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 and was known for his virtuoso technique, power, and speed.
He first played jazz in 1937 with Joe Marsala's group, then played with Bunny Berigan (1938) and Artie Shaw (1939). In 1939, Rich taught drums to the young Mel Brooks, and persuaded Artie Shaw to allow a 13-year-old Brooks to attend Shaw's recording sessions in Manhattan.
For most of the period from 1966 until his death, he led a successful big band in an era when the popularity of big bands had waned from their 1930s and 40s peak. 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. Beginning in 1962, Rich was also a frequent guest on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show.
Rich continued to play clubs including a high power appearance at the Cellar Door in Georgetown in Washington,D.C. in 1972, in which patrons were treated to Rich's power and dynamics in a small club environment. One of his most seen television performances was in a 1978 episode 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.
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.
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 with a mastery seldom achieved by any other drummer.
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.
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, 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."
"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."
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-60s 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 has since become a staple in all his performances clocking in at various lengths from seven to fifteen minutes. Bernstein himself has had nothing but praise for it. In 2002, a DVD was released called The Lost West Side Story Tapes that captured a 1985 performance of this along with other numbers. These tapes were thought to be lost in a fire.
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:
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.