History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Friday, April 18, 2014

Buddy Rich on drums had boomer musicians mesmerized

The concept of "big bands" changed markedly between the 1940s and 1970s. "Ballroom dancing" helped us through World War II. We watch movies with that pastime like we're at a museum. The music catered to adults, not teenagers. Where were the teens? They were not empowered with entertainment decisions.
Adults gathered at night clubs, assembled at their little tables, with no aversion of course to consuming alcohol to excess. I'm sure the drummer Buddy Rich took for granted secondhand cigarette smoke. Common sense should have suggested cigarettes were an abomination. Instead the drive against tobacco use proceeded at a snail's pace.
We loved the Prom Ballroom.
I remember listening to Sherwin Linton and his band at the Old No. 1 in Morris, and practically choking at the smoke. I remember the same experience at the Morris American Legion where the Morris Sun Tribune was "celebrating" its relocation to a new building. One of the Forum Communications higher-ups was there and was a prime offender with his "coffin nails." It was the kind of experience where, once I got home, I wanted to strip my clothes off and toss them in a corner of the basement.
The big bands of the 1940s played their wonderful music amidst an environment of uninhibited booze and cigarette consumption. The practitioners were that grand "Greatest Generation," showing how human they really were. I believe the WWII GIs were given complimentary cigarettes. Hook 'em when they're young.
The world of the big bands is presented nostalgically and romantically in popular culture. A movie like "Sunrise Serenade" could hardly be more nostalgic. One thing about nostalgia, is that it accents what we find pleasant and obscures the unpleasant stuff, the latter including how powerless and dull were the lives of teens. Boys approached adulthood with the fear they'd get dragged into some war. And, don't tell me this thought was any more appealing in WWII times than 20 or so years later when we got mired in Southeast Asia. Dying is dying. Suffering is suffering.
The old nightclub scenes in movies gave an image contradicted by the hell of world war.
 
Drummer "morphed" with the times
Buddy Rich was around with his drumsticks for the transformation of those big band times into completely new musical chapters. Teens gained empowerment in the 1950s. Popular entertainment reached out to all demographics. Those stuffed-shirt adults at their little tables at nightclubs no longer monopolized things. Along came "Little Richard."
Would Glenn Miller have adjusted somehow? It's one of the great unanswered questions.
Buddy Rich was around to see a kaleidoscope of varied music and entertainment tastes. Music and entertainment were his life. He perhaps nurtured the fundamental skill of adjusting. He perhaps knew his world would never stand pat.
The "nightclub scene" of the WWII years was actually a middle chapter for drummer Rich. He was born in 1917. His first chapter was the very charming vaudeville scene. The old veterans of vaudeville were shown in the movie "The Sunshine Boys." Rich would have fit right in. He gained self-discipline as a tireless (and very young) vaudeville performer. He was born in Manhattan, NYC, to Jewish vaudevillians.
Buddy showed at the age of one that he could keep a steady beat with spoons. Drumming is a very competitive musical activity, and that's because each band has only one drummer. A band might have five saxophones or four trumpets but the drummer stands alone. He'd better be good. The rhythm section is the foundation for any musical group.
Rich began playing drums in vaudeville when he was 18 months old. He was about to embark on quite the life in music. I was privileged to hear him several times.
Buddy's band was a prime attraction for high school-age youth who were getting exposed to jazz in school. Jazz took off in popularity in the mid-1970s. Typically it wasn't called "jazz." As Del Sarlette of Morris pointed out when sharing some remarks during the UMM Jazz Fest several years ago, the term was "stage band" and not "jazz band." The reason? It was cultural, due to the shady (in the minds of some) connotations with "jazz." I would hope those connotations were not racial.
Pop music blossomed with totally transformative energy due to the breakdown of racial and cultural barriers. The safe and sanitized world of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, with the subdued base line, became quaint. Glenn Miller in his biopic, in which Jimmy Stewart played him, had no problem going to a nightclub with his fiance and playing with Louis Armstrong. All those musicians were "hip." But they produced sounds that catered to the conservative white culture.
The big bands "died," as they say. They never literally died, of course. They retreated to the wings for a while. The 1960s were notorious for being a bad economic climate for big bands. The sounds just couldn't be tailored to appeal to a new generation.
The year 1970 or thereabouts brought a breakthrough: Maynard Ferguson released his "M.F. Horn" album. High school band musicians, mostly male, got on board with the new "cool" sound of the big band.
Maynard recorded in England which was known to have a more advanced recording industry than here. A visiting speaker at our University of Minnesota-Morris talked about this once. What held back the U.S.? One factor the speaker cited, was that the young men who might be interested in the recording industry "had to worry about the (military) draft." We can forget about this horrible specter.
Maynard made a triumphant return to the U.S. 
 
