Behind every photo is a story, especially a jazz photo. The older the image, the less first-hand information there is about who's in the picture and what was going on the moment the flashbulb popped. When I saw the photo above of the Buddy Rich band on Monday (click on it to enlarge), my mind immediately started to wander. Where was it taken and who was in the band? Fortunately I spotted a friend in the reed section who was able to shed some light. More in a minute.
This tale starts with pianist George Ziskind, who sent me an e-mail on Monday reflecting on tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh. In his e-mail, George directed me to a site devoted to Marsh, specifically to a picture George snapped of a slimmed-down Warne entering George's apartment in 1984 [pictured]. It's a fun shot; George calls it "Two Skinny Cats."
But while I was at the site, another image caught my eye: a photo of the Buddy Rich band in 1948. As I looked at the picture, I wondered why there is a big "A" on the music stands if it was Buddy's band? Who was the vocalist? Who was the guy next to Buddy not holding an instrument? Who else was in the band? And what was going on when the photo was taken?
Hal McKusick was in the 1948 Buddy Rich band, along with other Young Turks of the period. Hal's the alto saxophonist in the middle of the reeds, leaning forward. So I asked Hal [pictured] to remember what he could about the photo and the musicians in it:
"That photo was taken in New York, in the fall of 1948, shortly after we ended a cross-country trip. The "A" is for the name of the Avalon Ballroom, where we were playing, near 42d and Broadway. It was a great dance hall, always packed. As you can see, we were serious about playing well. We may have looked road-weary in the photo but we weren't. We were always eager to perform to our utmost.
The reeds [from left to right] are Harvey Lavine on baritone, Jimmy Giuffre on tenor, me on alto, Warne Marsh on tenor and Ben Lary on tenor. I'm not sure who the vocalist was, maybe Muriel James. The trombones [from left to right] are Rob Swope, Mario Daone, Rob's brother Earl Swope, and I can't make out the other one. The bass player is Teddy Kotick and the pianist is Harvey "The Tiger" Leonard. Buddy's on drums, and that's Stanley Kay [pictured] next to him. Stanley played drums whenever Buddy sang or danced. The trumpets [from left to right] are Tommy Allison, Dale Pierce, I can't make out the third guy, and Charlie Walp on the right. Tommy and Charlie always sat on either end of the section.
The sax section in this band was one of my favorites. We were always swinging, blending and phrasing together. Buddy had just brought in Sy Oliver [pictured] to do some arranging, and everyone got along great. Ben Lary had an incredible sound on the tenor, an offshoot of Pres with his own touch. I always enjoyed his musicianship. Tiger Leonard got his name because of how he paced when he wasn't playing the piano. Tommy Allison was a great trumpet soloist and section player. He had his own style, and it was splendid. We called him "Funlover"—he was always ready to laugh and had good things to say. Baritone saxophonist Harvey Lavine was called "The Goof." Al Cohn's The Goof and I was named for Harvey because he was always forgetting stuff at the hotels where we stayed.
Before this band arrived in New York in the fall of 1948, we had started on the West Coast playing the Hollywood Palladium in July and appearing that month in a film short [pictured; that's Hal behind Buddy]. Then the band hit the road, traveling north through Oregon and Washington State, playing the Grape Festivals. Next we traveled east across to Toronto and came down through Niagara Falls and into New York to open the Clique Club in December with George Shearing and Sarah Vaughan. The Clique Club, of course, was renamed Birdland in December 1949.
This Avalon photo must have been taken just before the Clique Club job, since I seem to remember leaving the band shortly after that. From a musicianship standpoint, this was one of Buddy's best bands."
JazzWax Tracks: To hear how good this band was, download Buddy Rich: The Legendary '47-'48 Orchestra Vol. 1 at iTunes or Amazon here. Or just grab the tracks Four Rich Brothers and Good Bait. The rare Four Rich Brothers features Jimmy Giuffre, the song's writer and arranger, in the sax section. The more famous Woody Herman version (Four Brothers), recorded for Columbia in October 1947, does not. Good Bait is a Tadd Dameron arrangement.
JazzWax video clip: For a sense of what this band sounded like, here's a clip of the short Hal refers to above—filmed before the band departed Los Angeles in the summer of 1948. Hal is just behind and to the right of Buddy on the long shots and directly behind Buddy during his solo: