Donny Osborne found himself behind his first set of drums at age four. The Chicago native recalls that there was a lot of music around his house; all jazz. “HI-FI Drums” by Woody Herman’s Herd featuring Buddy Rich is the earliest recording that he remembers. He acquired his amazing drumming skill set by ear, spending hours playing to records from the family album collection. With the exception of music reading lessons from big band drummer Roy Burns, Osborne never had a formal drum lesson in his life. He was first and foremost influenced by the amazing genius and technique of Buddy Rich, and also by the skill of drumming greats Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, and Chick Webb. Donny’s primary and middle schools had no formal music programs. Unlike other kids who participate in youth music ensembles or garage bands, Donny first started with the Buddy Rich Orchestra.
Donny’s first opportunity to make music with and for other people came at age 13, when he played the Beatles tune “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” – behind the Buddy Rich Orchestra as an opening act for the Ink Spots at Chicago’s Club Laurel. “I was scared to death!” laughs Donny recalling the experience. He officially became a “professional” drummer at age 14 when he earned $50.00 conducting a
drum clinic at Franks Drum Shop located on Chicago’s loop at 2nd & Wabash. “People were standing on display counters watching me play. I loved that place, they had a huge inventory of drums and you never knew who you were going to meet in there” says Osborne modestly. He was hailed as a “Drum Wizard” and “Drum Prodigy” by Chicago papers.
Upon entering Chicago’s Taft High School, Donny became a member of the school’s symphonic band. “The director was too square for a jazz orchestra” says Osborne as his eyes roll to the back of his head. Instead, Osborne scratched his jazz itch appearing with Buddy Rich at the Slingerland Drum Show in Miami. He also appeared with Steve Allen at The London House, a jazz club and restaurant located in Chicago.
Formal Music Education
Donny started a love affair with the Pacific Northwest while conducting drum clinics at Vancouver Washington’s Clark College, and University of Idaho at Moscow, Idaho. He enrolled in the Mount Hood Community College Music Curriculum in 1971. “That was a great band, and a once in a life time opportunity” Osborne reminisces, “The Director, Larry McVey, and the members of the band were committed to performance excellence!” Drummer for Mel Torme.
Twenty-Four Plus Years with Mel Tormé
It was late 1974 when Mel Tormé, “The Velvet Fog”, summoned Donny to the Fairmont San Francisco. Mel and his hired drummer had decided to part ways. Donny watched and tape recorded Mel’s show from the back of the auditorium, then returned home confining himself to his tape recording and drum kit to learn the show. “I learn best by listening” claims Osborne. On December 31, 1974 Donny Osborne launched his 24+ year career with Mel Tormé at the Hyatt Regency Houston.
Osborne recalls of the time that he was oblivious to the state of jazz as a result of the 20 year rock and roll incursion, or the advanced state of decline of Mel’s career. The economics of big bands traveling by chartered bus from gig to gig had died long ago.
“Most of the time, it was Mel and I loading a set of drums on a rented station wagon and driving to the next small town to perform. Since Mel himself was a drummer and had such a strong attraction to the instrument, I was his only full time band member. The club owners that booked us were responsible for filling in the rest of the band with local talent, some of which was excellent, and some of which was really bad. We played anywhere and everywhere. Big towns. Small towns. Ballrooms in major city hotels, and hotel lounges in Lincoln Nebraska. We were booked as 30 minute opening acts in Las Vegas for Jerry Lewis and Rich Little. Can you imagine how humiliating this was for Mel, given where his career had been, to be opening for those guys? Mel should have been the headliner! As with all jazz greats at some point in their career, Mel struggled. But because of his love of the art form and performing, he just kept keeping on!”
Donny Osborne released "Live At Tony Starlight's" in Portland, OR. This is his first official leader date release.
Words about Donny Osborne
Here are a few words about Donny from DANNY SERAPHINE the great former drummer from the multi-platinum selling mega group CHICAGO and current leader of CTA..."Steve it’s true what you are saying about Donny, we should all be so lucky to be able to play Buddy’s licks as good as Donny does, he deserves to be championed. BTW we’re all Buddy imitators, or at least we try and eventually give in to the fact that Buddy was a one of a kind and we best do our own interpretation of him."