Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich - The Willis Conover Interview

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Impresario Norman Granz often got slammed for putting on his Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts by Jazz “purists” who accused him of everything from packaging Jazz and making it a commodity to pandering to the baser instincts and the hormones of teenage Jazz fans with tenor sax players dropping to their knees soloing on chorus after chorus of Flying Home or intermittently long drum “battles.”

On the other hand, where could you hear the likes of Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster playing on Body and Soul with a rhythm section of Barney Kessel on guitar, Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Buddy Rich on drums?

Of course, the purpose of these Jazz at the Philharmonic [JATP] Tours was to make money and why not?  What’s wrong with staying at nice hotels, eating good food and bringing enough money home to pay the rent and keep junior in clean diapers?

The idea of the starving Jazz musician forsaking all commercial success in support of his art is a very altruistic one unless you happen to be the musician who is starving.

And what’s wrong with entertaining people with Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie teaming up for a few choruses on I Can’t Get Started, or Charlie Parker blowing incredible choruses on Cherokee played at a finger-busting up-tempo, or Shorty Sherock, JJ Johnson and Illinois Jacquet jammin’ on a medium “jump” tempo version of “I’ve Found A New Baby?”

Did I mention that Norman paid his musicians well?

Sure, Norman made a fortune and bought a flat in Zurich, hung out with Picasso and flew to Los Angeles to have lunch at his other home in Beverly Hills!

Good for him.

But he treated his musicians with dignity, refused to subject them to any form of racism and left a never-to-be-equalled legacy of recorded Jazz.

The following interview was conducted by Willis Conover, whose contributions to Jazz as the disc jockey on the Voice of America “Jazz America” radio broadcasts are inestimable. These programs began in 1955 and the Gene Krupa - Buddy Rich interview was one of its earliest.

Respectful of one another and happy to be on tour together, if it hadn’t been for Norman, none of what follows would have gone down.

I mean, c’mon, Krupa and Rich jammin’ together. That’s surely worth the price of admission, es verdad?

APRIL, 1956 Metronome Magazine

“It was about 9:00 a.m., the morning after the Washington D. C. concert in Jazz at the Philharmonic's 1955 tour. Both Buddy and Gene were, I think, impressed by the size of their audience and by the interest that audience of primarily European listeners would have in what they were to say: Buddy brought his speech tempo down and brought Gene's up, so the balance was good. I was concerned not only with keeping the program moving, not only with getting them both to offer fresh information as well as to restate basic information for listeners new to jazz, but with letting each of them understand that I could appreciate his leadership in different aspects of drumming — not an easy job, with Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich both present!

As all my interviews are, this one was roughly outlined before they arrived at the studio and completely ad libbed from notes.

Since this is a verbatim transcript, complete to record — titles and station-breaks, I should add that the frequency-announcements quoted relate only to the meter-bands in which the program "Music U.S.A." was being broadcast at that time.

For the interest of potential listeners, the two-hour program (first hour: musical dance-bands, tasteful singers, standards, and a few better "pops"; second hour: jazz — traditional, middle-era, and modern) may now be heard world-wide, seven days per week.

(Ed. Note: Willis Conover prominent jazz disc jockey in Washington, and one of our first Jumping Jockeys, painstakingly edited the copy which follows to maintain the In Person illusion which it contains.)

We're going to ask Gene to remain with us for a while, while listening to his partner in the Jazz at the Philharmonic tour, Buddy Rich —who, as we mentioned, is famous not only as the tastiest of drummers, but also as an all-around entertainer, including dancer, singer, and occasionally, when his arm is in a sling, one-armed drummer. Here is Buddy Rich demonstrating how drumming can be tasty, quiet, and swinging, as he works out with Harry James and his Orchestra on Palladium Party.

Conover: Buddy, I take it that you don't feel that it's necessary always to blast in order to impress.

Rich: Not necessarily, Willis. On certain tunes it's always nice to be a little more subtle than other tunes. There are some tunes where it necessitates you banging out and letting 'em know that you're there; and other tunes — particularly things like Palladium Party  - to be a little more subtle behind the drums is always more effective, I think.

Conover: Well, you have been described by many critics as the world's greatest drum technician. Do you get a boot out of having a chance to demonstrate your technique in some of the up-tempo loud things?

