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Buddy Rich

Background information
Birth name Bernard Rich
Also known as Traps the Drum Wonder (as a boy) and "B" (as an adult)
Born September 30, 1917(1917-09-30)
Origin Brooklyn, New York, USA
Died April 2, 1987 (aged 69)
Genres Jazz, Big band
Occupations Musician, songwriter, bandleader
Instruments Drums, percussion
Years active 1919–1987
Associated acts Joe Marsala
Bunny Berigan
Artie Shaw
Tommy Dorsey
Benny Carter
Harry James
Les Brown
Charlie Ventura
Jazz at the Philharmonic
Nat King Cole
Ella Fitzgerald
Gene Krupa and Louis Armstrong

Bernard "Buddy" Rich (September 30, 1917 – April 2, 1987) was an American jazz drummer and bandleader. Rich was billed as "the world's greatest drummer"[1] and was known for his virtuosic technique, power, groove, and speed.


Early life

Rich was born in Brooklyn, New York to vaudevillians Robert and Bess Rich.[2] His talent for rhythm was first noted by his father, who saw that Buddy could keep a steady beat with spoons at the age of one. He began playing drums in vaudeville when he was 18 months old, billed as "Traps the Drum Wonder." At the peak of Rich's childhood career, he was reportedly the second-highest paid child entertainer in the world (after Jackie Coogan).[3] At 11 he was performing as a bandleader. He received no formal drum instruction, and went so far as to claim that instruction would only degrade his musical talent. He also never admitted to practicing, claiming to play the drums only during performances[citation needed] and was not known to read music. He expressed great admiration for, and was influenced by, the playing of Chick Webb, Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, and Jo Jones, among others.[citation needed]

Jazz career

He first played jazz with a major group in 1937 with Joe Marsala and guitarist Jack Lemaire, then played with Bunny Berigan (1938) and Artie Shaw (1939). Rich even instructed a 14-year-old Mel Brooks in drumming for a short while when playing for Shaw.[4] At 21, Rich initiated what was to become a very long recording career by playing drums on a Vic Schoen Orchestra recording. In 1938, he was also hired to play in Tommy Dorsey's orchestra where Rich met and performed with Frank Sinatra. In 1942, Rich left the Dorsey band to join the United States Marine Corps. He rejoined the Dorsey group two years later after leaving the Marines. In 1946, Rich formed his own band with financial support from Sinatra and continued to lead different groups on and off until the early fifties.[5][6]

In addition to Tommy Dorsey (1939–1942, 1945, 1954–1955), Rich also played with Benny Carter (1942), Harry James (1953-1956–1962, 1964, 1965), Les Brown, Charlie Ventura, and Jazz at the Philharmonic, as well as leading his own band and performing with all-star groups. In the early fifties Rich played with Dorsey and also began to perform with trumpeter Harry James, an association which lasted until 1966. In 1966, Rich left James in order to develop a new big band. For most of the period from 1966 until his death, he led successful big bands in an era when the popularity of big bands had waned from their 1930s and 40s peak. In this later period, Rich continued to play clubs but he had stated in multiple interviews that the great majority of his big band's performances were at high schools, colleges and universities, with club performances done to a much lesser degree. Rich also served as the session drummer for many recordings, where his playing was often much more understated than in his own big-band performances. Especially notable were Rich's sessions for the late-career comeback recordings of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, on which he worked with pianist Oscar Peterson and his famous trio featuring bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis.

TV "guest" appearances

In the 1950s, Rich was a frequent guest on The Steve Allen Show and other television variety shows.[7] Beginning in 1962, Rich was also a frequent guest on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show and The Merv Griffin Show, among others. One of his most widely seen television performances was in a 1978 episode [1] of The Muppet Show, where he engaged Muppet drummer "Animal" (played by Ronnie Verrell) in a drum battle. Rich won handily, infuriating Animal so much that he broke a drum over Rich's head.

Drumming technique and well known performances

Rich's technique has been one of the most standardized and coveted in drumming. His dexterity, speed and smooth execution are considered "holy grails" of drum technique and has been considered almost next to impossible to duplicate. While Rich typically held his sticks using traditional grip, he was also a skilled "match grip" player, and was one of few drummers to master the one-handed roll on both hands. Some of his more spectacular moves are crossover riffs, where he would criss-cross his arms from one drum to another, sometimes over the arm, and even under the arm at great speed.[citation needed]

He often used contrasting techniques to keep long drum solos from getting mundane. Aside from his energetic explosive displays, he would go into quieter passages. One passage he would use in most solos starts with a simple single-stroke roll on the snare picking up speed and power, then slowly moving his sticks closer to the rim as he gets quieter and then eventually playing on just the rim itself while still maintaining speed. Then he would reverse the effect and slowly move towards the center of the snare while increasing power.[citation needed]

Rich also demonstrated incredible skill at brush technique. On one album, Tatum Group Masterpieces No. 3 along with Lionel Hampton and Art Tatum, Rich plays brushes almost throughout.

