Jazz Birthdays: Buddy Rich (1917) and Oscar Pettiford (1922)

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Buddy Rich was a jazz drumming legend whose drumming placed him in the highest tier of jazz drummers. He was a natural player who picked up drumming without instruction. At the age of less than two, he was performing in vaudeville. He didn’t read music, but his ear for music was so good that after one run through a chart, he would have it memorized. He played in every jazz setting, as both sideman and leader, small groups and big bands. Buddy put together a new big band in 1966 and kept it working until his death in 1987, no small feat of musical ability and business acumen in an era when other kinds of music predominated. In this role, he constantly brought new young talent into the band. He had an unfailing capacity, no matter how complex or fast was his playing, no matter how much dynamism he was displaying, to swing, and he really could swing a big band. His solos are marvels of construction, combining controlled classic architecture with virtuosity, clean execution, rhythm, patterns of sound and high energy. He gave it all in his drumming. Here’s a drum solo of his that requires the energy of a round of boxing against Joe Louis.

Oscar Pettiford was a bass player who participated in the birth of modern jazz that occurred in the 1940s. He played with the new bop musicians, while adapting the bass to the music’s new rhythms and drive. Later on, he also introduced the cello to jazz. Much in demand and heavily recorded, he worked both as sideman and leader of his own groups, in small groups and large, while advancing the role of bass in jazz. His name merited space on club marquees. For example, he is the bassist on “The Freedom Suite” of Sonny Rollins. His playing is clean, steady, tonally pure, mellow-sounding and unobtrusive. He is known for highly melodic solos. As leader, Pettiford created ensemble music that challenged the musicians to reach down and bring forth mellow loveliness, not the routine and the flashy. This shows through in all settings: duet, big band, or sextet.

5:51 am on September 30, 2012