Rich: Well, it gives you a chance to more or less stretch out and see what can be done; but, necessarily so. I don't like to sit up there all night long and do things like that, I'd much rather sit behind a swingin' band and play with 'em rather than against 'em.

Conover: What orchestras aside from your own would you most enjoy working with?

Rich: Well, that's a very easy question to answer, Willis. The most fun I've ever had playing in a band was with Count Basie, when I had the very good fortune of sitting in with him. I never worked for him, but I've sat in with the band several times, and each time is a bigger thrill.

Conover: I knew you were going to say that, because I recall when you had your own orchestra—uh, six or seven years ago—speaking of hoping to make your orchestra into a sort of modern Basie band; since at that particular time Basie was not as active as he had been, or is today.

Rich: That's true. And talking about Basie, just had the extreme pleasure of sitting in with the band just a couple of nights ago in New York; they're down at Birdland. And we had a night off and —a real busman's holiday—I went right down to Birdland and worked with the band all night. And it was really great. Really a great band.

Conover: Well, maybe you'll be on that band yet!

Rich: (Laughs) Well, if I keep pluggin' maybe I'll make it. (Laughs)

Conover: Well, you've certainly been with some of the great orchestras from the beginning of the Swing Era: Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey and Harry James and—would you name any others that you've worked with steadily, or have I lost track of somebody?

Rich: Well, Willis, you left out one very important band leader that I worked for. That was the late and very great Bunny Berigan. And I started way way back in 1938, with Joe Marsala and his little Dixieland band. At the Hickory House. That was the first band I ever worked with.

Conover: How old were you when you worked with Artie Shaw's—

Rich: Oh I was a young fellow. (Laughs)

Conover: Well then, let's bring it forward a little bit, and perhaps you can recall some of the happier memories with the Dorsey band—some of the great stars who were in the band with you . . .

Rich: Well, Willis, he really had a bunch of great stars in that band. We had people like Frank Sinatra— (Pause) He's the singer . . . Conover: Yes, I know. Rich: (Laughs) . . . and Jo Stafford, Connie Haines, Ziggy Elman, the Pied Pipers, Dick Haymes-at-one-time—we had, uh—just about everybody that means anything in the music business was at one time connected with the Dorsey band.

Conover: At that time you weren't doing any singing or dancing or emceeing, of course?

Rich: At times,, with the Dorsey band, I was dancing. Every time we played a theatre and we would have a dance act on the bill with us, like the Nicholas Brothers or Tip Tap and Toe—uh, Tommy would call me down from the drums, as sort of a finale thing, and I'd get down and dance with the various acts. And it was kind of fun, every now and then, to get down and be able to dance and get away from the drums and be able to do something other than play drums.

Conover:   Well,  Buddy,  if you don't mind   my   asking   you   this,   since   it   is written  out in history—uh,  what was it you were billed as, as a child?

Krupa: (Laughs)

All: (Laugh)

Conover: I hate to make you say it.

Rich: This is something I have to live with, I suppose. Uh, it's been kind of a big joke with Jazz at the Philharmonic. There's one issue of  Down Beat out, and there's a picture  showing me as  a very young boy — about 3 years old—with a  Buster   Brown haircut, and  a  set of drums, and the caption on  the picture says:  "Traps — the Drum Wonder."

Conover: (Laughs)

Rich:   And so it's, uh—it's pretty difficult  to  live with a  thing like  that y' know.   Especially with Gene—

Krupa:    (Laughs)

Rich: —and Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie and guys like that. When you come in on the job at night 'n' everybody says: "Hey, here comes Traps now. How're ya, Traps." You know . . .

All: (Laugh)

Rich: It's uh-h — kinda sickening. (Laughs)

Conover: Do I, uh—do I get a correct impression that you're—not moving away from drums, but—moving out to include singing, more extensively?

Rich:    Well, if  that's  the  impression you get, it's right. Because eventually I want to concentrate a little more on the singing and probably get away from drums  altogether,  maybe in  the distant future.   We just recorded a new album for the   Norgran   label.  It's  all  vocals, with strings.   And, uh — we brought you a complimentary album, Willis,  because you're such a Grand Boy.

Conover:   Thanks,  Traps.

Rich:    (Laughs) Oh-ho-ho, no!

Krupa:    (Laughs)

Rich: And this is the thing we are going to be working on, uh—More or less we want the people like yourself, to, uh, let the record get around and let people hear it. It's all vocal.

