The late Stanley Kay told me he was most proud of two career highlights: being hired by Buddy Rich and founding the DIVA Jazz Orchestra. Let's cover the second one first: In 1990, Stanley was conducting a band in which Sherrie Maricle was playing drums. Taken with Sherrie's playing, Stanley asked her if other female jazz players could be assembled for a big band. Sherrie said, "No problem." In 1992, Stanley founded and then managed the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, which has been playing continuously ever since. When I saw Johnny Mandel conduct the band several weeks ago at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Stanley was there. He received a standing ovation for his efforts on behalf of the band and for his long career in music and music management.
Back to Stanley's first career highlight: When Buddy Rich decided to spend more time performing in front of his band as a dancer and singer in 1947, he hired Stanley to fill in on drums. But this was no ordinary band. Though the personnel changed between 1946 and 1950, Rich always had amazing talent on the bandstand. For example, in 1948, the band featured Charlie Walp, Dale Pierce and Frank LoPinto (trumpets); Johnny Mandel (bass trumpet); Rob Swope, Mario Daone and Jack Carmen (trombones); Hal McKusick and Nick Sands (alto saxes); Ben Lary and Warne Marsh (tenor saxes); Harvey Lavine (baritone sax); Jerry Schwartz (piano); Terry Gibbs (vibes); Charlie Leeds (bass), with Rich and Stanley on drums. If Stanley was to survive, he needed to take charge of the band without overshadowing Rich.
In Part 2 of my two-part interview with Stanley, the late drummer and manager reflects on getting the call to join Rich's band, how he knew Rich's temper was about to kick in, how he managed Rich's outbursts and what he did once Buddy broke up the band:
JazzWax: When did you start playing professionally?
Stanley Kay: In 1946, with Shorty Sherock's band. We had Nat Pierce on piano, Milt Gold on trombone and Brew Moore on tenor sax.
JW: How did you connect with Buddy Rich?
SK: One day in 1947 I got a call from Carl Ritchie, Buddy’s manager and brother-in-law. Carl said Buddy wanted me to take the train to Chicago to join the band. I asked him, “As what?” Carl explained that Buddy was expanding the act. He was doing more singing and dancing, and he needed a drummer to play when he wasn’t behind the kit.
JW: You must have been stunned.
SK: I was so nervous heading out there. Man, I was going to be playing with and for my idol. When I got to Chicago, I went up to Buddy’s suite at the Sherman Hotel. In 1947, Buddy’s orchestra was a dance band with a bunch of acts. One was “Think-a-Drink" Hoffman [pictured]. This guy named would ask people at their tables to think of a drink. When you told him what you had in mind, your glass would turn to that drink. I have no idea how he pulled that off.
JW: What did Rich say up in his suite?
SK: He greeted me and told me to go down and play the first set. When I get down there and climb up on the stand, George Berg, a tenor saxophonist and the band’s straw boss, had no idea what was going on.
JW: What did he say?
SK: He said, “Hey, kid, what are you crazy? What are you doing?” I said, “Subbing for Buddy.” He said, “Get off of there. You trying to steal the drum set?” After a minute he finally realized why I was there. Buddy had never told anyone he was hiring another drummer.
JW: What was the first tune?
SK: They called out a number. I can’t remember which one, but not one of the killers. By the way, that’s why tunes are called “numbers.” The band knows them by number, not by name. I still remember that in Buddy’s book, #199 was More Than You Know, #175 was Dateless Brown and #125 was the Goof and I.
JW: What did Rich think of your playing?
SK: After I played the first 40-minute set, Buddy came down and didn’t say anything to me. I must have been OK because he kept me on.
JW: How did Rich rehearse the band?
SK: Most people didn’t know that Buddy couldn’t read a note of music. Couldn’t read one note from another. He just had a God-given gift for rhythm and didn’t have to hear a tune twice to know what to do. From time to time he’d sit out front during rehearsals to hear me play.
JW: What did people in the band think of that?
SK: At the time they thought he did that so he could hear me play the chart and then copy me, because he couldn’t read music.
JW: Was that true?
SK: That was absurd. This guy was the best vaudeville player in the business. He could play anything and behind anyone. Buddy sat there because he enjoyed listening to me. When Buddy liked what I’d play, he’d say, “You sounded good.” I lived for those.
JW: Were you still a fan of Buddy’s once you were in the band?
