Local Drummer ‘Stateside Mouthpiece’ for New Buddy Rich Bio

Bruce Klauber drumming at World Cafe Live
Bruce Klauber drumming at World Cafe Live for big band tribute to Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa (Courtesy of Bruce Klauber)

Bruce Klauber is a hustler. In the good way, the way little league coaches value.

A drummer by training and by DNA, like his hero, Buddy Rich, Klauber is up-tempo, a “high-motor guy” in sportscaster parlance. He’d better be.

At 67, the Overbrook Park native, who now lives in Center City, juggles enough regular music gigs around town to make career Philly musicians green. Like Alexander Hamilton, he writes like he’s running out of time — two books on Gene Krupa, documentaries on both Krupa and Rich and jazz journalism for publications like Downbeat and JazzTimes, among many others. And he’s a tireless and uninhibited promoter of both his own work and that of others, as long as it “swings hard” or does his musical heroes — Krupa, Sinatra, Rich — justice.

Enter Klauber’s latest role, as “co-editor plus stateside mouthpiece” of what he believes is the most comprehensive biography on Buddy Rich yet: “Buddy Rich: One of a Kind — The Making of the World’s Greatest Drummer,” by Swedish author Pelle Berglund.

Berglund spent eight years painstakingly researching the book about Rich, the enormously influential Brooklyn-born Jewish jazz drummer who was as infamous for his short fuse and impossibly high standards as he was famous for extended solos that proved a drummer could front a band from the back. There have been several written accounts of Rich’s life since his death in 1987, but drummers from Klauber to Max Weinberg (who wrote the foreword) say Berglund’s new biography is the most meticulously researched book about Rich ever.

But when Klauber gave it a first read-through over two years ago, he knew it needed some work.

A 16-year-old Bruce Klauber playing with Charlie Ventura
A 16-year-old Bruce Klauber with legendary Philadelphia saxophonist, Charlie Ventura at Saxony East on 12th and Walnut

“(Berglund) finally finished the thing; it took eight years,” Klauber said. “He asked me to look at it, and I said, ‘Pelle, the book is beautiful, it’s passionate. Your research is fabulous, but it needs some work; it needs some editing.’ Meanwhile, I brought it to my colleague Rob Wallis at Hudson Music (the book’s publisher) and I said, ‘Rob, I think we’ve got something here, but it’s going to need work.’”

There began a two year process of, first, negotiating with Berglund to acquire the rights to the book, which Klauber helped facilitate by pledging to keep his opinions intact.

That took a year. Tack on another year of editing — Klauber co-edited along with an editor from the publishing house — and all together you’re looking at a decade-long project.

The book was released domestically on Sept. 30, Buddy Rich’s birthday, and is now out worldwide, distributed by the Hal Leonard Corporation, another arrangement Klauber says he helped facilitate.

“I’ve never worked harder on something, and I’ve never been prouder of something,” Klauber said. “Because there have been books about Buddy Rich” — most notably Mel Tormé’s “Traps — the Drum Wonder,” which Klauber called “a good book, but like everything Mel ever did, it was as much about Mel as it was about Buddy.”

“But,” Klauber continued, “there needed to be something that tried to tell about the man behind the music and his quest for perfection … in jazz, which is, inevitably, an imperfect art.”

Klauber thinks Berglund’s biography is the best to date precisely because it captures the imperfections inherent in the perfectionist’s personality.

The book, like any arresting biography, reveals things about the multitalented Rich that most don’t know — for instance, when he completely gave up playing drums in the late ’50s to become a singer. “He burned his drumsticks at a press conference at Birdland,” Klauber exclaimed.

It also documents Rich’s struggles when his first act as a child star on the vaudeville circuit flamed out and it examines the nuanced truths behind his temper, which, courtesy of films like “Whiplash” — which Klauber served as an advisor for — has taken on a mythology of its own.

“People always want to talk about the temper thing,” Klauber said wearily. “This is a man who played with Louie Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gilllespie, and then he finds himself (later in his career) on the road with 17-year-old kids, children who are screwing up all over the place. So, sure, man, you’re gonna blow up!”

Over nearly 50 years as a jazz musician and journalist, Klauber’s played with some stars (like legendary Philly sax man Charlie Ventura) and worked with several more in other capacities. Mel Tormé wrote the foreword for his first book on Krupa and narrated the aforementioned Rich documentary that Klauber wrote and co-produced. Klauber even struck an unlikely friendship with Frank Sinatra. Rich and Sinatra used to room together on the road, as two twenty-somethings playing in Tommy Dorsey’s big band.

“I’ve been associated with the Sinatra family, informally, since the mid-’80s,” said Klauber. “In fact, Mr. Sinatra was instrumental in getting me a piece of Buddy Rich film for one of our Buddy Rich pictures.”

Still, it all starts, and maybe ends, with Buddy Rich for Klauber, who recalls being an instantly mesmerized 8-year-old the first time his father brought him to see Rich play with the Harry James band at, “of all places,” the St. Joseph’s Fieldhouse.

“It was like seeing Superman. What he could do on the drums could not be done. We wanted to be like him; we wanted to look like him; we wanted to play like him. Most of the guys grew out of it,” Klauber said. “A couple didn’t.”

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