Buddy Rich in Concert
It would be around the late ‘70s that I saw Buddy Rich and his Big Band perform at a venue in Manchester, thanks to a trip organized by my friend’s father who, being a drummer himself, had a natural interest in seeing a man reputed to be the world’s greatest drummer. I myself was more interested in the trumpet section and, like many young trumpeters, was particularly interested in how high these guys could play.
The concert venue wasn’t too big, so although my seat was some distance from the front I still had a reasonable view of the band, and the sound balance I recall as being very good.
Rich’s drumming was impressive, even for someone not particularly interested in drumming, and the band was very tight. But the thing I remember most about the show was Buddy Rich’s big band interpretation of Joe Zawinul's Birdland. I’d first heard a recording of Rich playing this on the BBC Radio Show ‘Sounds of Jazz’, and was astounded at how the lead trumpet took the music up an octave at the end, repeatedly hitting ‘Super As’. As the end of the piece approached at the show in Manchester I only had one thing on my mind: would they – and could they – do the same thing live? I was not disappointed. Not only did the lead trumpet go up the octave, his sound was so powerful that I could hear his ‘Super As’ above the sound of the PA. In other words the sound that I was hearing was perhaps 40 percent from the sound system and 60 percent original trumpet tone. It was incredible.
I should explain for non-trumpet players that a 'Super A' is a 6th above the top note of the standard range of a trumpet. Getting a ‘Super A’ is hard enough, being able to play it loud is harder still, and being able to repeatedly hit the note live in concert, at the end of a gig, is truly remarkable.
Nowadays with YouTube it’s easy to see virtuoso performances that have been recorded for posterity and somehow found their way onto the Internet, but in the days before the the World Wide Web it was rare to be able to witness first hand such a high level of playing that has the power to both thrills and inspires musicians young and old.