Buster Bailey, born Elden Chandler Bailey on April 22, 1922 in Portland, ME, was an Amerian percussionist, best known for his tenure with the New York Philharmonic (1949-1991) and the Julliard School of Music (1969-1993).
Mr. Bailey's love for music and the circus started when his mother took him to a circus when he was just 4 or 5 years old. His affection grew as the father of a friend took Elden to the circus to watch them set up.
His early musical training began in his hometown of Portland with a well-known Vaudeville and band drummer, Howard N. Shaw. At the age of nine, Buster began to study snare drum, and at ten, the xylophone. By the time he was twelve, Buster was in great demand as a xylophone soloist throughout the surrounding area.
After high school Buster attended the New England Conservatory of Music as a scholarship student of Lawrence White. His time there was cut short after one and a half years — Buster was called into the Army where he served for three years with the 154th Army Ground Forces Band during World War II, working as an arranger, pianist and leader of the dance band, clarinetist in the concert band and snare drummer in the marching band.
In 1946, Buster entered the Juilliard School of Music where he studied with both Saul Goodman and Morris Goldenberg. Simultaneously he began his professional career in New York as a percussionist with several eminent Modern Dance Companies and as an original member of Thomas Scherman's newly formed "Little Orchestra Society". Upon graduation from Juilliard in 1949, Buster was immediately accepted as a member of the Percussion Section of the New York Philharmonic, where his paramount responsibility was the snare drum.
Throughout his tenure with the orchestra, Buster worked under most of the outstanding symphonic conductors of our time including Dimitri Mitropoulos, Bruno Walter, Guido Cantelli, Leonard Bernstein, Fritz Reiner, Leopold Stokowski, Pierre Monteux, Igor Stravinsky, Paul Paray, Herbert Von Karajan, Ernst Ansermet, William Steinberg, George Szell, Alfred Wallenstein, Sir John Barbirolli and Josef Krips.
While with the Philharmonic, Buster toured South America, Europe, The Near East, Russia, Japan, Canada and most of the United States. His travels allowed him to meet, observe and exchange ideas with other percussionists from all parts of the world, broadening his already active curiosity in various techniques and styles of percussion performance.
As a recording artist, Buster has been heard with the orchestras of Andre Kostelanetz, Morton Gould, Leroy Anderson and Arthur Fielder. In the jazz-pop genre, he was a member of the original Sauter-Finegan orchestra which introduced the current trend of the use of concert percussion. He also appeared and recorded with the orchestras of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis-Gil Evans.
In addition to teaching privately, Buster was on the faculties of the Greenwich House Music School, New York College of Music, and Juilliard School fo Music (1969-1993).
Buster's love for the circus was once again ignited in the early 1960s when he met and befriended Merle Evans, the director of the Barnum & Bailey Circus band, and Red Floyd, the circus' drummer. For many years thereafter, Merle Evans would arrange for Buster to receive free passes whenever the circus was in New York. Attending as often as he could, Buster would absorb what the circus band was playing in support the acts. In fact, Buster became so knowledgeable of the music that circus drummer, Red Floyd, had Buster take his place when he took ill one day in the mid 1960s.
Mr. Bailey’s last recording, for Angel Records in 1993, was a collection of circus songs, Under the Big Top, with a group he formed called the Great American Main Street Band.
Buster Bailey’s eclectic knowledge of music along with a sense of fun was contagious. Chris Lamb, principal percussionist at the Philharmonic, said he would often times improvise on an Irish jig or jazz song together with Bailey in the practice room at Philharmonic Hall while waiting to perform during a concert.
Bailey released several method books for both snare drum and mallet percussion; Wrist Twisters - A Musical Approach To Snare Drumming and Mental and Manual Calisthenics: For the Modern Mallet Player.
In 1996, Buster Bailey was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society's PAS Hall of Fame.
Elden C. Bailey died on April 13, 2004; he was 81.