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A Rich concert: Bobby Shew got his chops from Buddy Rich; now he’s paying tribute to the jazz great

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Steve Smith, a longtime member of Journey, will perform at a Buddy Rich tribute concert on June 1.

Steve Smith, a longtime member of Journey, will perform at a Buddy Rich tribute concert on June 1.

A big band is paying tribute to a big band.

Being honored is the big band that explosive drummer and jazz great Buddy Rich led for many years.

Bobby Shew, a Corrales resident who played in Rich’s band, organized the tribute band, which will be in concert Sunday, June 1 at the KiMo Theatre. Shew is one of six musicians from Rich’s band who are performing in the concert.

“I’m so looking forward to it, I can’t tell you,” Shew said. “It was a very important period in my life.”

He played in Rich’s band for about two years in the mid-1960s, starting out as a member of the trumpet section. According to Shew, Rich didn’t like the way the lead trumpeter was playing. That prompted a saxophonist in the band to suggest that Rich try out Shew.

“I wasn’t a lead player in those days. It requires quite a bit of experience to be the straw boss and the lead has a voice that overrides the whole band,” Shew said.

“I played one piece of music and he said, ‘You’ve got the job.’ I said, ‘I don’t have any chops to be lead player.’ He said, ‘Don’t be a cry baby. Go home and get your chops.'”

Shew, who played drums growing up in Albuquerque, took Rich’s advice.

Another part of Shew was thrilled to have the chance.

“My whole career took off like a rocket,” he recalled.

The tribute band will play arrangements of about 18 tunes. Some of the Rich signature tunes the ensemble will play are Bill Reddie’s arrangement of a “West Side Story” medley and Reddie’s own “Channel One Suite.”

Shew said he remembers the Rich band rehearsing Reddie’s arrangement of the medley for several hours while Rich himself sat in a chair and listened.

“Rich said, ‘Let’s take it from the top, and he jumped in.’ He had incredible instincts and an incredible memory.”

Beginning in the 1930s, Rich performed with bands led by Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Les Brown, among others. Rich died in 1987.

The other Rich big band alumni in the tribute ensemble are alto saxophonist Andy Fusco, first tenor Pat LaBarbera, second tenor Charles Owens and trumpeters Chuck Findley and Carl Sanders, Shew said.

A number of non-alums also will be in the band, among them Steve Smith, a longtime member of Journey and a jazz drummer. “He’s like a drum machine,” Shew said of Smith.

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