial im­pres­sions when you be­gan working with Buddy in 1985?

“First of all, I was scared to death know­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of Buddy and his per­son­al­ity. I was also in­cred­i­bly ex­cited to be working with such a fa­mous jazz mu­si­cian. I had al­ready worked with May­nard Ferguson, but the mu­si­cal in­tegrity of the BR band was some­thing I wanted to be a part of. I was also a writer/ar­ranger, and I was truly ex­cited to have my mu­sic played by this band and Buddy. I’ll never hear the mu­sic played again at that level.”

Do you have any favourite mem­o­ries of be­ing in Buddy’s band?

“I think the over­all mem­ory was the sound and drive of the band. Some­times we would get done play­ing the first tune of the night and the au­di­ence would be dead silent – no clap­ping. It wasn’t that they didn’t like it, it was that the band was so in­cred­i­ble that peo­ple didn’t quite know how to re­act. The band was clearly about the mu­sic and Buddy. There were no gim­micks or show­biz tricks to get an au­di­ence to re­act. You came to those con­certs to hear pre­ci­sion and ex­cite­ment with the chance that Buddy might get riled up by some­one and go on a tirade!”

What was Buddy like to work with as a band leader?

“Very de­mand­ing. He ex­pected 110 per­cent ev­ery night, no mat­ter what the sit­u­a­tion. I think he also came from an era where you re­spect the au­di­ence and put ev­ery­thing into ev­ery per­for­mance for peo­ple who had paid their hard-earned money to see the band. I think a lot of his tem­per tantrums with the band came from when he felt the band or in­di­vid­u­als were not put­ting as much into the mu­sic as him on any given night. Per­son­ally, I pretty much de­voted the 2-3 hours a night for our con­certs to fully con­cen­trate on the mu­sic and Buddy. Most nights, I would not even look at the au­di­ence.”

We have many drum­mers keen to tell us about Buddy’s in­flu­ence as a drum­mer, but what was he like as a person, off stage?

“Also very de­mand­ing of other peo­ple to re­spect and take things as se­ri­ously as he did. He didn’t loosen up his guard very of­ten. You had to be very care­ful how you spoke with him. He liked it when you dressed up and looked sharp. He had very strong opin­ions and didn’t re­ally care to be chal­lenged on those opin­ions. You had to be very care­ful about sug­gest­ing new things to Buddy whether it be food or a movie. If he didn’t like it, he would blame you for such a lousy rec­om­men­da­tion. This could also work in your favour if he liked your sug­ges­tion.”

Buddy is of­ten name-checked as one of the great­est mu­si­cians of all time – why do you think that is?

“That’s a very dif­fi­cult phrase to be­stow on a mu­si­cian. There are so many great mu­si­cians and drum­mers. I think he was ar­guably the best drum­mer for play­ing the par­tic­u­lar style of big band mu­sic that he led for all of those years. It’s im­pos­si­ble to put into words the ex­cite­ment and in­ten­sity that Buddy ran his band with. It was kind of like be­ing on a gi­gan­tic wave, you bet­ter hold on. It wasn’t go­ing to stop for any­one! That said, I can think of one night in par­tic­u­lar that Buddy’s brother was ill. We were in Lon­don and Buddy had just found out about his brother. That night, he played an in­cred­i­ble drum solo, prob­a­bly 20 min­utes long. The solo had form, melodies, and told a story from be­gin­ning to end. That was one of the most amaz­ing drum so­los I’ve ever heard to this day.”

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