buzz gardner
random notes / biography

Buzz Gardner , whose real name is Charles Guanerra, was born in 1931, and grew up in Cleveland , Ohio . When he was aged seven he heard someone playing a cornet, and felt that “The sound of it enthralled me. The tone was clean, and it had some heroic aspects. As a result I decided I wanted to play trumpet.”

As a child he was exposed to big band jazz on the radio and records, and listened to Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Elliott Lawrence, Claude Thornhill and Count Basie. In his mid-teens he began to become aware of the new modern jazz, and started listening to Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, among others. Thus, a love of jazz was bred in Buzz from an early age.

Also in his mid-teens Buzz assembled a big band with reed and woodwind-playing brother Bunk, using stock arrangements and playing local dances. Adaptations of Stan Kenton numbers were included in the repertoire. When he was sixteen, Buzz took his first professional job as a musician, touring the Midwest with Jack Wilson. He then moved to New York and studied at Mannes School of Music, moving back to Cleveland after a year.

From 1951 to 1953 he served in the army, being based in Trieste , Italy , and played in an army band which included flautist Herbie Mann. During his army service Buzz shared a room with Don Preston, who was impressed with how cultured Gardner was, and how he acted as a teacher. Preston learned from him about the atonal composers Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alban Berg, and the classic Russian writers.

Between 1954 and 1955 Buzz lived in Paris, studying at the Conservatory of Music and working in the groups of two eminent jazz musicians, the Belgian Rene Thomas and Frenchman Andre Hodeir. Thomas (1927 – 1975) was a guitarist who later worked with famous Americans in Canada, while Hodeir (born 1921) was equally noted as a jazz critic and as a composer and arranger.

Buzz Gardner’s 1954 Paris Discography

In 1955 Buzz returned to the USA, moving to New York and studying at the Manhattan School of Music. He stayed in New York until 1959, graduating from the School with a BA in Music. During his New York stay, it appears that Buzz played with the jazz orchestras of Neil Hefti and Claude Thornhill. Norbert Obermanns, in his Zappalog (2nd edition), says that Buzz recorded with these bands, and Bunk Gardner (via an email from Billy James) “Feels that most likely Buzz did perform in NY with those artists”.

In 1959 Buzz moved with brother Bunk to Los Angeles. Bunk explains this by saying, “Buzz and I decided to move to California and be with the big boys in the jazz world”. On the face of it, this seems an odd statement, since in 1959 (as always), New York was the jazz centre of the universe, and that’s where the “big boys” were. Miles Davis recorded Kind of Blue, John Coltrane recorded Giant Steps, and Ornette Coleman caused a furore with his appearance at The Five Spot, all in 1959. There was a reaction against the excessive publicity that West Coast jazz had received earlier in the 1950s, and therefore music emerging from LA at the turn of the decade suffered from a backlash. Also, there was a rapid decline in the number of jazz clubs in LA at the end of the 1950s.

Of course, the West Coast was teeming with outstanding jazz musicians, including Shorty Rogers, Art Pepper, Shelly Manne, Jack Sheldon, Harold Land and Teddy Edwards, to name a very few. There was also a strong recording session scene, and jazz musicians made a major contribution to the burgeoning pop recording scene, as bassist Carol Kaye said in an article in Downbeat in 1998. But it was a hard scene to infiltrate, and even though Bunk became acquainted with well-known alto player Joe Maini, jazz reference books and discographies do not mention Buzz and Bunk as working or recording in any name LA jazz groups.

So from 1959 to 1969 Buzz played in Latin and jazz groups without a particularly high profile, apart, that is, from The Mariachi Brass. This group was the brainchild of Richard Bock of World Pacific Records, and was an attempt to cash in on the Herb Alpert craze. They made four LPs with trumpeter Chet Baker that were uniformly denounced by critics as dreadful. The problem was that in the second half of the 1960s, few people were making jazz records, and musicians were grateful for anything that would pay the rent.

After working with The Mothers of Invention from November 1968 to August 1969, Buzz appeared on the 1970 Tim Buckley album Starsailor, along with brother Bunk. Around the same time the two were part of an avant-garde trio, with bassist John Balkin, named Menage a Trois. In 1972 Buzz appeared on guitarist Domenic Troiano’s solo album and with Jimmy Carl Black’s group Geronimo Black, and in the early 1980s he worked with The Grandmothers.

In the early 1990s Buzz was working two nights a week in a Mexican ballroom for $100. He then organized a jazz group with brother Bunk called the Hollywood Allstars, and played one night a week at the Legends of Hollywood club. The band was only playing for tips, and so it soon broke up. It was at this stage that Buzz made the decision to retire from music.

Buzz Gardner ’s trumpet style

Buzz Gardner appeared on four albums recorded in Paris in 1954, and they have all reappeared on Vogue BMG. They are:

The Paris jazz scene of the 1950s produced some very high-quality music, from a mixture of French, Belgian and American players. Buzz Gardner emerges as a very competent bop player with a style not unlike that of Chet Baker and early-195os Miles Davis, with a touch of Clifford Brown, and he holds his own in fast company. He shares the front line in the Rene Thomas group, contributing some tasty solos, and fits seamlessly into Hodeir’s group, which plays some very complex music broadly in the style of Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool band.

On these albums Buzz Gardner’s full abilities are revealed, and with such abilities he deserved a higher profile on the LA jazz scene.     

 The main examples of Gardner’s later trumpet style are on Igor’s Boogie and Here Lies Love by The Mothers of Invention, and on Down By The Borderline on Tim Buckley’s Starsailor. On Igor’s Boogie he exhibits a pure, classical sound and on Here Lies Love and Borderline he plays with a warm, sweet sound and a utilization of vibrato that is more reminiscent of a swing trumpeter like Bobby Hackett than of a bopper...

-- Geoff Wills (Amended November 2002)

Main source of information: the "Necessity is …" book by Billy James.