Conover: There'll be no problem— in fact we'd like to hear it now, and would you care to identify any conscious or subconscious influences on your singing—or would you care not to-

Rich: Well-

Conover: —since everyone looks up to someone in one field or another.

Rich: Well, my boy has always been Frank Sinatra. And I think anything that he does is always right. And, uh, after working in the band — in Dorsey's band — for so long, and listening to him, and being with him, you kind of realize that this is the only singer. Even today. The guy has matured so greatly, and —If you can just even become a little bit, — sing a little bit on that particular style, you can't go wrong. And I think after working with him for so many years, I think maybe a little bit—if I'm lucky— has rubbed off; and uh—we'll let you be the judge.   You listen to the thing and tell me what you think of the record.

Conover: Buddy Rich sings Glad to be Unhappy.

Conover: That was the voice of versatile drummer, entertainer, musician, Buddy Rich. And this is MUSIC USA, coming to you on 7235, 9500, and 15210 kilocycles in the 41, 31, and 19 meter bands. This program is coming to you from the United States of America. It's the Voice of America Jazz Hour. And our in-person guests today are the two most famous drummers in the world, and two of the very finest — Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.

Conover: Gene, what was the first time that you heard Buddy play?

Krupa:  I heard Buddy play when he joined Tommy Dorsey's orchestra in—I don't know exactly when he joined, but this was in, I'd say, 1939. At the Palmer House in Chicago. And the only reason I didn't hear him before then was I was scared to death. Because the guys in Goodman's band—like Harry James and all the chaps—used to come by and say "Man, this kid over at the Hickory House is going to scare you to death. Wait 'til you hear him."

I'm often asked the question, particularly since I've gone into the drum school business, along with Cozy Cole, we have a studio in New York—I'm very often asked "How about natural talent against studied technique and so forth?" Well— I've watched everybody rather closely, and there are three giants in the drum world; and of these three Buddy stands out head-and-shoulders. They are Buddy Rich, Ray Bauduc, and Ray McKinley. When I speak of natural drummers I'm talking about guys that are playing with the talent God gave 'em. No studying— no nothin'. But here's an amazing thing. While this isn't true of either Ray — McKinley or Bauduc — it's true of Buddy. You can watch Buddy play and actually if you watch him, you'd think he's the most studied person in the world. And even Buddy himself will make something — like, we'll be in the dressing room, he'll pick up a pair of sticks and say: "Well, what is this?"; and he'll rattle a little bit; and actually, if I break it down, get him to do it slow enough, I can name it [classify it by its name as a drum rudiment]. I can break it down into whatever it is. And inherently, naturally, he fingers all these things correctly. Now, I know why that is. I have to get back to the "Traps" Rich episode again now.

Rich: (Laughs)

Krupa: But let me tell you something. No doubt when he was a young child-he doesn't even remember this, he told me himself — when he was a young child and standing around for his daddy to rehearse his act and things — in the old vaudeville days? — well, those old pit drummers were just wonderful—every one of 'em. Well, now y' know here's this little kid standing around? He's got to absorb all these things. That's how come the wonderful left hand; that's how come the great ambidexterity which is absolutely necessary for a good drummer. To me he's the greatest.

Conover: Buddy, what's your rebuttal to that? Or is there—is "rebuttal" the word?

Rich: Well . . . now .... You put me in a very embarrassing position. I don't know how to answer a thing like that, that's probably the greatest compliment that has ever been paid me by anyone— especially when it comes from such a giant as Gene. Because, as anyone knows, anybody that knows anything about drums—and this is not going to sound like an Alphonse and Gaston type reply — Gene is absolutely the first man when it comes to drums. The inspiration for every big-name drummer in the band business today, I think. I think at one time every drummer—in the business today, at one time—wanted to play like Krupa or wanted to win a Gene Krupa drum contest. This is the big inspiration for drummers and naturally it has to be the same way with me. After hearing Gene with Benny for so many years and listening to the recordings and everything, uh, this is the guy the kids want to play like more than anybody else. And just like anybody else the same goes for me. This is my man; you can't say any more. This is the President. And, that's it.

Conover: Well, how do you agree with Gene's definition of intuitive or natural drummers as against trained or studied drummers?

Rich:  Well . . .  (Laughs)

Conover: He has put you in the "natural" drum class.

