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Steve Smith and Buddy's Buddies

The recent popularity of jazz "concept records" often creates a problem in the creative process. Too many of these recordings result in weak re-creations of the past.

This was never a factor with Steve Smith and Buddy's Buddies. Nostalgia was an idea that Buddy Rich deeply despised, and this band di not in any way attempt to recreate the music of the Buddy Rich band. Instead, it was a celebration of the spirit of Buddy Rich.

Before Buddy's Buddies, there there were many projects (recordings, articles, books) dedicated to the memory of Buddy Rich. The most popular of them had been the Burning For Buddy memorial concerts and recordings in which various drummers (including Steve Smith) had guest-appeared with Buddy's legendary big band.

However, one must remember that Rich didn't always lead big bands; there were occasionally small groups that bore his leadership. These smaller ensembles featured sidemen such as Harry "Sweets" Edison, Mike Mainieri, and Kenny Barron.

One of Buddy's best small group recordings, "Very Live At Buddy's Place," could be viewed as an early "model" for Buddy's Buddies. It featured a front line of two saxes as well as bassist Anthony Jackson, who graces also this recording. Buddy also played on numerous small group recordings as a sideman with legends like Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Art Tatum. It is all of these recordings that prompted Buddy's longtime friend Stanley Kay, along with daughter Cathy Rich and her husband Steve Arnold, to conceive the idea of Buddy's Buddies, a small group of only Buddy Rich alumni performing some of the Buddy Rich band's most popular music.

The first people they contacted were saxophonists and longtime BR big band members Steve Marcus and Andy Fusco. Fusco and Marcus contacted drummer Steve Smith to inquire about the possibility of him working with the band. Little did they know that Smith was eager to get back to playing jazz.

At the time of their call, Steve was busy working with his own band, Vital Information, and recording other fusion-oriented projects. But Steve's jazz roots were beckoning. However, these interests were nothing new and have been at the core of Smith's drumming since day one. Buddy's Buddies was not only a coming home for the Buddy Rich alumni, but the completion of a stylistic circle for Steve Smith, as well.

In 1974-75, Smith's first touring gigs were with Buddy Rich alumni Lin Biviano in a big band, which also included many other BR alumni. Steve recalls seeing Buddy's band many times beginning in 1968, and even recalls seeing one of his small groups at Rich's nightclub in New York City.

Upon leaving the Biviano big band, Steve's career moved into the fusion and rock n' roll worlds; then later to some assorted small group jazz playing, as well a good deal of fiery fusion more recently with Steps Ahead. In the last 15 years he established himself as a bandleader with eight Vital Information recordings. But as with many artists, Steve is always looking for new challenges and outlets for his musical ideas. Therefore, when Fusco and Marcus approached him with the idea of playing with Buddy's Buddies, Smith was excited, deeply honored and he enthusiastically jumped on board.

The initial idea was for Buddy's Buddies to open up for the Buddy Rich Big Band in 1997; most recently they had performed at the "Salute to Buddy Rich Concert" with Dennis Chambers and Phil Collins (Hudson Music). But the "vibe" at the concert was so strong that everyone involved wanted this to be more than a one time performance.

Marcus and Fusco were eager to record Buddy's Buddies, hopeful that the band would become a working band. Steve approached Tone Center Records about recording Buddy's Buddies (he was already in the midst of recording four outstanding fusion records for Tone Center). Upon an agreement to record, the concept of an entire band consisting of only Buddy Rich alumni prompted Smith to suggest bassist Anthony Jackson and pianist/arranger Lee Musiker for this very special recording. And so this band was born.

While all of Buddy's Buddies had played with Rich (except Smith), very few of them were with him at the same time. Steve Marcus was in the band longer than anyone else that had ever played with Buddy, from 1975 to 1986; Andy Fusco's stay was from 1978 to 1983.

Lee Musiker's stay was shorter, spanning 1982 and '83. While Anthony Jackson is the elder of the Buddies, first playing with Rich in 1973 and remaining until 1975.

Their shared past, similar experiences provided a sense of familiarity, and a common meeting place for the Buddy's Buddies recording sessions. However, once Buddy's Buddies began recording, they were in the present and looking fondly toward the future. Some of the song selections were  "revisitations" of the BR band's classic tunes with fresh new arrangements, while others were just great tunes performed with Buddy's spirit and fiery attitude in mind.

While the spirit of Buddy Rich was the spark behind these sessions, the other musical experiences that the members of band have had are the fuel that keeps the inferno of this "little big band" burning from beginning to end.

Steve Marcus brought with him an adventurous spirit that was nurtured in the 1960s on some of the earliest fusion with Larry Coryell, Gary Burton, and Bob Moses. Andy Fusco had been involved in several small group recordings including his own for Double Time Jazz. His bebop approach provided a cutting "yin" to Marcus' modal "yang."

Lee Musiker sounded perfect in all situations. He was a member of the unique exploratory jazz ensemble Either/Orchestra, a large group that defies explanation. Lee was a well rounded pianist, and a talented arranger whose talents had yet to be widely recognized by the jazz public.

Anthony Jackson has always been one of the busiest electric bassists around, and is the originator of the electric six string contrabass. He has recorded and performed with groups led by Chick Corea, Steve Khan, and Michel Petrucciani.

The sad and unexpected passing of Steve Marcus in September, 2005, hit the band very hard. At that point they, decided to change direction and move away from principally playing music associated with Buddy Rich.

They asked saxophonist Walt Weiskopf, a fantastic musician and a long-time friend of both Steve Marcus and Andy Fusco, to join. At that point, a new band - Steve Smith's Jazz Legacy - was born.

Click here to read about Steve Smith's Jazz Legacy.

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