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Remembering Buddy Deppenschmidt (1936–2021)

The drummer played on an epochal 1962 recording, then fought for recognition—and compensation—40 years later

Buddy Deppenschmidt in 2015
Buddy Deppenschmidt in 2015 (photo: Writerfriendinpa)

Buddy Deppenschmidt, a drummer and teacher who made a significant contribution to jazz history by helping to spark the international bossa nova craze in the 1960s, passed away peacefully on Saturday, March 20, in a Doylestown, Pa., nursing facility. He was 85.

That Deppenschmidt was the drummer on saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd’s 1962 Jazz Samba was never a secret. He was, in fact, the last surviving member of the band that recorded that landmark album, which was both an enormous commercial success and a major influence on generations of musicians around the globe. But the central part Deppenschmidt played in the album’s creation—including his enthusiastic absorption of samba and bossa rhythms, his insistence that Byrd record Brazilian material, and his suggestion that Getz take part in the sessions—went unnoted for decades, apart from occasional allusions by Byrd and others.

It was only in 2004 that the full story of Jazz Samba was revealed, in an extensively researched JazzTimes feature by David R. Adler. That same year, Verve Records and Deppenschmidt agreed on a settlement to a lawsuit that the drummer had filed in 2001, seeking royalties and formal acknowledgement of his role in the making of the album. The terms of that settlement have never been publicly disclosed.

For the original Jazz Samba recording session in 1962, Deppenschmidt received a fee of $150.

William Henry Deppenschmidt III was born in Philadelphia, Pa., on February 16, 1936, and moved to Richmond, Va., with his mother when he was four. At 17, he became a professional musician working in Richmond’s jazz clubs, which catered to the mostly Black clientele of a segregated South—a system that he actively defied.

Over the next few years, Deppenschmidt toured the country with several bands, including trumpeter Billy Butterfield’s, before settling in the Washington, D.C. area. There he played drums for the Newton Thomas Trio, the Tee Carson Trio, and—most famously, beginning in 1960—the Charlie Byrd Trio.

In 1961, the trio took part in a tour of 18 countries in South and Central America, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. While in Brazil, Deppenschmidt and bassist Keter Betts picked up the then-new bossa nova rhythms from local musicians. Back in D.C., excited by what they’d learned, they urged Byrd to make some use of it. At first Byrd resisted, but within a year the trio was regularly playing compositions by the likes of Antônio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, and Baden Powell.

Deppenschmidt then suggested that Byrd bring Stan Getz into the group, believing that the saxophonist’s smooth tone would fit well with the Brazilian rhythms. The eventual result was Jazz Samba, recorded in less than three hours at All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C. The album introduced a world audience to bossa nova; it was—and remains—the only album ever to reach No. 1 on both Billboard’s jazz and pop charts, and it stayed high on those charts for 70 weeks.

“Desafinado,” the Jobim-penned hit single drawn from the album, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000; the entire album was inducted in 2010.

Shortly after the recording of Jazz Samba, Getz offered Deppenschmidt a spot in his band, but the drummer declined, unwilling at the time to relocate to New York. The following year, Byrd let him go. Later in the ’60s, he moved to Bucks County, Pa., where he played extensively with his own group Jazz Renaissance. He also continued to improve his technique, studying for three years with Joe Morello of the Dave Brubeck Quartet and becoming his close friend.

In Pennsylvania, Deppenschmidt became a full-time teacher, working with about 40 drum students a week, mostly at the Newtown School of Music. In addition, he played regularly at the Union Hotel in Flemington, N.J. and at the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap, Pa., collaborating for many years with an unsung hero of jazz piano, John Coates, Jr.

“Buddy saw himself as a team player,” Deppenschmidt’s longtime partner Marjorie Danciger said in a statement. “He told his students they should be musical chameleons: They go blue, you go blue. He cared about making everyone sound his or her best but seldom strived to showcase his skill. … He was a true artist in every sense of the word.”

Besides Danciger, Deppenschmidt is survived by his daughters, Laura Thomasson and Allyson Cover; four half-brothers and a half-sister; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Thanks to Marjorie Danciger for her contributions to this article.

The Charlie Byrd Trio, Mexico City, June 2, 1961
The Charlie Byrd Trio (from far left: Buddy Deppenschmidt, Charlie Byrd, and Keter Betts), Mexico City, June 2, 1961

Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.