Rare Footage of Elder, Undiminished Buddy Rich
The Lost Tapes was originally recorded and broadcast in 1985 when Buddy Rich was 67 years old. It was Rich's last recorded special before he died in 1987, and the building it was stored in burned down in 1990. Remarkably, the original master footage was recovered and painstakingly restored, and is finally available with all the bells and whistles of DVD. The hour-long feature presentation is enhanced with Dolby surround sound and hours of commentary and other bonus features.
Almost everything about The Lost Tapes screams 1980s: hot pink neon and stage lights, mens' perms and facial hair, big glasses, out-of-fashion suits and ties, and so on. Nonetheless, the band arrangements, Rich's drumming, and recording technology remain cutting-edge.
Buddy Rich truly was an animal on the drums--even in his senior years--a fact which can hardly be overstated. Besides his own wizardry, the most solos go to veteran tenor/soprano sax-man Steve Marcus, Paul Phillips on trumpet, and Bill Cunliffe on piano, with good reason. Even in the seventh decade of his jazz career, Rich was capable of assembling a first-rate ensemble. Throughout his life, he often learned things the hard way but the lessons stuck. He retained all the sensational qualities required of a jazz band leader until the end.
Despite being sated with fine food and wine, the audience was highly enthusiastic. According to the DVD commentary, this concert (as well as the Channel One Suite recorded earlier the same day) was the exact same set that thrilled audiences on the road for years. As such, it is a rare time-capsule of jazz history.
For what it's worth, there is not a single African-American musician in the band. Rich's most famous (or at least, infamous) employer, Tommy Dorsey, avoided that stigma over 40 years previous to this event. Perhaps this fact shouldn't detract from an otherwise outstanding jazz document, but for this reviewer it does.
Song highlights include the "Mexicali Nose," "Cottontail" and the final cacophony: Rich's legendary "West Side Story Medley." The house lights came down for this one, the band dynamic and finale of which are well-worth the DVD purchase price.
The well-organized special feature menu boasts interesting interviews with his daughter Cathy Rich (who lovingly co-produced this release), wife Marie Rich, grandson Nick Rich, jazz drummer Dave Weckl, and others. Marie's account of her husband's "god-given ability, which no one has come close to.... " and the way she misses him, infuse the project with an emotional quality easily surpassing the dated visual impression.
If not for Rich's insistence on the highest fidelity recording technology, this project would surely have remained in oblivion. Instead, viewers are treated to a truly discreet surround production even more advanced than many new releases. Technology credits include: Crown PZM and Pressure Zone microphones, AKG tube microphones, Yamaha sound console, Sony, Nakamichi, JBL, Electro-Kinetics, Lexicon, Monster Cable, BBE, and more. All this was housed within One Pass, Inc's King Street Studio Soundstage in San Francisco, California.
In the commentary, a radio-interviewer told Rich, "it was so nice to see a big band portrayed in a straight-ahead [fashion], no show-boatin', just great jazz." You'll agree he hit the nail on the head. Recommended not only to Buddy Rich completists, but any fan of great jazz.
-David Seymour is a jazz journalist in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA.