|The Pete Cater Big Band|
Drummer PETE CATER, who has “the biggest and most definitive collection of arrangements from Buddy Rich’s book” celebrates twenty years of running the Pete Cater Big Band. In this interview with Sebastian he looks forward to the annversary concert on 20th April. He remembers some key steps along the way, notably the key role of the much-missed Chris Dagley, a former student of Pete Cater, in the formation of the band. He also reveals that the concert will include music from “Whiplash”:
LondonJazz News: With just under three weeks to go to your 20th Anniversary gig. how are the preparations going, and what are you still leaving undecided?
Pete Cater: I have a good feel for the shape of the evening: The classic West Side Story medley will be in there along with some of the other things that are well remembered and constantly requested, but I also like to throw in one or two rarities which you won’t hear any other band play.
Being the 20th anniversary of the band I’m sure I will be including one or two of our old album tracks and very probably some of the music from Whiplash as well.
The set list is just a basis for negotiation mind you. Every performance is unique, and every audience is unique. The final decision about what we will play and in what order takes place on stage. You have to rehearse like mad in order to be that spontaneous. —
LJN: Can we now turn the clock back? Who was the first drummer who inspired you as a small child?
PC: I must have heard Joe Morello with the Dave Brubeck quartet by the time I was a couple of weeks old. There was always music on at home and my drummer father was a huge admirer of Morello’s work. In many ways he remains unequalled for his for his sheer virtuosity on the drums. I consider him unique in that he had a phenomenal technical command but combined that facility with a level of musicality and creativity, which is not always present in some of the more technically gifted drummers. I consider Joe Morello to be the reason I play the drums, thanks to my Dad’s good taste in music of course and him having a practice kit at home which I discovered before I was two years old.
LJN: And Buddy Rich?
PC: I became aware of Buddy Rich when I was five years old. Dad spent £150 on a Bang & Olufsen stereo (a huge amount back then) and the first music I recall hearing from those giant speakers was the Buddy Rich big band. At that time I had never heard music reproduced with such amazing power and clarity. It simply didn’t sound like anything else I had ever heard and it was almost as if I knew then that this was something that was going to play a major part in my life. There’s no denying what a profound effect those formative influences have upon us. Buddy Rich is undoubtedly the reason I play big band music and soon thereafter I heard the Basie band, Woody Herman, Maynard’s great British band and a whole lot more.
LJN: But those were different times…
PC: I think it’s important to mention that this music was far more accessible back then. The big jazz bands were recording for major labels, doing UK tours and appearing on mainstream television. The music wasn’t nostalgia it was very much a reflection of the times. I didn’t go back into the history of the music until years later. From this distance it seems like a unique time for big band music. A lot of what was being played was acceptable to non-specialist mainstream audiences, and that is something we shouldn’t lose sight of.
LJN: You won a prize as a teenager as a result of which you met Buddy Rich. What’s the story?
PC: Back then there used to be something called the BBC National Big Band competition, which was organised by Radio 2. It was a great showcase for both emerging and established talent and I have lobbied for it to be reinstated. Anyway, I had won the Jack Parnell drum prize in early 1980 and that had resulted in quite a bit of media attention. A couple of months later Buddy Rich’s band were on tour in the UK and I went to a concert at the Albert Hall in Nottingham. The promoter knew me and had seen me play with the Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra on a number of occasions. He knew about the Radio 2 competition and invited me backstage to say hello to Buddy prior to the show. What then occurred went something along these lines;
“Buddy, this is Pete, the BBC just named him the best big band drummer in the country”. I wanted the floor to open underneath where I stood.
“Hey kid, you wanna play with my band?” Now the floor opening up was insufficient. I was quietly praying for alien abduction. Luckily even at that age I was more than capable of thinking on my feet.
“Thanks Mr Rich, but you know, all those people out there are waiting to hear YOU play, not me”.
He gave me a look of something approaching suspicion, which broke into that slightly strange ‘upside down’ smile he had, wished me luck with my playing and that was that. What he didn’t know was that I was well aware of his propensity for inviting slightly overconfident young drummers (of which I was undoubtedly one) to sit in with his band, and then make them play a drum solo until he had had enough. Usually a five or ten minutes after the sitter in had exhausted all his ideas.
LJN: You ran bands before the proper formation of the Pete Cater Big Band 20 years ago?
PC: The first bands I had were in the Midlands, dating back to the early 80s. I had my first big band when I was 19 years old. I had actually wanted to go and study at Berklee in Boston but couldn’t get the money together. I had found a source for really good American charts so instead of going to study I organised a band.
LJN: So what gave you the original impetus to kick off the PCBB back in the 1990s?
PC: I had been in London for about two years and had got to know a lot of great young players, very much the graduating class of NYJO of the mid 90s. There were a lot of blow bands going on and I would occasionally take one or two charts along. Word got around that I was sitting on a whole pile of great music and a number of players suggested that I should start a band, and that if I did I could depend on their support. My great friend the late Chris Dagley inadvertently had a hand in the band becoming a reality. He had gone to the Middle East to do a Christmas residency in 1994, which meant he couldn’t do NYJO’s then traditional lunchtime gig on December 27th. He asked me to cover for him and the venue owner, a guy called Stuart Dunlop, got to hear that I was looking to get the band up and running and immediately offered rehearsal facilities at no cost and some confirmed gig dates a few months hence so we had a definite goal. The band rehearsed every week from January 1995 and we made our first public appearance on April 30th that year. I still have the desk recordings of all those early gigs and there’s some stunning playing amongst them.
