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Monday, 17 December 2012
A different kind of historic battle

As I have been completely immersed in finalizing a highly anticipated book on drumming with my friend and co-author Rich Redmond, while simultaneously rediscovering my own swing chops, my mind is totally occupied with nothing else…

In the chronicles of drumming history, no two names resonate with more respect than those of Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. These two musicians literally redefined their instrument and have inspired generations of drummers who still look upon them with a sense of wonder and worship. During their era, big-bands ruled the airways belting out swing, jazz and bebop numbers. At the time, it was the drummer who towered above all other soloists on the bandstand. Krupa and Rich were at the top of the heap, performing magnificent as individuals and divinely when brought together to “battle” one another.

It was during these “drum battles” that one could clearly see the dazzling similarities and differences in the playing styles of the participants. Krupa, clearly a dancer’s drummer, furiously worked the toms, creating a tribal backbeat that was accented with a brilliant use of the splash and cowbell. Rich, a tremendously technical player, played ridiculous rudiments at a speed that was virtually incalculable and incorporated stick tricks that left his peers shaking their heads in disbelief. To watch Krupa and Rich go at it must have been like watching Babe Ruth pitch to himself.

Unfortunately there are only a few of these epic engagements that have been captured either on audio or film. “The Original Drum Battle,” as it came to be known, took place at the kick-off of what was the 12th National Tour of Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic. That show took place at Carnegie Hall on September 13, 1952 and has become one of the most revered live recordings ever captured. Purchase on Amazon There are also two meetings of Gene and Buddy on film, both from television shows broadcast in 1966 and 1971.  

On November 1, 1956, both drummers went into the studio with a group of JATP All-Stars, recording an LP called “Krupa and Rich.” Strangely, Gene and Buddy only play together on one tune, with the rest of the tracks featuring one drummer or the other. Although there is no recorded documentation, there is evidence that Buddy and Gene continued their drum battles from time-to-time through 1957. In a 1956 radio interview with the Voice of America's Willis J. Conover, the two drummers spoke of how they felt about the battles, as well as an upcoming JATP show where they were both set to appear. When asked about setting up these challenges, Rich explained the intentional spontaneity of them:

“…they never will be because then it would get kind of stiff, boring kind of thing. I think we get up on the stand every night and we look at each other and you listen to all the comments that come at you from the audience. Naturally, they're partisan groups and they're all shouting for their favorites, and we sit down at the drums and we laugh, and some nights Gene'll start a tempo or other nights I'll start the tempo. And we just start to play. And some nights it's great, and other nights it's laughs, and other nights it's boring, because that's what makes-anything that's spontaneous is a-it's a free feeling. We get up there and play just exactly what we feel like that particular night. When we play places like Carnegie Hall where the places are sold out we know that the people are listening uh, we play good. We play other places where we don't think there's too much interest-rather than listening-I think that people would rather be heard themselves-so we let them scream and we play under them.”

In 1966 Sammy Davis Jr. played host to the mighty two on a broadcast of his ABC television program:

The last, on-camera meeting between Krupa and Rich that we know of took place on October 12, 1971. The occasion was a Canadian television special hosted by their friend and fellow percussionist Lionel Hampton. Rich came out at the very end of the program to participate in a four-way drum duel featuring Hampton, Krupa, Rich and Mel Torme'. After Krupa passed away in 1973, Rich continued to battle other drummers off-and-on until his own death in 1987.

Today, over five decades since Krupa and Rich first took the stage to duel, musicians and music lovers alike are still amazed and invigorated by these incredible performances that have not been duplicated or witnessed since.


Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 9:27 AM EST
Updated: Monday, 17 December 2012 9:36 AM EST
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Friday, 14 December 2012
150 years ago this week (part 6): The morning after…

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Purchase the DVD here
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The General regarded him for a moment with feelings of profound admiration and said: "Kirkland, don't you know that you would get a bullet through your head the moment you stepped over the wall?" "Yes, Sir, he said, I know all about that, but if you will let me, I am willing to try it." After a pause the General said: "Kirkland, I ought not to allow you to run such a risk, but the sentiment which actuates you is so noble, that I will not refuse your request, trusting that God may protect you. You may go." - General Joseph Brevard Kershaw, Camden, South Carolina, January 29, 1880

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 8:57 AM EST
Updated: Friday, 14 December 2012 9:24 AM EST
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Thursday, 13 December 2012
150 years ago this week (part 5): Giving the boys in blue their due…

 The Battle of Fredericksburg, by John Richards, 1862 

Today on the official 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg and the 5th and final day of our related postings, I present the remarkable courage and tenacity of the boys of the 123rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment, who marched forward into the fray, despite the wave of shot and shell that waited for them… (This lecture was presented by me at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s ‘Civil War Day’ in 2010.)

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Before I begin I would like to thank Maggie Forbes, Diane Klinefelter, and the rest of the good folks here at the Carnegie-Carnegie for their wonderful hospitality. I would also like to thank each and every one of you for coming today. Civil War Weekend has become quite an event and it is an honor for me to be here. Back in November, I had the privilege of hosting a premiere for a documentary on Richard Kirkland titled “The Angel of Marye’s Heights.” The response I received was outstanding, so I was absolutely thrilled when Maggie and Diane asked if I would return. Today I am going present some insights on the “Gallant Boys of the 123rd” – the Pennsylvania Volunteers. This will be followed by an exclusive screening of our half-hour documentary and a short Q&A session will follow that.

Both of these topics, the lecture and the film, relate not only to one another, but also directly to the Capt. Thomas Espy Post No. 153 of the Grand Army of the Republic right here at the Carnegie-Carnegie. If you stick around to watch the film later, the men depicted in our reenactments could have very likely been members of the 123rd. Today we are joined in the Music Hall by Pittsburgh author Scott Lang who wrote The Forgotten Charge: The 123rd Pennsylvania at Marye's Heights, Fredericksburg, Virginia. Scott is the REAL expert on the PA Vols. and he has been gracious enough to display his wonderful collection of 123rd relics. Be sure to check those out.

Down in Fredericksburg where I live there are four major Civil War Battlefields. These hallowed grounds include Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville and The Wilderness. Atop the Fredericksburg Battlefield is a bluff known as Marye’s Heights. The legacy of this location is the focal part of our film, but for my talk we will begin by focusing on what stands there today.

Nowadays atop Marye’s Heights stands