Jazzmen have played with legends but not each other

February 19, 2006

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Butch Ballard was about 9 years old when he began harassing the snare drummer in the local Philadelphia American Legion post's marching band.

"I'd be walking alongside, so close to him," Ballard recalls. "He would shove me out of the way to see where he was going. ... I was annoying him."

Ballard, 87, of Philadelphia, was trying to see how the drummer was moving his hands so he could mimic his movements with his mother's silverware.


The wannabe drummer ended up doing more than just bending his mother's forks and spoons on the stones that were his drums.

He went on to become such a good jazz drummer that he was hired to work with jazz legends Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

This Wednesday, jazz enthusiasts have a chance to hear Ballard and fellow jazz musician Buddy Catlett perform at the fourth annual Black History Month Jazz Heritage Concert: The Rhythm of Jazz, presented by Eastern Management Development Center.

Admission to the 7 p.m. show at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center is free, but seating is limited. Reservations are recommended.

Ballard and Catlett, a bassist, haven't shared a stage before, though they know each other and both have performed with Basie and Armstrong.

Ballard says he hasn't seen Catlett since the bassist was with Basie's band.

In "Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie," Basie said Catlett was one of the most wonderful bass players with whom he'd performed.

Todd Bolton, a Harpers Ferry National Historical Park employee who booked Ballard and Catlett for the concert, says some people think there are two jazz musicians by the name of Buddy Catlett because the Seattle native also played the saxophone.

Catlett, 72, says he learned the saxophone first. He gave it up when doctors encouraged him to quit due to his pleurisy, an inflammation of the membrane that covers the lungs.

He found out later that playing the sax wasn't detrimental to his health, but he likes his upright bass just fine.

"I've been making a living at it since 1950," says Catlett, who moved back to Seattle in 1978 after living in Brooklyn because Count Basie's band was based in New York City.

He taught at Seattle University for a while and came out with his first solo album, "Here Comes Buddy Catlett," in 2005.

Catlett says he didn't have interest in putting out a solo album earlier because he was working with such great artists, plus nobody asked him to put out a solo album.

Ballard played not only with Basie and Armstrong, but also with Ellington, whom, as a child, he had listened to on his family's RCA Victor radio and record player.

Ballard still remembers the call for him that his wife answered from a Mr. Edward Kennedy Ellington in Las Vegas.

"'I don't know Edward Kennedy Ellington,'" he told her.

Then Ballard took the phone and Duke Ellington asked him if he could fill in for his ill drummer, Sonny Greer, as the band headed to Europe for a two-month tour.

"I was about to fall out of my shoes," Ballard says.

If you go ...

WHAT: Fourth annual Black History Month Jazz Heritage Concert: The Rhythm of Jazz, featuring Butch Ballard and Buddy Catlett with the Howard Burns Quartet

WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22

WHERE: Clarion Hotel & Conference Center ballroom at 233 Lowe Drive in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

COST: Free. Limited seating. To reserve a seat, call Rosalind Johnson or Charles Cranford at 1-304-870-8000.

DIRECTIONS: Go south on Md. 65 (Sharpsburg Pike) to Md. 34. Turn right on Md. 34 (aka Main Street and Shepherdstown Pike). Take Md. 34 across the Potomac River. At the four-way stop, go straight. Go about 1/4 mile. The Clarion will be on the right.

MORE: For more information, call 1-304-870-8000. Also, a soul-food buffet, part of the Black History Month celebration, will be at 5:30 p.m. at the Clarion. Cost is $16 per person.

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