Buddy Greco in Las Vegas with Frank Sinatra
Win When You’re Swinging Sinatra said “Buddy can make anything swing - nobody comes close in that department.” Sammy Davis Jr. added “Buddy Greco’s world is a very swinging world.” Indeed it is, even if the jazz legend now lives in swingin’ Southend, Essex! Buddy tells The American about being in his ninth decade of great music and great friends
o, where do you start when interviewing Buddy Greco? I’ve not previously interviewed anyone who’s in their 81st year of musicmaking, and who released his first single in 1946. “Oh my God, you had to say that, huh? I’m lucky I lasted this long,” he chuckles. Buddy was born Armando Greco on August 14, 1926. When was the last time anyone called him Armando? “1926!” he laughs. The Buddy nickname came about when the young musician was at the Musician’s Union, having just joined the organization. “Someone was looking for a piano player, and a Union official said, ‘there’s a really good little piano player right there’. The guy looked at me and said, ‘Hey Buddy, would you like a job?’ The name stuck. Armando wasn’t really conducive to the kind of show business that I’m in. It’s more classical... and I’m a jazz pianist.” Having said that, classical was where it all began. Buddy grew up during the Depression, in a cultured but not well off family. The family ran a record store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his father was an opera critic and his
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mother a talented musician. They were tough years; tough, but happy times for the music-mad youngster. It was a music-mad neighborhood too. From within three blocks of his home came Al Martino, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan, to name a few. That’s a history of American popular music, right there. “The family went back a long way in music, classically. From the moment I was born I heard Caruso and other opera records,” says Buddy, “And I wanted to be a classical piano player... until I heard Louis Armstrong. Then I realized I wanted to be a jazz pianist. It was instant. Louis made me feel good. He made me laugh inside. I was about 12. “I started playing piano when I was four. But we were very poor, and didn’t have a piano in the house. Lucky for me, I found early on that I had perfect pitch. That means that anything that’s musical, or has a musical sound, I can tell you what notes they are. It’s something you’re born with, you don’t acquire it. So I would take my piano lessons from my teacher who lived close by, run home and practise on a cut-out of a piano keyboard that my father found on the cover of a
magazine. He pasted it on the table and I would play on this ‘keyboard’ and actually hear the notes in my head. It’s very weird! I was creating music from the beginning too, as soon as I heard jazz.” And he still is, 72 albums, over 100 singles including his biggest hit ‘The Lady is a Tramp,’ and countless gigs later. It’s interesting that Buddy refers to himself as a piano player, when he is equally well known as a singer. He also, continually through our chat, repeats how lucky he has been. Well, luck plus talent, plus hard work, maybe. On March 21 Buddy is performing at the Hippodrome Casino in central London. He played there many times when it was a top London nightclub in the 1960s and ‘70s. The venue was originally a Victorian variety theater named the Hippodrome (after the animals who performed there) and its first show featured a young Charlie Chaplin. Later, as the Talk of the Town, the stage was graced by Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Judy Garland, Eartha Kitt, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Temptations, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones and Ethel Merman in her only UK appearance, among a galaxy of stars.