Rich: I'm a lucky one, see? I think that — and I think Gene will agree — I think to be an expert at anything, I think the best thing to do is to study. I've tried, but I'm too stupid. I can't sit down long enough to absorb any kind of learning. At one time I wanted to be a vibraphone player. I wanted to play like Lionel Hampton. I went out and bought myself a set of vibraphones and hired a great teacher, and after about three weeks I never saw the vibraphones again because I just couldn't absorb the things I was being taught. But I think any young drummer starting out today definitely should get himself a great teacher and learn all there is to know about the instrument that he wants to play.

Conover: Well, do you agree with Gene's selections—excluding yourself, out of modesty, of course—of the greatest drummers today or the greatest drummers of the past?
Rich: Definitely; I think Bauduc is one of the truly great drummers and of course McKinley rates right along with him; but Gene left out two—

Krupa:   Mm.

All:    (Laugh)

Rich: He left out two of my boys and I'm sure they're his boys too.

Conover: Can I see if I can name them, 'cause you've never mentioned this before-

Rich: (Laughs) Go ahead.

Conover: I would say Jo Jones and Sid Catlett. Now maybe I'm wrong.

Rich: Well, Sid Catlett of course deserves to be in that company. But he left out the daddy of 'em all—

Rich: Chick Webb! But of course Jo Jones—My all star poll for drummers would be Gene, Jo Jones, Chick Webb, McKinley, Bauduc, and Catlett. Those . . . everybody had a distinctive style, and certainly great technique, and they could sure swing a band.

Conover: Well, since both of you were, uh, already in the prime before many of the young drummers of some of the new movements in jazz came along, uh, you've been in a good position to ... to get an opinion of how the drummers such—well I won't mention names because I don't know what your answers are going to be, but how those drummers compare both with the drummers before—or who were established before—and also in relationship to the music that they're playing today.

Krupa: (Pause) Mm-hm. Well, Willis, I'd say that the "new music" actually hasn't found itself enough yet to ... to ... to ... to showcase a drummer. D'y' agree-with-that, Bud?

Rich: Well ... I don't even think, uh—I don't want to get into this discussion because—

Krupa:    (Laughs)

Rich: —I have definite and very set opinions about the so-called modern school of music and drummers. Whereas in the days when it was necessary to swing a band, where a drummer had to be a powerhouse, today more or less the "cool school" has taken over, and I don't believe there's such a thing as a "cool drummer." You either swing a band or you don't swing a band; and that's what's lacking today, there aren't any guys around who get back there and play with any kind of guts. And I like a heavyweight. I'm not a flyweight. I like — in my fighting I like heavyweights and in my music I like emotionally good, strong heavyweight type of jazz. And it's just lacking today.

Conover: Well, how do you feel about the idea of drums used almost as a melody instrument rather just as a rhythmic instrument?

Rich: Well, it would be very nice if you could play a melody on it. But primarily the drummer's supposed to sit back there and swing the band. Am I right?

Krupa: Yeah. If you're going to start with melody you'll need some tympani, I think.

Rich: (Laughs) And some tunable tomtoms.

Krupa: That's right.

Rich: I think the drummer should sit back there and play some drums, and never mind about the tunes. Just get up there and wail behind whoever is sitting up there playing the solo. And this is what is lacking — definitely lacking in music today.

Conover: Well, now that you're both present, Gene and Buddy ... Of course there are always rumors, when there are two great people in the same field, about rivalry - which - goes - a - little - beyond -friendly-rivalry between those two. Uh, do you care to scotch the rumors, or give them some substance so far as any portion of the past is concerned, or what?

Krupa: Well, I'll tell you one thing, I always look forward to, uh—to working with Buddy for this one reason. That, uh, competition is the greatest thing in the world. I mean it spurs you on. And I've been around so very, very long that at times I get a little . . . disinterested, shall we say? And all I have to do is listen to Buddy a few nights and . . . and . . . (chuckling) when we get into that drum battle he makes me look so bad, why, I, I, I, I-

Rich:    (Laughs) Oh, come on!

Krupa: —I extend myself, you see? (Laughs)

Rich: Now—Can I tell you something?

Conover:   Please, Buddy.

