Despite some last minute changes in the artist roster, the 1998 Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Concert, held on Saturday, October 3, filled New York City's Manhattan Center Ballroom with good vibes and great music.
The evening kicked off with a performance by "Buddy's Buddies," a quintet formed of members of the Buddy Rich Band, augmented by Will Lee on bass and the inimitable Steve Smith on drums. With his trademark combination of taste, creativity, and fluid technique, Steve came out blazing from the opening notes - artfully supporting the other soloists, making his own dynamic musical statements, and generally demonstrating why he is probably the most accomplished and versatile drummer playing today.
Steve's appearance was followed by a video message from Max Weinberg, who offered a very personal and touching tribute to Buddy Rich. The tape also included Max and his Conan O'Brien Show band performing a musical salute to Buddy.
Next up was Dennis Chambers - called in on literally one day's notice to replace an ailing Omar Hakim. With little time to rehearse, Dennis opened by playing a bluesy jam in a piano-bass-drums trio format (during which he exhibited some very tasty brushwork). But then he got down to business with the big band, propelling them through a solid upbeat chart and pleasing the crowd with his patented rapid-fire soloing skills.
Finally came the highly anticipated appearance of Phil Collins. Following a year's touring with his own big band, Phil was tuned and ready to drive the BR band. Combining outstanding big band arrangements of his own hits with classic Buddy charts like "Mercy Mercy Mercy," "Norwegian Wood," and "Birdland," Phil impressed the crowd with his musicality and intensity. Ably assisted by Luis Conte on percussion, Phil firmly proved that his foray into big band playing was more than a pop/rocker's whim: The man can swing.
The man can also <sing>, as we all know. And that was how he closed the evening. Stepping down to the front of the stage (while Luis covered the drum chair), Phil dedicated a tender rendition of "The Way You Look Tonight" to Marie and Cathy Rich (Buddy's wife and daughter), thus honoring those who have worked so hard to honor the memory of "the world's greatest drummer". It was a fitting conclusion to a very entertaining evening.