How we loved the old Prom Ballroom
Big bands in the 1970s were no longer concerned about nightclub entertainment. A few fossils stuck around like Jules Herman who played traditional dances in the Twin Cities. We saw ads for "Jules" who would play the old St. Paul Prom Ballroom. My generation had no interest in listening to Jules there. But the old "Prom" was most certainly a mecca for us, for it was the place where Maynard and Buddy would come with their musicians.
These weren't dances, they were concerts. No sitting around at those little tables like in the 1940s movies (Gary Cooper and others). High school and college-age musicians flocked to the Prom Center to hear concerts in the manner of rock concerts. We sat or stood en masse. We could be unruly. You couldn't tell the difference from a rock concert. We "dug it." We cheered constantly.
Maynard played his trumpet in his unconventional high-note style. Buddy Rich was "the world's greatest drummer" and lived up to that totally. I can't think of any more special memories from my youth.
The Prom didn't look very special from the outside. It was probably the kind of St. Paul institution that critics of the city would cite as making it "second class." St. Paul was the city with the confusing street layout. St. Paul developed a defensiveness that resulted in our big league baseball team bending over backward with political accommodations when it came here. I always saw that "rivalry" as being somewhat odd. The "Twin Cities" are really a singular entity, aren't they?
We got the "Minnesota Twins" with the logo having the two dudes shaking hands across the river. They had to hit people over the head with the message that St. Paul was just as viable as the obvious "big city" of Minneapolis. Are those notions still out there?
To understand the Prom, imagine a much bigger version of the old Lakeside Ballroom in Glenwood. The old Lakeside had a "trough" in the men's room for urination. Holy code violation, Batman!
The Prom might have been put down for the boxing matches it hosted. Boxing of course was a quite earthy sport. It was a very high-profile sport once, with horse racing and baseball, in that earlier era in U.S. history when football was a fringe sport engaged in by ruffians. TV made football into King Football.
Maynard and Buddy were the top attractions for young band musicians in the 1970s. Behind them were some other attractions: Woody Herman, Stan Kenton and Count Basie. I also visited the Prom once to take in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band.
The first time I ever heard Buddy at the Prom was the best. I remember a trombone player with a Van Dyke moustache. All the musicians had their heart in it. Years later when my parents and I heard Buddy and his band at Orchestra Hall, I was disappointed in the band's lowered intensity. I remember Buddy coming out front and saying that his band of that time was "the epitome." He did not say the epitome of what. The trombone players "swept the floor" - an expression that might be unique to me. Brass players ought to have the bells of their horns pointed fairly up. I taught my expression to Del Sarlette.
Del and I were part of little groups of big band aficionados that would travel from Morris to the Twin Cities. Adults like Doug Garberick would drive the cars. Doug "recruited" some of us to make these trips, enthused about how we'd react to hearing a truly exciting big band. He played his Stan Kenton 8-track tapes for us. Doug would look back at us kids to see our reaction sometimes. Del got worried that Doug might not be concentrating on his driving enough. It was a different kind of "distracted driving."
 
Rich had us boomers spellbound
It was in 1966 that Buddy Rich left Harry James to form the big band that would excite the boomer generation of musicians. Like Maynard, Buddy Rich found enthusiastic "customers" in colleges and high schools. I remember Del saying he felt sorry for those bands' bus drivers who'd have to find all those high schools.
There was irony here as both Rich and Ferguson became virtuosos without having to depend on a formal education.
Rich showed unparalleled speed, execution and precision on the drums. His "West Side Story" medley became his signature arrangement, with "Channel One Suite" a close second. Buddy went on TV as guest of Steve Allen, Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin. In 1967 he even starred in a summer replacement TV series, "Away We Go," with singer Buddy Greco and comedian George Carlin. Carlin adjusted to changing entertainment tastes 100 per cent.
A jewel from Rich's career was when he went on "The Muppet Show" in 1981 and engaged drummer "Animal" in a drum battle!
Rich was famous for having a short temper. Part of this became caricature and thus exaggerated. We like revisionist analyses that "he wasn't that bad."
 
Dusty Springfield not fazed!
Remember when Judy Garland slapped "the cowardly lion" when they first met? Well, Dusty Springfield once slapped Rich after several days of Rich's insults and "show business sabotage." Rich had a black belt in karate. The "Beastie Boys" had a song with the lyrics "I'm Buddy Rich when I fly off the handle."
Today's analysis is that Rich just had very high standards and thus got sensitive and agitated easily. Band member David Lucas said "Rich had a soft heart underneath it all."
Today Rich plays in heaven where he has no negative distractions. He died on April 2, 1987, after surgery for a malignant brain tumor. He was 69. He had a heart attack in 1959 and underwent bypass surgery after a heart attack in 1983.
 
UMM jazz kindles memories
I was reminded of Rich's career recently when UMM jazz performed "Sophisticated Lady." This was a tune on Rich's 1976 album "Speak No Evil." The album presented funky and soulful jazz music. It "bordered" on disco, especially the "Sophisticated Lady" chart. The tune that most stuck in my mind was "Games People Play" (the Spinners' version, which was '70s all the way).
Rich was actually restrained in his drumming on "Speak No Evil." Unfortunately the album did not sell well.
Rich was grouchy, maybe, but he could also be funny. I remember when he stepped forward to address the audience at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis. He gazed around for a few moments and then said: "Isn't it something what they've done to the Prom Ballroom."
Rich instructed a 14-year-old Mel Brooks in drumming at the time when Rich played for Artie Shaw. Brooks held forth as comedy king for the boomers in the 1970s.
Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson had their boomer audiences absolutely transfixed, to the point where these artists probably thought we were a little nuts, in that disco decade. I can close my eyes and re-imagine it all, just as I can still see Doug Garberick peering back at us in the back seat. Del felt like saying "Uh. . .Doug?" It couldn't be any worse than texting.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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