Hubris

Buddy Rich’s Cantonese Bass Player

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“Then, the other guy came up and sounded pretty good, good enough that Buddy allowed him to finish the remainder of the set. Afterward, Buddy hired him, with the hope that he would work out, which he certainly did. His name was, and I assume still is, Tom Warrington. After a few nights, things began settling down again. Then, one night, I got a call from a young jazz critic in Chicago asking if he could interview me about the band. I asked if his article was to be another hatchet job on Buddy, but he said no, not at all, and that it was to find out if what he had heard was true about the band.Ross Konikoff

West Side Stories

 By Ross Konikoff

Buddy Rich and band, with Jon Burr on bass.
Buddy Rich and band, with Jon Burr on bass.

Ross Konikoff

HALLANDALE Florida—(Hubris)—January 2024—Back in 1977, after Jon Burr, our long-standing bass player, left the Buddy Rich band, we travelled from town to town in search of a suitable replacement, using local guys from each town, each of whom failed miserably, night after night.

As most bass players were aware at the time, the first night playing bass in Buddy’s band was the equivalent of jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, following which few survive. Then one night, we pulled into Canton, Ohio. There, waiting at the club were a couple of terrified guys who had showed up for the tryout. One of them (who drew the short stick, having to precede the other) said to Buddy, “Do you want the right notes, or the right time?” He did one tune following which Buddy suggested that he leave the bandstand and be sure not to fall off the Chrysler Building.

Then the other guy came up and sounded pretty good, good enough that Buddy allowed him to finish the remainder of the set. Afterward, Buddy hired him, with the hope that he would work out, which he certainly did. His name was, and I assume still is, Tom Warrington. After a few nights, things began settling down again. Then, one night, I got a call from a young jazz critic in Chicago asking if he could interview me about the band. I asked if his article was to be another hatchet job on Buddy, but he said no, not at all, and that it was to find out if what he had heard was true about the band. 

Cantonese bass player, and Buddy on drums.
Cantonese bass player, and Buddy on drums.

Then, the budding journalist asked if we had to stop at special restaurants for him to eat. I thought back to the previous day when I’d overheard Warrington order a cheeseburger at a truck stop. “No,” I said. “He seems to enjoy American cuisine. Why do you ask?” 

He skipped past a response and finally blurted out, “Is this the first Chinese musician Buddy has ever hired for the band?” 

So, I blurted back, “What the hell are you talking about??” 

He replied, “The word around town is that Buddy hired a Cantonese bass player and we wondered how he was working out. Does he speak English?”

Catching on, I responded with, “Well, we haven’t yet debated Aristotle’s later writings, but he seemed to comprehend ‘You were really cooking tonight!’ without pulling out his wok and a hot plate.” Then I went into great detail about how I’d taken him under my wing—not the most comfortable position for either of us, by the way—and begun assisting our new Chinese bass player in adapting his Asian erhu technique to the Fender fretless electric bass, abandoning his chopsticks in favor of a knife and fork, and ceasing to bow to each seat on his way to and from the bus lavatory. 

For the next several weeks, I searched for the story in “Downbeat” and other jazz publications, but to no avail, so I imagine that, after we’d hung up, someone in-the-know had pulled his coat, informing my interviewer that he’d misreckoned what he’d heard on the street, and that I’d merely been wolfing him. (There, had enough hip expressions, yet?)

Fast forward 15 years, I was with the Mario Bauza Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra playing the 1992 Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, and there he was, my old pal Tom, appearing with the band right after ours. We had a few laughs, caught up on each other’s post-Buddy lives, and after thanking him for introducing me to Charles Bukowski, I was called to the bandstand. Sadly, I was unable to relate the story of that fateful interview, so the next time any of you runs into Tom, please tell him 你好 for me, and then explain exactly why the hell you said it!

Ross Konikoff, freelance New York City trumpet player, states he is delighted and honored to have his work put before the highly discriminating readers of Weekly Hubris, published and edited by his friend and mentor, Elizabeth Boleman-Herring. Konikoff was born in Buffalo, New York, a cold environment; surrounded by desperate people, out of work, out of money, and out of opportunity. And that was just in his house. Determined to pull himself up by his mute straps, Ross quickly ascended from his first job as a seven-year-old paperboy to his second job as an eight-year-old paperboy. Eventually, he taught himself how to play the trumpet and learned many songs; managed to make something of himself; and accumulated a Manhattan condo, a trophy wife, and a phalanx of deadbeat friends along the way. The trumpet requires hours of daily maintenance to stay in tip-top shape, but Ross’s desire to write things that make people laugh also requires hours of work. Splitting his time between his lips and his laptop, he humbly presents to you his first efforts at getting some laughs and, most importantly, some attention: Breaking Even Every Time; and You've Got To Be Carefully Taut. (Banner image: Ross Konikoff on trumpet, far right, with Buddy Rich.) (Author Head Shot Augment: René Laanen.)

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