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Bernard "Buddy" Rich (September 30, 1917 – April 2, 1987) was an American jazz drummer and bandleader. He is considered one of the most influential drummers of all time and was known for his virtuoso technique, power, and speed.[1] He performed with Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Count Basie, and led a big band.

Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich.jpg
Buddy Rich at the Arcadia Ballroom, New York City, May 1947
Background information
Birth nameBernard Rich
Born(1917-09-30)September 30, 1917
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
DiedApril 2, 1987(1987-04-02) (aged 69)
Los Angeles, California
GenresJazz, big band, swing
Occupation(s)Musician and bandleader
Years active1921–1987
LabelsClef, Norgran, Verve, RCA, Pacific Jazz, Liberty, Blue Note, Groove Merchant, EmArcy, Mercury, MCA, Argo
Associated actsJoe Marsala, Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Carter, Harry James, Les Brown, Frank Sinatra, Charlie Ventura, Jazz at the Philharmonic, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Krupa, Louis Armstrong


Child prodigyEdit

Rich was born in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York, to Jewish-American parents Bess Skolnik and Robert Rich, both vaudevillians.[2] As a kid, when he was at a restaurant with his parents, he used the knife and fork as drum sticks. Before he turned two, he was part of his parents' act on vaudeville, but on breaks he would sneak into the orchestra pit and try to get the drummer's sticks. He was on Broadway as Baby Traps the Drum Wonder at age four, playing "Stars and Stripes Forever" on a drum.[3] He was a singer and tap dancer.[1] In his teens he led a band and toured in the U.S. and Australia. At fifteen he became the second highest paid child entertainer behind Jackie Coogan during the 1930s.[3]

Jazz careerEdit

Buddy Rich in New York City in August 1946

His jazz career began in 1937 with clarinetist Joe Marsala. He became a member of big bands led by Bunny Berigan and Artie Shaw.[1][3] When he was home from touring with Shaw, he gave drum lessons to a 14-year-old Mel Brooks for six months.[4] At 21, he participated in his first major recording with the Vic Schoen Orchestra who backed the Andrews Sisters.[5]

In 1942 he joined the United States Marine Corps[6] in which he served as a judo instructor. He did not see combat and received a dishonorable discharge. After leaving the Marines, he returned to the Dorsey band. In 1946, with financial support from Frank Sinatra, he formed a band and continued to lead bands intermittently until the early 1950s.[2]:92, 95[7]

The Buddy Rich Big Band in the 1940s

In addition to Tommy Dorsey (1939–42, 1945, 1954–55), Rich played with Benny Carter (1942), Harry James (1953–56–62, 1964, 1965), Les Brown, Charlie Ventura, Jazz at the Philharmonic, and Charlie Parker (Bird and Diz, 1950).

From 1966 until his death, he led successful big bands in an era when their popularity had waned. He continued to play clubs but stated in interviews that the majority of his band's performances were at high schools, colleges, and universities rather than clubs. He was a session drummer for many recordings, where his playing was often more understated than in his big-band performances. Especially notable were sessions for Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong and the Oscar Peterson trio with bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis.[8] In 1968, Rich collaborated with the Indian tabla player Ustad Alla Rakha on the album Rich à la Rakha.

He performed a big-band arrangement of a medley from West Side Story that was released on the 1966 album Swingin' New Big Band. The "West Side Story Medley", arranged by Bill Reddie, is a complex big-band arrangement which highlights Rich's ability to blend the rhythm of his drumming into his band's playing of the musical chart. Rich received the West Side Story arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's melodies from the famed musical in the mid-1960s and found it challenging. It consists of many difficult sections which feature 4/4 and 6/8 time signatures; it took almost a month of constant rehearsals to perfect. It later became a staple in all his performances, clocking in at various lengths from seven to fifteen minutes. A six minute performance of "Prologue/Jet Song" from the suite, performed during Frank Sinatra's portion of the Concert for the Americas, performed in the Alto de Chavon amphitheater in the Dominican Republic on August 20, 1982 is on the DVD "Frank Sinatra: Concert for the Americas". [9] 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]

A live recording of the "Channel One Suite" is on the album Mercy, Mercy recorded at Caesars Palace in 1968. The album received acclaim as the "finest all-round recording by Buddy Rich's big band".[11]