Rich: That's so ridiculous, that last statement of Gene's because uh—like he says, competition is such a great stimulant to two musicians sitting up and playing alongside of each other, whether it be drums or trumpet or saxophone or, uh, pingpong, it doesn't make any difference. When you're sitting alongside of a guy like Krupa, you've got to be on your toes at all times. Because this guy throws things at you that you don't expect, and it'd be like [Rocky] Marciano turning his back on [Archie] Moore. You know, I wouldn't take a chance and just being cool and relaxing up there for a minute. Because this is definitely competition and it's always a thrill for me to be able to get up on the same band stand and sit down and play with this guy because he makes you think, all the time.

Conover: Well, since each of you is an individualist, with ways of his own of playing drums, by definition each of you —and I'm going to put you on the spot now, and you're both present so we can do it honorably— by definition each of you, must hear things that the other plays that you yourself would not want to play. Now I'm asking you to criticize each other in front of each other. For fun. And possibly as a sort of opening up of your psyches to each other.

Krupa:  Go, Bud.   (Laughs)

Rich: Well—I don't know, I've never heard—this is quite honestly now—I've never heard anything that Gene has ever played—and I think I'm a great student of everything he's ever done, I think I've got every record he's ever made—and I don't think he's ever played anything in bad taste—and I'm not trying to be a nice guy now, because if you know my reputation—

Conover:    (Laughs)

Rich: —I say anything that's on my mind. Uh, I've never heard anything that Gene played that wasn't in the best of taste, and that goes back before the Goodman days and up until tomorrow night's show. This guy has always been the epitome of good taste, at the drums and as a person, and he's just perfect all around.


Conover: Well, Buddy, you realize this leaves Gene in the position of being unable to say anything about your drumming—in case he had anything in mind.

Rich: Well, no, I want him to say exactly what he thinks!

Krupa: I do! I do have something! I do have something in mind, right now. And I'll tell you what it is. I'll tell you, about the hardest thing that a guy could attempt to do in drumming is to play as loudly as Buddy plays, with the extreme power and drive, and yet, not make noise. Make a sound. You see, that's something too, because — it's amazing: I think one of my favorite guys in the music business, an all-time champ, is a pianist called Art Tatum.

Krupa: And I've heard, I've seen this —Art walk over to a piano after—same piano that the other cat's been playing all night—and strike one chord and get a completely different sound out of the thing.

Rich: That's right.

Krupa: Well, that's Buddy's big . . . big tip. I mean, uh, he can play so hard, and yet make a sound, rather than a, a, a noise.

Conover: Well how do you set up these drum battles? Because we'd like to hear one of your performances together at a Jazz at the Philharmonic—

Krupa: Well, you know the nice thing about it? They're not set up!

Conover: There's no agreement in advance?

Rich:   No.    (Laughs)

Krupa: No. We get up there and we wail. I don't think two nights have been alike yet.

Rich:   No.

Krupa:    (Laughs)

Rich: And they never will be because then it would get to be kind of a stiff, boring kind of thing. I think we get up on the stand every night and we look at each other and you listen to all the comments that come at you from the audience, naturally they're partisan groups and they're all shouting for their favorites, and we sit down at the drums and we laugh, and some nights Gene'll start a tempo or other nights I'll start the tempo. And we just start to play. And some nights it's great, and other nights it's laughs, and other nights it's boring, because that's what makes — anything that's spontaneous is a — it's a free feeling. We get up there and play just exactly what we feel that particular night. When we play places like Carnegie Hall where the places are sold out we know that people are listening and we play good. We play other places where we don't think there's too much interest — rather than listening, I think the people would just rather be heard themselves — so we let them scream and we play under them.

Conover:    (Laughs)

Rich: But, we have ... we have a ball doing it. I'm sure that Gene will say just about the same thing.

Krupa:  I'll bear you out, Bud.  Sure.

Conover: Well, let's listen to one . . . one of a number of drum battles, or let's say, happy challenges, between Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich at the drums. Gene and Buddy, it's been a pleasure having you with us for the full hour today.

Rich: Well, it's been a great pleasure to be here with you, Willis. And we hope everybody listening enjoyed it half as much as we've enjoyed being able to sit down here and talk with you, and talk with Gene, and really get to feel free to express exactly what we feel about each other. It's been a kick.

Krupa: For me, too. And I may say, Willis, that we've been out on Jazz at the Phil for two weeks now, and this is the first show we've made; and of course we'll be over across the ocean in a little bit too, and hope to see all you guys then.

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