LJN: You started with quite a broad repertoire / what sort of things ?
PC: With the London band to begin with there was a lot of Thad Jones and Bob Mintzer, all kinds of great writing that bands weren’t really playing at the time. I also started to bring in some charts that Jim McNeely had written for Mel Lewis’s band, and then there were the Bob Curnow arrangements of Pat Metheny tunes. We were the first band in the Uk to play First Circle and that proved to be very popular. It brought the house down at the Jersey Jazz Festival in 1998. That attracted a lot of attention and was really helpful in putting the band on the map. Perhaps more importantly we started playing original stuff. Frank Griffith turned up with a whole pile of great music that he had written when he was living in New York and Matt Wates contributed a number of killer charts as well. I had very specific ideas about things I wanted the band to play and started collaborating with several writers who were able to take my sketches and translate them into really compelling scores. I worked on several with Frank, and Matt Regan who was our pianist at the time took my idea for The Song Is You and delivered a classic piece of writing. Also Adrian Fry and Clive Dunstall made important contributions during that period. The plan was always to establish a repertoire entirely unique to my band and I think we managed to achieve that.
LJN: Who are some of the people in the band ? Is it relatively stable?
PC: The lineup has been incredibly consistent for the past eight years. The musicians are extremely loyal and go out of their way to be available whenever we have a show. That is so important because nothing sounds better than a rehearsed band that really knows the music inside out. We have great sight-reading musicians here in the UK, but there’s a point when it becomes much more than just notes on paper, and you only get that with familiarity and understanding the music. Not just knowing your own parts, but knowing what everybody else is doing too.
Andy Greenwood is the perfect lead trumpet player in my opinion. He has incredible time and feel which he combines with pin point accuracy. I’ve played with some legendary lead trumpet players over the years but for me Greenwood is in a class of his own.
Having two Buddy Rich alumni in the band, saxophonists Bob Martin and Jay Craig adds so much. Jay’s knowledge of the repertoire in encyclopaedic and he has been invaluable with regard to restoring some of those old scores and knowing exactly how they were interpreted in Buddy’s band. In the eight years we’ve been playing this repertoire there have only been two permanent changes in personnel and you’ll never come to one of our shows and hear a band full of deps. Speaking of deps though there was an occasion in 2006 when we did the Wigan jazz festival. That was a launch gig for our album ‘The Right Time’. Hardly any of the guys who had done the sessions were available for some reason so I had to get a whole different team of players. That different team did such a great job that it became the basis of the lineup when we started with the Rich music the following year.
LJN: What kind of bandleader are you? / How easy it to get a band energized fired up?
PC: I’m very chilled, very benign. I’ve come across enough bandleaders with slightly strange attitudes over the years and all that does is detract from the performance. As well as great playing I like to employ great people with a great attitude. No little cliques, no personality clashes. Although we are not together perhaps as frequently as I would wish the band is very settled, both musically and personality wise, which I think is really important.
LJN: You’ve been looking at the Buddy Rich repertoire for a few years now. What got that started?
It was something that people had been saying I should do for years. I hadn’t pursued it as my goal was always to establish the band out there with a repertoire which was all its own. Then in 1996 I had a call from my old friend Jason Keyte who owned a drum store in Great Yarmouth at the time. Jason was keen to put on a commemorative event to mark 20 years since Buddy Rich passed away. He convinced me that it was going to be good, and I had sufficient of the repertoire to put together a pretty definitive set list and of course the show was a huge success. Jack Parnell was in the audience that night and he raved about the gig.
Consequently what I was doing came to the attention of Derek Boulton who was the last of the old school big band bookers. I knew Derek as I had done a lot of deps with Don Lusher’s band whose concerts he promoted. He was a bit of a fan of my playing and said that if I pursued the Rich repertoire he would put the band on the road. He was so well connected that we were able to get into mainstream theatres and concert halls that normally would only put on big band gigs of the Rat Pack and Glenn Miller variety. Derek passed away in 2010 sadly and no one has really come along to replace him. It really takes somebody with impeccable connections and an affinity for what we are doing musically in order for that to work.
A lot of people have asked when this edition of the band is going to record. It is such a good band and has played together for so long that I think it’s about time. There have been all kinds of requests for a ‘Buddy Rich’s Greatest Hits’ type recording. Personally for me the whole point of playing classic repertoire is for an audience to be able to experience it live. The original recordings are out there and there’s no point in me attempting to replicate them. That said, I do have a very viable and exciting project in mind, which would involve doing something with the Buddy repertoire that nobody has ever done before, so keep an eye out for that.
LJN: Looking forward again to the Cadogan Hall anniversary gig I gather it is normally you who does the arrangements …but that you occasionally do a phone a rather talented friend ?
PC: I think I can safely say that I probably have the biggest and most definitive collection of arrangements from Buddy Rich’s book. A small quantity of them can be bought commercially but mostly it has been a case of tracking down people who have copies of the old scores including a number of the guys who wrote them in the first place. Very often the scores arrive in pretty bad shape so I’ll recopy them in order that they are clear and legible and routined exactly how I want them to be. I must mention Adrian Fry who is a most incredibly gifted transcriber. Adrian has taken down several of the charts that I always wanted to play which simply weren’t available anywhere. Things like Moments Notice, Greensleeves, Milestones and quite a few more.
LJN: And you keep adding new arrangements to the band’s repertoire?
PC: Constantly. Having gigs coming up is always a big incentive but part of me just wants to make this repertoire as complete as it can be just for its own sake.