Posts Tagged ‘carson’


Friday, March 11th, 2005

Through the years, we’ve gotten some interesting requests, including “the video” of the 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall Concert and “the video” of the 1952 “Gene versus Buddy” drum battle. But what people have asked for the most is more video of Buddy Rich on “The Tonight Show.” 

It is not totally common knowledge that for some years, Johnny Carson only owned “The Tonight Show” programs from 1980 on. It wasn’t until relatively recently that he made a deal with NBC, and that deal gave him sole ownership to every “Tonight Show” in existence. Although few programs exist on tape before 1969-1970, there’s plenty of absolutely prime Buddy Rich in the decade of the 1970s. We are in the process of offering some of it on 

Our association with Mr. Carson and his office was always wonderful. When it came to Buddy, the Carson people were quite generous. Johnny Carson, by the way, was my first choice of narrator for “Buddy Rich: Jazz Legend.” I almost had him, but he decided against it. 

Taking all this into account, the good folks at Hudson Music, and yours truly, recently came up with what we believed was one heck of an idea. The concept? Buddy Rich drum solos from “The Tonight Show.” No music, no talking (maybe just a little), just Buddy doing solo after solo after solo. That is why we watched him, wasn’t it? And with over 60 “Tonight Show” appearances, there would be no shortage of material. What a DVD this would make. 

I contacted the same folks I dealt with in the Carson office years ago. Way back when, they were great, open, generous and helpful. After Mr. Carson passed, however, these same folk “turned.” Like curdling milk. They suddenly told us that “absolutely none of this material” was available for licensing, especially after they heard our idea. 

Wow. None of it. And no reason given, except mention was made of the fact that “it’s a shame that much of this music will go unheard.” Not only is that a disgrace, but it’s bull. 

I believe that while Johnny Carson was alive, he saw to it that all of the available “Tonight Shows” would be preserved–and viewed–exactly as they were aired. I’m sure he didn’t want three decades of timeless material cut-up, ala “The Best of Motown on Ed Sullivan.” Well, I get the very strong sense that’s going to happen, which is the only possible reason I can think of to flat-out refuse us the opportunity to license Buddy Rich footage. 

I remember years back trying to make a deal for footage of Buddy with The Boston Pops. They wanted $60,000 for two minutes’ worth of film. I told them that no one had $60,000 and that my fear was that the film that existed would eventually turn to dust. I remember this gentlemen’s reply. “Yes, it will turn to dust,” he said. 

If you want to see this material–and it must be seen–I urge you to log on to and e-mail the folks in charge. All you have to say is “we want to see Buddy Rich.” I know I do. 

Bruce Klauber

Johnny Carson and Jazz

Tuesday, February 1st, 2005

The late and great Steve Allen, originator of the “Tonight Show” format, was well known as a jazz fan, friend to jazz musicians and a pretty decent jazz pianist. Few remember that Allen really went out on the television limb in the mid-fifties by booking folks like Billie Holiday, Lenny Bruce, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker and many others. 

Johnny Carson, who died Sunday at the age of 79, will be remembered as the quintessential talk show host, comic and interviewer, but Carson also continued Steve Allen’s legacy of using the power of television to further the cause of jazz. An amateur drummer since childhood, Carson was more than a fan. He supported the music and the musicians publicly and privately. 

As one rather spectacular example, it was Johnny Carson who helped jazz drummer Buddy Rich become a star again, at a time when a 50-year-old Buddy Rich and big bands were considered old hat. Carson opened up his program to Buddy and Buddy’s new big band, beginning around 1966, and helped garner an entire new audience of all ages for “Buddy Rich: caustic comic and world’s greatest drummer.” Rich always credited Johnny Carson for reviving his career, and as thanks, awarded Johnny with a brand new set of drums. Carson loved Buddy Rich as a person and worshipped him as a player. When I was in the midst, along with the Rich Estate, of writing and producing a video tribute to the great drummer, there was nothing Carson wouldn’t do for us. 

“The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” was, of course, an entertainment program. Hard core jazz fans, naturally, didn’t think it should be that way. Years ago, I vividly recall the jazz purists saying that Carson’s conception of jazz was Dixielanders Al Hirt and Pete Fountain, entertaining players who were booked frequently. But what my purist colleagues (yes, I was one) didn’t know, was that booked along side a Pete Fountain or Al Hirt would be someone like jazz singer Joe Williams (booked over 50 times), or Sarah Vaughan (booked over 20 times). 

The other argument, in line with television’s always-at-a-distance relationship to jazz, was that a program like Carson’s only booked the most “popular” jazz players, i.e., Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, etc. Where were the likes of the more creative players like Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Miles Davis, Clark Terry, Freddie Hubbard and the Modern Jazz Quartet? For the record, let it be said that each and every one of these players made at least one “Tonight Show” appearance. Dizzy Gillespie was on at least a dozen times. Wynton Marsalis made his first television appearances at Johnny Carson’s insistence. You can look it up. Gene Krupa was on two times that we know of, and rumors continue to abound that Gene and Buddy actually had their famed drum battle on the “Tonight Show.” 

Carson’s show was the last to feature what was called a “big band” as the house orchestra, with jazz as its common language. While players like Carl “Doc” Severinson and Tommy Newsome played the stooge on camera, the record will show that they were and are top, jazz-oriented players who staffed “The Tonight Show” orchestra with the greatest jazz musicians who ever lived, from Ed Shaughnessy and Grady Tate to Pete Condoli and Ernie Watts. Whether they were backing a comic, a vocal duo or Buddy Rich, the always swung. They’re still on the road and still swinging under “Doc’s” leadership. 

I doubt whether Johnny Carson ever thought he would be credited with these considerable contributions. But the record speaks for itself, and the careers of many jazz people would be considerably less were it not for him. The jazz world will miss him. 

Postscript: After reading this article, arranger John LaBarbara commented, “Few people really knew how good a friend Johnny Carson was to jazz and to jazz musicians.” 

“Tonight Show” drummer Ed Shaughnessy took a copy of this piece to Doc Severinson, while they were both on a “Tonight Show” band gig in Spokane Washington on Thursday, January 27th. Shortly after, Doc and Ed got a call from the David Letterman people, saying they were flying Doc, Ed and Tommy Newsome out to New York city to participate in a tribute to Johnny Carson that aired on the Letterman program last everning, January 31st. 

This article is now appearing on the web site of the Berman Music Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the music and musicians of Nebraska, Johnny Carson’t birthplace; and it will also appear in the next issue of “Not So Modern Drummer” magazine. 

The piece was not written to gain attention, or publicity of any kind. Indeed, it was sent out privately to friends and colleagues in the music industry. I had no idea so many people felt the same way I did. 

Keep swingin’ 

Bruce Klauber