“Big Swing Face: A Tribute to Buddy Rich” premiered on Sept. 26 at the Howard Brubeck Theatre for jazz-lovers and Buddy Rich fans alike.
There was a multitude of people waiting outside the theater, a mixture of students, kids and other members of the community.
Director Paul Kurokawa began the concert by asking if anyone had met Buddy Rich. Several hands went up.
One man in particular was Robert Evans, an Encinitas resident who said after the concert that he had heard Buddy Rich play in the 1970s at a nightclub called the Bacchanal in San Diego.
“Buddy Rich knew how to please a crowd,” Evans said, adding that he enjoyed the concert and plans to attend more. “Jazz is like a magnet. It pulls me in.”
Jazz tunes from Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone” from 1939 to Rich’s own “Okay with Jay” from 1986 were played by two sets of jazz ensembles, the Day and Night Jazz Ensemble. The concert featured drummer Chris Becker and saxophone player Josias Miguel.
Kurokawa said he created the tribute because Rich is arguably the best drummer to ever have lived.
Kurokawa also said that Becker is an extraordinary drummer. Becker is a huge Rich fan and has memorized many of his songs and plays them with passion.
“Chris has been in ensemble several years and I assume, the time will come when he will make way for an upcoming aspiring drummer who has the skill set to drive this ensemble,” Kurokawa said.
“Everywhere you go, there is going to be a jazz community. San Diego has a really healthy jazz community,” Kurokawa added.
Rich was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Sept. 30, 1917 to Jewish vaudevillians Robert and Bess Rich. Rich began performing at the age of 18 months as a drummer. His career spanned over 50 years, until his death on April 2, 1987 in Los Angeles, Calif.
Rich was known as the greatest jazz drummer who ever lived. He was bandleader or co-leader on 46 albums from 1953 to 1985. “Big Swing Face” was a live album recorded at “The Chez” in Hollywood in June 1967. He also worked with other famous musicians such as Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra.