MATT HARRIS ON BUDDY, THE BANDMATE
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.”