TV appearancesEdit

In the 1950s Rich was a frequent guest on The Steve Allen Show and other television variety shows, most notably on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Rich and Johnny were lifelong friends and Johnny Carson was also a drum enthusiast himself.[12][13][14]

In 1973 PBS broadcast and syndicated Rich's February 6, 1973, performance at the Top of the Plaza in Rochester, New York. It was the first time thousands of drummers were exposed to Buddy in a full-length concert setting, and many drummers continue to name this program as a prime influence on their own playing.[15] One of his most widely seen television performances was in a 1981 episode of The Muppet Show in which he engaged Muppet drummer "Animal" (played by Ronnie Verrell) in a drum battle.[16] Rich's famous televised drum battles also included Gene Krupa, Ed Shaughnessy and Louie Bellson.[16]

Personal lifeEdit

Rich was married to Marie Allison, a dancer and showgirl on April 24, 1953, until his death in 1987. They had a daughter in 1954, Cathy, who later became a vocalist and carried on her father's band. Rich was also cousin of actor Jonathan Haze.

He also lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.[17]


Rich continued touring and performing until the end of his life. In early March 1987, he was touring in New York when he was hospitalized after suffering a paralysis on his left side that physicians believed had been caused by a stroke. He was transferred to California to UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles for tests, where doctors discovered and removed a brain tumor on March 16. He was discharged a week later, but had been receiving daily chemotherapy treatments at the hospital when, on April 2, 1987, he died of unexpected respiratory and cardiac failure after his treatment for the malignant brain tumor.[citation needed] His wife Marie and daughter Cathy buried him in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.[citation needed] He was 69.

Material lossEdit

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Buddy Rich among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[18]


Rich was notoriously short tempered. Singer Dusty Springfield slapped him after several days of "putting up with Rich's insults and show-biz sabotage".[19] He held a rivalry with Frank Sinatra which sometimes ended in brawls when both were members of Tommy Dorsey's band. But they remained lifelong friends, and Sinatra delivered a eulogy at Rich's funeral in 1987.[20]

Rich held a black belt in karate.[21]

Billy Cobham said that he met Rich in a club and asked him to sign his snare drum; but Rich “dropped it down the stairs”.[22]

According to bassist Bill Crow, Rich reacted strongly to Max Roach's increasing popularity when he was the drummer for Charlie Parker, especially when a jazz critic stated Roach had topped Rich as the world's greatest drummer.[23] Drummer John JR Robinson told Crow he was with Roach when Rich came driving with a beautiful woman next to him and Rich yelled: "Hey, Max! Top this!".[23] Nonetheless, the two worked together on the 1959 album Rich Versus Roach, and Roach appeared on the 1994 Rich tribute album Burning for Buddy.

Rich preferred to concentrate on jazz and held a low opinion of both country and rock music; during medical therapy before his death, a nurse asked Rich whether he was allergic to anything, to which he replied, "Yes, country and western music."[24]

Rich's temper was documented in a series of secret recordings made on tour buses and in dressing rooms by pianist Lee Musiker, who concealed a compact tape recorder in his clothing while on tour with Rich in the early 1980s.[25] On one recording, Rich threatens to fire trombonist Dave Panichi for having a beard.[26] Although he threatened many times to fire members of his band, he seldom did so and for the most part, he praised his musicians in television and print interviews. The day before his death, April 1, 1987, Rich was visited by Mel Tormé, who claims that one of Rich's last requests was to hear the tapes of his angry outbursts. Tormé was working on an authorized biography of Rich, and included excerpts of the tapes in the book, but he never played the tapes for Rich.[2]:215

Influences, technique, and performancesEdit

Buddy Rich performing at a concert in Cologne, Germany on March 3, 1977

Rich cited Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, Chick Webb, Ray McKinley, Ray Bauduc and Sid Catlett as influences.[27]

He usually held his sticks with the traditional grip. He used the matched grip when playing floor toms around the drum set while performing cross-stickings (crossing arm over arm), which was one of his party tricks, often leading to loud cheers from the audience. Another technique he used to impress was the stick-trick, a fast roll performed by slapping two drumsticks together in a circular motion using "taps" or single-stroke stickings. 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 started with a simple single-stroke roll on the snare drum picking up speed and power, then slowly moving his sticks closer to the rim as he got quieter, and eventually playing on 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. Though well known as a powerful drummer, he did use brushes. On the album The Lionel Hampton Art Tatum Buddy Rich Trio (1955) he played with brushes almost exclusively.