Another technique that few drummers have been able to perfect is the stick-trick where he does a fast roll just by slapping his two sticks together in a circular motion. When performing a single-stroke roll, Rich could be clocked at up to 20 strokes per second, a feat now only being approached decades later by Mike Mangini, Jojo Mayer, Matt Smith and others.[8]

In 1942, Rich and drum teacher Henry Adler co-authored the instructional book Buddy Rich's Modern Interpretation of Snare Drum Rudiments, regarded as one of the more popular snare-drum rudiment books written, mainly because of the Buddy Rich imprimatur.

One of Adler's former students introduced Adler to Rich. "The kid told me Buddy played better than [Gene] Krupa. Buddy was only in his teens at the time and his friend was my first pupil. Buddy played and I watched his hands. Well, he knocked me right out. He did everything I wanted to do, and he did it with such ease. When I met his folks, I asked them who his teacher was. 'He never studied,' they told me. That made me feel very good. I realized that it was something physical, not only mental, that you had to have."

In a 1985 interview[citation needed], Adler clarified the extent of his teacher-student relationship to Rich and their collaboration on the instructional book:

"I had nothing to do with [the rumor that I taught Buddy how to play]. That was a result of Tommy Dorsey's introduction to the Buddy Rich book," Adler said. "I used to go around denying it, knowing that Buddy was a natural player. Sure, he studied with me, but he didn't come to me to learn how to hold the drumsticks. I set out to teach Buddy to read. He'd take six lessons, go on the road for six weeks and come back. He didn't have time to practice."[citation needed]

"Tommy Dorsey wanted Buddy to write a book and he told him to get in touch with me. I did the book and Tommy wrote the foreword. Technically, I was Buddy's teacher, but I came along after he had already acquired his technique."[citation needed]

When asked about Rich's ability to read music, Bobby Shew, lead trumpeter in Rich's mid-60s big band replied,

"No. He’d always have a drummer there during rehearsals to read and play the parts initially on new arrangements... He’d only have to listen to a chart once and he’d have it memorized. We'd run through it and he'd know exactly how it went, how many measures it ran and what he'd have to do to drive it. ...The guy had the most natural instincts."[9]

The West Side Story Medley

Perhaps his most popular later performance was a big band arrangement of a medley derived from the Leonard Bernstein classic West Side Story, first released on the 1966 album Buddy Rich's Swingin' New Big Band

The West Side Story medley is considered by many as one of the most complex and difficult-to-perform big-band arrangements written. Penned by Bill Reddie, Rich received this arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's melodies from the famed musical in the mid-1960s and found it to be very challenging even for him. It consists of many rapid-fire time changes and signatures and took almost a month of constant rehearsals to perfect. It since became a staple in all his performances, clocking in at various lengths from seven to fifteen minutes. Bernstein himself had nothing but praise for it.[citation needed] In 2002, a DVD was released called The Lost West Side Story Tapes that captured a 1985 performance of this along with other numbers.[10] These tapes had been previously thought to have been lost in a fire.

Channel One Suite

After the West Side Story Medley, Rich's most famous performance was the Channel One Suite by Bill Reddie. Like the West Side Story Medley, the Channel One Suite generally was a quite long performance ranging from about 12 minutes to about 26 minutes and usually contained 2 or 3 drum solos. Although 26 minute performances of the Channel One Suite were not incredibly common, they were not unheard of. A recording of one of his live performances was released in 2006 which contained a 26 minute Channel One Suite.[11]


Although Rich was usually helpful and friendly, he had a short temper. In many instances, he took advantage of the respect he commanded.[citation needed] While he threatened many times to fire members of his band, he seldom did so, and for the most part he lauded his band members during television and print interviews. Rich's temper, mercurial attitude and imposing personality are documented in secret recordings members of his band made during some of his tantrums on tour buses and backstage.