SK: I didn’t worship Buddy when I was there. It was business, and I became the band’s straw boss and creative manager. Buddy respected and trusted me because I always told him the truth. I wasn’t afraid of him. My job was to manage his personality so his talent could shine.
JW: As a drummer, what did you think?
SK: Buddy’s drumming technique was spectacular. For me, Buddy’s musical sense of setting up brass figures and being daring was incomparable.
JW: Did you ever encounter Rich’s famed temper?
SK: Encounter it? I often had to manage it. Buddy had a temper that would simmer and simmer and then explode. When I’d sit next to him at New York's Paramount Theater in the late 1940s, I could tell when that pot was boiling. Buddy always liked to put his left foot on one of the three legs of the hi-hat stand. Not the pedal—one of the three metal legs. After he’d play for a little he’d move to the pedal.
JW: What was the telltale sign of trouble?
SK: I knew Buddy was getting into it when his foot wasn’t on one of those legs. So I’d reach over and put his foot on the leg, which would make him laugh and settle him down.
JW: Did that always work?
SK: Most of the time but not always. On some occasions I’d get to him too late, and he’d already be yelling. I’d try to calm him down. Buddy would say, “Stan, I’ll do what I want.” I’d tell him, “Sure Buddy, but you’ll pay a consequence for it. Do you want that?” Then Buddy would calm down. My job was to tell him how it was. From my perspective, I was managing a property, like a personal manager would.
JW: Being that close to Rich must have had its rewards.
SK: Oh, it did. Buddy knew I always liked to eat in great restaurants and he knew I had all the connections around town with theaters, restaurants, wholesale places for clothes and so on. If he needed access for some reason, I'd open that door for him. Doors opened for me because of the music. But I always respected people, and in turn they made life a little easier for me.
JW: You and Rich had a good working relationship.
SK: We did. But Buddy would take things out on me, too. That was part of my job, I suppose. But you had to learn to roll with that and not take it personally. And to give it back when necessary. Once we were playing with the DeCastro Sisters [pictured], Henny Youngman and Mel Torme. I’d play behind them and then Buddy would come in and take over the drums for the band part of the show.
JW: What happened?
SK: When you’re working the stage, the spotlight is so hot your hands perspire. When Buddy and I made the change that night, he grabbed the sticks and they were wet with sweat.
JW: What did he do?
SK: As Buddy started the tune, he lit into me. “Damn it why are these sticks wet? What’s the matter with you?” I said: “Hey, what am I dead? It’s hot up here. Take the other sticks.”
JW: That must have been hard.
SK: It was. But then I’d hear him play—this time I think it was Old Man River—and within seconds I’d forget about what he said and his tone toward me. But that night after he was through, I didn’t even want to hear it from him. When I didn’t talk to him for a day, he sent for me and asked what was wrong. I said, “Buddy, don’t talk to me like you did the other night. What are you getting on me for?”
JW: What did he say?
SK: He realized he was out of bounds, he apologized and went on with it. I don’t hold grudges and nothing impresses me. Doctors impress me. That’s about it.
JW: What did you do when Rich broke up the band?
SK: When he joined Jazz at the Philharmonic in 1950, I had to get a job. I went to work with Frankie Laine, who had just started recording for Columbia Records, and I remained with him for years. [Pictured: Buddy Rich, Jo Jones and Gene Krupa in 1950]
JW: What did you do after Laine?
SK: I played with Josephine Baker in the late 1950s, then with Patti Page on all her hit records. In 1964, I quit playing. I knew how far I could go as a drummer. But I knew I could manage acts and could create things that had commercial appeal.
JW: What did you do?
SK: I wound up managing the Hines Brothers dancers, singer Michele Lee and others. I also founded and managed the DIVA Jazz Orchestra.
JW: Did you feel odd playing as Rich’s drummer?
SK: My time with Buddy definitely felt weird. When you’re playing drums for another guy who’s the drummer, you’re not calling your own shots. To be honest, I never liked the way I played anyway.
JW: Why not?
SK: I was a perfectionist. I was respected. But I always wanted to play better than I could. I got great experience with Buddy but I could have gotten more experience playing all the time in another band. When you play drums in Rich’s band, you’re not in control of what you want to do as a drummer. Stick? Brush? The answer was what Buddy said I had to use, not what I thought was best.
JW: So what did you do?
SK: I did my thing. And I did the best I could.