Buddy Rich: Mr. Drums – The Buddy Rich Collection 1946-55

Three-CD set contains some gems, not least from the Tatum, Rich and Hampton trio, but doesn't quite represent the period at its best

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This is a densely packed three-CD compilation of 59 tracks covering a nine-year period in the discography of “Mr Drums”. Is it a pot of gold or an embarrassment of riches? Neither, perhaps, but rather a curate’s egg – good in parts.

It includes rare recordings made for the World War II V-Disc series, plus the Columbia, Mercury, Clef, Norgran, Verve and Pablo labels. Even card-carrying Richites (I’m one) might baulk at listening to such second (even third) rate performances as It Couldn’t Be True (1946), The Iggidy Song (1946), A Man Could Be A Wonderful Thing (1948) and Hernando’s Hideaway (1954).

On several tracks, Buddy doubles as a pleasant vocalist – but no Sinatra. Described by his friend and rival Gene Krupa as “the greatest drummer ever to have drawn breath,” he has also received plaudits from rock drummers John Bonham, Phil Collins, Roger Taylor and Travis Barker.

CD1 begins with a thunderous solo from Buddy on the (misnamed) January 1946 V-disc Quiet Riot, followed by a sprightlier A Little Handicap. (The band re-recorded Riot later that year.) None of the soloists on the remainder of these tracks are identified – apart from Allen Eager, who is introduced by Buddy to the troops on Daily Double as “one of the great tenor men playing today”. A “novelty” performance of Oop Bop Sh’Bam has the band chanting the inane lyrics, with driving support from the boss man.

The programme on CD2 is more varied, with cuts featuring Buddy with the Charlie Parker Quintet (Star Eyes, Blues (Fast), Bloomdido and Leap Frog), The Flip Phillips Quartet (Lover, Flip’s Boogie, Bebe, Bright Blues, The Carioca and Take The “A” Train), the sparkling Count Basie Octet (Neal’s Deal, The Golden Bullet, Lady Be Good and Count’s Organ Blues) and the Bud Powell Trio (Hallelujah and Tea For Two).

Although he earned (and retained) his spurs as the greatest big-band drummer in recorded history, Buddy obviously enjoyed such distinguished small-group company and limited his pyrotechnics accordingly.

CD3 is arguably the best of the set, with Buddy interacting with Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown on How High The Moon (a 1954 Clef session), and with his “All Stars” including Harry “Sweets” Edison (t), Milt Bernhart (tb) and Willie Smith (as). That’s Rich [Strike It Rich] with a semi-scat vocal by an unidentified Ella Fitzgerald, and Just One Of Those Things (1954) features him with the New Jazz Sounds including Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Harris, Benny Carter, Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis and Ray Brown. I was unaware of this impressive and riveting performance, which is highly recommended.

The Two Mothers (in a quintet including the gifted Sonny Criss) has a long but “articulate” solo from Buddy. However, the jewel in the crown of this collection has to be This Can’t Be Love, a 1955 studio session with Art Tatum and Lionel Hampton. It’s impossible to over-praise the sheer perfection of this legendary meeting of three jazz giants.

This is not an entirely satisfactory collation. The Tatum, Rich and Hampton trio deserve more than one selection. Paul Watts’ laborious notes are also in need of correction: Bill Harris was not a bass player, and Mel Tormé (Buddy’s friend and biographer) never played “rums”.

With so many stimulating Rich big-band albums recorded in the 1960s and readily available on CD and LP, this erratic Acrobat offering can be safely consigned to the back burner. My guess is that like most “box sets” it will not move to the front.

Discography
CD1: Quiet Riot; A Little Handicap; Dateless Brown; You Got Me Crying Again; Desperate Desmond; It Couldn’t Be True; Quiet Riot; Baby, Baby All The Time; Route 66; The Iggidy Song; It’s About Time; Ready To Go Steady; Rich-Ual Dance; Oop Bop Sh’Bam; Nellie’s Nightmare; Daily Double; What Is This Things Called Love?; I Believe; Just You, Just You, Just Me, A Man Could Be A Wonderful Thing; Four Rich Brothers [Four Brothers] (71.08)
CD2: The Carioca; Star Eyes; Blues (Fast); Lover; Flip’s Boogie; Neal’s Deal; The Golden Bullet; Hallelujah; Tea For Two; Bloomdido; Leap Frog; Blue Lou; Bebe; Bright Blues; After You’ve Gone; Lady Be Good Count’s Organ Blues; The Carioca; Take The “A” Train; Lady Be Good; Airmail Special (69.42)
CD3: How High The Moon; Hernando’s Hideaway; Sweets Opus No.1; Bongos, Bass And Guitar; That’s Rich [Strike It Rich]; Sporting Life [Sweetie Pie]; Just One Of Those Things; Sweet Georgia Brown; This Can’t Be Love; Sonny And Sweets [Blues In The Closet]; The Two Mothers; Nice Work If You Can Get It; You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me; Now’s The Time The Yellow Rose of Brooklyn; All Sweets [Lester Leaps] (70.39)

Rich (d) on all tracks with personnel including Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips, Count Basie, Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, Roy Eldridge, Harry James, Buck Clayton, Clark Terry, “Sweets” Edison, Benny Carter, Barney Kessel, Buddy DeFranco, Illinois Jacquet, Ben Webster, Art Tatum. New York and Los Angeles, 1946-55.
Acrobat Music ACTRCD9120