These recordings, long circulated in bootleg form, have done much to fuel the reputation of Rich's personality. The tapes were popular with comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, who used three quotes from them more or less verbatim on Seinfeld:[12]

  • "If I have to tell you again, we're gonna take it outside and I'm gonna show you what it's like!" ("The Opposite")
  • "This guy - this is not my kind of guy." ("The Understudy")
  • "Then let's see how he does, up there, without all the assistance!" ("The Butter Shave")

On one recording, Rich threatens to fire Dave Panichi, a trombonist, for wearing a beard.[13][14]

Rich's temper was referred in the Beastie Boys song "Sabotage": "I'm Buddy Rich when I fly off the handle."

Dusty Springfield allegedly slapped Rich after several days of "putting up with Rich's insults and show-biz sabotage (at one point, after describing mutiple black singers as being 'second-rate', he introduced Springfield by saying, 'and here's one who's third-rate')". [15][16]

Band member and lifelong friend David Lucas says that "Rich had a soft heart underneath it all. His favorite song was "It's Not Easy Being Green".

Buddy Rich held a black belt in karate, as mentioned in a CNN television interview with Larry King, c. 1985.

Death and legacy

Buddy Rich remained active until the end of his life, appearing with his Big Band on Michael Parkinson's British talk show Parkinson only a few weeks prior to his death. In the episode, Parkinson kidded Rich about his Donny Osmond kick, by claiming that Rich was the president of Osmond's fan club. Reportedly[citation needed], prior to heart surgery, when asked by a nurse if he was allergic to anything; he replied, "Yes, Country and Western music!" Days before he died, he was visited by Mel Tormé, who claims that one of Buddy's last requests was "to hear the tapes" that featured his angry outbursts. At the time, Tormé was working on an authorized biography of Rich which was released after Rich's death, titled Traps, The Drum Wonder: The Life of Buddy Rich.

On April 2, 1987, Rich died of heart failure following surgery for a malignant brain tumor. He is interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. He was 69.

Since Rich's death, a number of memorial concerts have been held. In 1994, the Rich tribute album Burning for Buddy: A Tribute to the Music of Buddy Rich was released. Produced by Rush drummer/lyricist Neil Peart, the album features performances of Rich staples by a number of rock and jazz drummers such as Kenny Aronoff, Dave Weckl, Steve Gadd, Max Roach and Peart himself, accompanied by the Buddy Rich Big Band. A second volume was issued in 1997.


Studio and live albums as leader or co-leader

  • 195?: The Flip Phillips / Buddy Rich Trio (Clef Records)[17]
  • 1953: The Swingin' Buddy Rich (Norgran Records)
  • 1955: Sing and Swing with Buddy Rich (Norgran)
  • 1955: Buddy and Sweets (Norgran)
  • 195?: The Lester Young / Buddy Rich Trio (Norgran)
  • 1955: The Wailing Buddy Rich (Norgran)
  • 1955: Krupa and Rich (Clef)
  • 1955: Lionel Hampton / Art Tatum / Buddy Rich Trio (Clef)
  • 1956: Buddy Rich Sings Johnny Mercer (Verve Records)
  • 1956: This One's for Basie (Verve) — re-issued 1967 as Big Band Shout[18]
  • 1957: Buddy Rich Just Sings (Verve)
  • 1958: Buddy Rich in Miami (Verve)
  • 1959: Richcraft (Mercury Records)
  • 1959: Rich Versus Roach (Mercury)
  • 1959: The Voice Is Rich (Mercury)
  • 19??: The Rich Rebellion (Mercury
  • 1960: The Driver (EmArcy Records)
  • 1961: Blues Caravan (Verve)
  • 1961: Playtime (Argo Records)
  • 1962: Burnin' Beat, Buddy Rich & Gene Krupa (Verve)
  • 1966: Swingin' New Big Band (Pacific Jazz Records / Blue Note Records)
  • 1966: The Sounds of '66, Sammy Davis Jr. & Buddy Rich (Reprise Records)
  • 1967: Big Swing Face (Pacific Jazz)
  • 1967: The New One! (Pacific Jazz) — aka Take it Away
  • 1968: Rich Ala Rahka (World Pacific)
  • 1968: Mercy, Mercy (Pacific Jazz)
  • 1969: Buddy & Soul (Pacific Jazz)
  • 1970: Keep the Customer Satisfied (Liberty Records)
  • 1971: Different Drummer (RCA Records)
  • 1971: Buddy Rich in London (RCA) — expanded UK release = Buddy Rich: Very Alive at Ronnie Scott's (RCA (UK))
  • 1972: Stick It (RCA)
  • 1973: The Roar of '74 (Groove Merchant Records)
  • 1974: Very Live at Buddy's Place (Groove Merchant)
  • 1974: Transition (Groove Merchant)
  • 1974: The Last Blues Album, Vol. 1 (Groove Merchant)
  • 1975: Big Band Machine (Groove Merchant)
  • 1976: Speak No Evil (RCA)
  • 1977: Buddy Rich Plays and Plays and Plays (RCA)
  • 1977: Lionel Hampton Presents Buddy Rich (Who's Who In Jazz) — aka Buddy's Cherokee... also released as The Sound of Jazz, Vol 10
  • 1977: Class of '78 (The Great American Gramophone Company) — also released as The Greatest Drummer That Ever Lived with The Best Band I Ever Had
  • 1977: Europe '77 (Magic)
  • 1978: Together Again: For the First Time, Mel Tormé and Buddy Rich (Gryphon / Century) — aka When I Found You
  • 1980: Live at Ronnie Scott's (DRG) — aka The Man from Planet Jazz
  • 1981: The Buddy Rich Band (Universal Special Products)
  • 1983: Rich and Famous (Amway) — aka The Magic of Buddy Rich, aka Buddy Rich - The Man
  • 1985: Mr. Drums: Live on King Street, San Francisco (Café)

