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Well, I’ll Be Damned! The Drummer Was Right After All!

Buddy Deppenschmidt Never print anything in haste, or in anger, I always say. Well, maybe the time has come for me to get a taste of my own medicine. Back in 2004, I published an article on this Website called “Damn the Drummer, Where’s the Composer?”

It concerned my response to a piece I had read in the magazine Jazz Times about drummer Buddy Deppenschmidt’s claim that he was the person who came up with the brilliant idea of bringing bossa nova to the United States.

His method for having done this, according to Buddy, was via the classic album Jazz Samba, which featured him and bassist Keter Betts, along with two giants of the genre: saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd.

Buddy’s idea of recording an album of freshly minted bossa-nova tunes, which at the time his State Department-sponsored trip to Brazil took place (1960) was all-but unheard of in North America, turned out to have been a godsend. In fact, it changed the course of both jazz and popular music for all time.

As a native-born Brazilian and lover of the country’s music, my initial reaction to this piece was to be “offended” and “put-off” by the sheer brashness of Buddy’s claim. As far as I was concerned there has never been as much recognition of Brazil’s contribution to giving birth to this new style of play as there had been of the American musicians who played it – i.e., Getz, Byrd, Bud Shank, Herbie Mann, Dizzy Gillespie and their ilk.

In my mind, credit was “long overdue” to the groundbreaking Brazilian individuals who started it all, and not to “long retired” jazz artists and their alleged “claims.”

To say that I was wrong about all this is putting it mildly. Let me explain. A few weeks ago, I had the surprise of my life when none other than the “damn” drummer himself, Mr. William “Buddy” Deppenschmidt Jr., wrote me a rebuttal. Not only is Buddy still around, but very much alive and well and living in Bucks County, PA.

Here’s a sample of what I mean: “I am not a ‘long retired’ Jazz musician, as you surmise in your August 2004 article in Brazzil Magazine, but lead a busy professional life, performing and teaching. That is why it has taken me a while to find the time to respond to your article… (And the same reason it took me so long to bring my story to light.)

“I understand why you are proud of your heritage and want to see credit given to great Brazilian composers and musicians. My efforts to bring about the making of the seminal album, Jazz Samba, were motivated by love and respect for Bossa Nova, which I was fortunate to hear on our U.S. State Department cultural exchange tour in 1960.

“Back home, I listened everyday to the two LPs I got in Brazil and was eager to play this music, but it took about six months of my insistence before Charlie Byrd, Keter Betts and I played it at the Showboat in D.C.”

At age 75, Buddy is still going strong. And, as can be seen by his insightful commentary, his recollection of the events of his trip to Brazil is unimpaired and as clear to him as if it happened yesterday.

Buddy went on to say: “The 2004 magazine article, ‘Give the Drummer Some,’ in Jazz Times, is accurate, including all that I stated regarding Stan Getz. [Author] David Adler did a fantastic job of putting the article together and digging up the truth, while trying to be fair to all; so I am sad to see that his and my intentions were at all misunderstood.

“I wanted the real story, not the fable of the various album liner notes, to be told at last. I take credit for my part in the venture as related by Mr. Adler, and no more. Someone else made the remark that I ‘practically invented Bossa Nova.’ I didn’t say that and never would. I considered myself a musical messenger and knew that my message was important, so I still kept driving at it even when they tried, unsuccessfully, to do the album without Keter and me.

“Jazz Samba,” he insisted, “was intended to be an homage to Bossa Nova, which as you know, was little known outside of Brazil in 1961. In fact, the original Odeon recordings of João Gilberto were released here earlier, on the Pacific Jazz label, but went quietly out of print, which is astonishing.

“When I learned the music and rhythms in Porto Alegre (and I never called it a “master class”) I just wanted to present this music that I love to the American audience; I did not foresee that it would be such a commercial hit. I was busy playing and supporting a family and was therefore unaware of its phenomenal success until much later.

“I never did reap much financial reward from it and certainly no royalties. Somehow the record company could not come up with any sales figures because it’s so ‘old.’ Nonetheless, you can buy Jazz Samba today at any Barnes & Noble for about twenty bucks.

“I suppose it could be considered an early fusion album,” continued Buddy, “combining American Jazz with the new Brazilian music. It was a heartfelt tribute. The audiences in South America really appreciated our music, so this was an appropriate blend. The success of this record enabled many deserving Brazilian musicians to come to the U. S. and showcase their talents.

“By the way, the woman you referred to as the ‘mysterious woman’ is Malu Pederneiras, a most generous and hospitable person who cares about other people, even gringos. She has known João Gilberto since childhood. Malu came to visit us here last October. We hadn’t seen each other in 50 years – since the State Department tour. It was a wonderful reunion that meant so much to both of us.

“Malu said, ‘All of this may not have happened if we hadn’t done what we did,’ all the while knowing that the music would have made its way eventually by its incredible universal merits and appeal.”

After that testimonial, what is there left to say? Buddy is absolutely correct in his assessment that such major artists as João Gilberto, Tom Jobim, Sergio Mendes, Oscar Castro Neves, Astrud Gilberto and countless of their countrymen would never have been heard here at all had it not been for bossa nova opening the country’s doors to them.

Buddy was kind enough to leave me his home telephone number and asked that I get in touch with him, which I did. He even snail-mailed me his four-page press release, which outlined his case in detail. Last weekend we had a long and thoroughly enlightening conversation (and several more after that) that we began – and ended – as fast friends.            

My intention in publishing this latest piece, then, is to set the record straight regarding this issue. I do not know if Buddy’s claims and subsequent lawsuit will ever bear fruit; and, as indicated in the original piece, writer Adler stated that practically all of the participants involved in the landmark Jazz Samba recording have long since passed on.

We may never know the whole truth behind the concept, but I am convinced, by reading Buddy’s letter/press release and speaking to him at length about the matter, that he knows what he is talking about; that he loves Brazilian music; that he both knows and loves Brazil and its people; and that, if he was not the sole individual responsible for bringing bossa nova to the public’s notice, then he came awfully close to doing so!

With that in mind, I take delight in asking the publishers of this Website to please take down my article, “Damn the Drummer, Where’s the Composer?” and remove it from its online content. This is being done of my own free will and in the spirit and recognition of Buddy Deppenschmidt’s place in music history, as a true and bona fide jazz artist as well as a respected teacher and role model in his community.

It is with the utmost humility (and with a bit of self-deprecating humor) that I conclude this retraction with these words: “Well, I’ll be damned! The drummer was right after all!!!”

Joe Lopes, a naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his wife and daughters. In 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. He is a lover of all types of music, especially opera and jazz, as well as an incurable fan of classic and contemporary films. You can email your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.

Copyright © 2011 by Josmar F. Lopes

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