Contrabass, Buell Neidlinger, 1936

June 5, 2012

Buell Neidlinger was born in 1936, which makes him three years younger. I first met him in Buffalo in 1965 when I was the clarinetist at the Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at the State University of New York at Buffalo, a Rockefeller Grant under the direction of Lukas Foss and Allen Sapp. Lukas Foss was then the Conductor of the Buffalo Symphony and Allen Sapp was the head of the Music Department in Buffalo. We were called Creative Associates It was a good gig. I met my Wife Linda there, and I met Buell there.
An interesting thing, or perhaps several about Allen Sapp. He was a composer and a professor of Theory and Counterpoint at the University. He never used any text, but according to my wife, a cum laudes graduate, he was the most totally prepared professoer she had ever had. Another important thing about Allan Sapp. During the second World War, he had been a specialist in deciphering codes for the US, His briefcase indicated that he was to be saved at all cost in the event of any emergency. Allan also composed tonal twelve-tone music. He was married to Norma Bertolami, a pianist, quite musical and intelligent, though beset by uncontrollable nervousness when she performed. We performed together, always exciting.
We were a group of perhaps 15 05 20 instrumentalists and composers. I suppose we were all virtuosi, certainly we were chosen for that quality. The interesting aspect of the group waas that we had no specific assignment, no job, per se, except performance, or not, if we wished it. Somehow, within the bickering of that infantile group, I was elected the leader, or chair, I suppose.
I remember this. My wife and I were newlyweds, and whenever we did have rehearsals or planned performances, I refused rehearsals on all nights which had TV shows we watched, or whenever there was a new movie we wished to see. On opening nights at the Loews, there would be an entire row of Creative Associates watching.Actually, though hard to believe, we were free to be together or do nothing except read French Poetry, if we wished. This is true.But we did much more, creating concerts of our own making and staring the Series, “Evenings for New Music” at Carnegie Recital Hall, and at the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.

Buell Neidlinger played double bass. I knew little about him, but had learned that he had played Jazz with Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman. He was quiet and soft spoken, and drove around in a broken down van. I soon learned that Buell had glaucoma. Most of us knew that one of the meds for Glaucoma was Marijuana. In asking him about his career he was quite informing about his jazz playing. He had played for the popular Jazz Impresario, Norman Granz. whose most popular series waas “Jazz at The Philharmonic” which toured the Us in the 50s and 60s attracting the most well known jazz artists for the tour. I can remember seeing and hearing Charlie Parker, Charlie Ventura, Illinouis Jacquet, Lional Hampton, Bud Powell, Lester Young and many others while I was in high school.According to Buell, Granz was an unsavory character who frequentl paid him in other things than money. He mentioned many stories of him playing with Ella Fitzgerald and many others. I was very impressed witH Buell as a person, but had never actually heard him play. Yet, he was perhaps the most sought after Double Bass player in the history of fairly recent Jazz and of course, Free Jazz.

After several concerts in Buffalo and in New York, I found that Buell , <strong can really hear, and he plays perfectly in tune, something seldom heard frrom jazz bass players, or many bassists, not that well, not that consistent. It wasn’t until later that I heard that Buell had started as a cellist, and turned out to be a cello prodigy. His teacher would send him for contrabass lessons in order to strengthen his hands and it actually lead to his main career and fame , as it is.In many stories, I hd heard that he had his Cabaret Card taken because of drug use. In order to get it back, he had to take an entire number of envelopes, stuffed with cash to the various Musicians Union officers as a bribe.

Not withstanding his diffciulties in the business, Buell has played in the Boston Symphony Orchestra for several seasons. He has appeared on 21 albums by Barbra Streisand and many many top popular names. He feels that Streisand has one of the best voices he has ever heard. “She never practices, never warms up” “She and Karen Carpenter” Karen Carpenter was the famous vocalist in the duo, the Carpenters.Karen Anne Carpenter (March 2, 1950 – February 4, 1983) was an American singer and drummer. She and her brother, Richard, formed the 1970s duo Carpenters, commonly called The Carpenters. She was a drummer whose skills earned her admiration from her peers, although she is most well known for her vocal performances of idealistic romantic ballads.
Carpenter suffered from anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder of extreme weight loss dieting, which was a little-known illness at the time. She died at the age of 32 from heart failure, caused by complications related to her illness which caused her to believe mistakenly that she needed to lose weight.
I am sure some will remember both her drumming and her free and flexible voice, another loss to Anorexia.

Back to Buell. He is still actively playing and releasing albums, the latest being with the Saxophonist, Anthony Braxton. Very nice indeed.

To conclude, Buell is real. A truly gifted musician who has played in all possible situtions with the worlds finest musicians.

He left me a message on my phone which said the following.
“It is an interesting name, Sherman. I have known three Shermans, one being you , who is possibly the best all around clarinetist I have heard. Two is Sherman Walt, whom I called Sherman, the principal Bassoon of the Boston Symphony, and third is Sherman Ferguson of Chicago, a drummer ,and when he plays, you know it will always swing.”
He is one of the most gifted players and people my wife and I have ever known.
keep practicing and stay well.