Posthumous releases of previously unreleased recordings

  • 2001: Wham! The Buddy Rich Big Band Live (Label M)
  • 2004: No Funny Hats (Lightyear)

Notable compilation albums

  • 1960: The Drum Battle (Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich at JATP) (Verve)
  • 196?: The Best of Buddy Rich (Pacific Jazz)
  • 1969: Super Rich (Verve)
  • 1971: Time Being (Bluebird/RCA)
  • 1987: Compact Jazz: Buddy Rich (Verve)
  • 1990: Compact Jazz: Gene Krupa & Buddy Rich (Verve)
  • 1992: No Jive (Novus)
  • 1998: Buddy Rich: The Legendary '47-'48 Orchestra Vol. 1 (Hep Records)
  • 1998: Buddy Rich: The Legendary '46-'48 Orchestra Vol. 2 (Hep)
  • 2005: Classic EmArcy, Verve, Small Group Buddy Rich Sessions (7 CD Box set, Mosaic Records #232)


  1. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Buddy Rich", Allmusic (link) Accessed 2007 August 31
  2. ^ Tormé, Mel. Traps, the Drum Wonder: The Life of Buddy Rich, Oxford University Press. 1991, p. 6.
  3. ^ Barron, James, New York Times obituary, "Buddy Rich...dies". 1987 April 3. Accessed 2010 March 9.
  4. ^ Howard, Jeffrey K., "Mel Brooks Interview", 1997
  5. ^, Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians, "Buddy (Bernard) Rich". Accessed 2010 February 28.
  6. ^ Mel Tormé, in Traps—The Drum Wonder—The Life of Buddy Rich (1991), says that the amount received from Sinatra was $25,000 (and another $25,000 came later), but makes no mention of the exact circumstances.
  7. ^ Numerous sources include Scott Yanow: Jazz on Film: The Complete Story of the Musicians & Music Onscreen (2004 ISBN 0879307838), and Ben Alba: Inventing Late Night: Steve Allen and the Original Tonight Show (2005 ISBN 1591023424).
  8. ^ The Buddy Rich Big Band, Mercy, Mercy [LIVE], Channel 1 Suite, 12:00-12:01.
  9. ^, "Bobby Shew on Buddy Rich, Part 2 / Part 3" 2010 February 24, 25.
  10. ^ Bowers, Jack. "Buddy Rich: The Lost Tapes", All About Jazz (link) 2005 December 9. Accessed 2007 June 27
  11. ^ Channel One Suite DVD Buddy Rich and His Band: Channel One Suite (1985) at Accessed 2008 June 1.
  12. ^ Jerry Seinfeld (Interviewee). (2005). Seinfeld Season 6 "Inside Looks" featurette on "The Understudy". [DVD]. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Event occurs at 00:04:04. Retrieved 2007-06-24. 
  13. ^ Audio tape recording of Buddy Rich tirade - Transcription by Ientilucci, Emmett J. "Buddy Rich: World's Greatest Drummer, Act 4" (link). Accessed 2007 July 20
  14. ^ "I Got Nothin’ for You", Dave Panichi discusses the Buddy Rich 'scream tapes' with Richard Cooke in The Monthly, July 2007 (link).
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Norgran, Clef, Verve, Mercury, Pacific Jazz, etc. discographies at
  18. ^

External links

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