Wilson Benesch, Buddy Rich

Bernard “Buddy” Rich – September 30th, 1917 – April 2nd, 1987. An American jazz drummer and bandleader. Rich was regarded as one of the world’s finest drummers and was known for his virtuosic technique, power, groove, and speed.

Rich was born in Brooklyn, New York, where his career as a drummer started almost from the moment he could hold a drum stick. At the peak of his childhood career, Rich was reportedly the second highest paid child entertainer in the world. Immensely gifted, Rich could play with remarkable speed and dexterity despite the fact that he never received a formal lesson and refused to practice outside of his performances.

Rich’s jazz career began in 1937 when he began playing with Joe Marsala at New York’s Hickory House. By 1939, he had joined Tommy Dorsey’s band, after a performance in an orchestra fronted by Frank Sinatra. Later went on to play with such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Ventura, Louis Armstrong and Gene Krupa. Rich was regularly featured in Jazz at the Philharmonic during the late 1940s.

As the big band era of the 30s and 40s waned, Rich tended to play in his own bands in smaller venues to the clubs the big bands had frequented. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, continued to tour his own bands and opened two nightclubs, Buddy’s Place and Buddy’s Place II. Both clubs were regularly filled to capacity by fans of the great master drummer. 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.

Rich’s technique has been one of the most standardized and coveted in drumming. His dexterity, musicality of playing style, speed and smooth execution are considered “holy grails” of drum technique and have been considered next to impossible to duplicate. Henry Adler, a drum teacher that worked with Rich throughout his career, was quoted to have said about there meeting through a fellow student, “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.”

Buddy Rich remained active performing until the end of his life. He died April 2nd, 1987, due to heart failure following surgery for a malignant brain tumour. He was aged, 69.

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