In 1942, Rich and his teacher Henry Adler wrote Buddy Rich's Modern Interpretation of Snare Drum Rudiments, which is regarded as one of the more popular snare drum rudiment books.[28] Adler met Rich through a former student. Adler said, "The kid told me he played better than 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."[29] Adler denied the rumor that he taught Rich how to play. "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 practice. He couldn't, because wherever the guy went, he was followed around by admiring drummers. 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."[29]

When asked if Rich could read music, Bobby Shew, lead trumpeter in Rich's mid-1960s big band replied, "No. He'd always have a drummer there during rehearsals to read and play the parts initially on new arrangements. Buddy would just sit in the empty audience seats in the afternoon and listen to the band...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."[30]

In a Modern Drummer interview, Buddy had this to say about practicing: "I don't put much emphasis on practice anyhow. I think it's a fallacy to believe that the more you practice, the better you become. You can only get better by playing. You can sit in a basement with a set of drums and practice rudiments all day long, but if you don't play with a band, you won't learn style, technique, and taste, and you won't learn how to play for a band and with a band. It's like getting a job, any kind of job, it's an opportunity to develop. And practice, besides that, is boring. I know teachers who tell their students to practice three, four, six hours a day. If you can't get what you want after an hour of practice, you're not going to get it in four days."[citation needed]

In the same article, Rich also discourages playing drums with one's bare hands. When asked if he could do such a thing, he replied, 'Yes, but why destroy your hands? I could think of a hundred ways to use my hands rather than to break them on the rim of a drum.'"[citation needed]


Rich's technique, including speed, smooth execution and precision, is one of the most coveted in drumming and has become a common standard. Gene Krupa defined him as "the greatest drummer ever to have drawn breath".[20]

Rich's influence extended from jazz to rock music and jazz fusion. He influenced drummers John Bonham of Led Zeppelin,[31] Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer,[32] Ian Paice of Deep Purple,[33] and Bill Ward of Black Sabbath.[34] Phil Collins stopped using two bass drums and started playing the hi-hat after reading Rich's opinion on the importance of the hi-hat.[35] Roger Taylor, drummer of Queen, acknowledged Rich as the best drummer he ever saw for sheer technique.[36]

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 jazz and rock drummers such as Joe Morello, Steve Gadd, Max Roach, Billy Cobham, Dave Weckl, Simon Phillips, Steve Smith, and Peart himself, accompanied by the Buddy Rich Big Band. A second volume was issued in 1997. Phil Collins was featured in a DVD tribute organized by Rich's daughter, A Salute to Buddy Rich, which included Steve Smith and Dennis Chambers.[37]

Awards and honorsEdit

On September 30, 2017, Rich was honored with a Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.[38]

In 2016, readers of Rolling Stone magazine ranked Rich No. 15 in their list of the 100 Greatest Drummers of all time.[39] In a readers' poll in 2011, he ranked No. 6.[40]


As leader/co-leaderEdit

Posthumous albumsEdit

  • 1993: Europe '77 (Magic)
  • 1996: Buddy Rich & His Big Band At Stadthalle Leonberg, Germany 10 July 1986 (Jazz Band)
  • 2001: Wham! The Buddy Rich Big Band Live (Label M)
  • 2004: No Funny Hats (Lightyear)
  • 2007: Time Out (Lightyear)
  • 2009: Buddy Rich Up Close (Drum Channel)
  • 2014: The Solos (Lightyear Entertainment)
  • 2015: Birdland (Lightyear Entertainment)

Compilation albumsEdit

  • 1960: The Drum Battle (Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich at JATP) (Verve)
  • 1964: 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)
  • 1998: Buddy Rich: The Legendary '46–'48 Orchestra Vol. 2 (Hep)
  • 2005: Classic EmArcy, Verve, Small Group Buddy Rich Sessions (Mosaic No. 232)

As sidemanEdit

With Count Basie

With Benny Carter

With Harry James

  • Radio Discs of Harry James (Joyce LP 2002, 1953 [1975])[43]
  • One Night Stand With Harry James (Joyce LP 1014, 1953 [1977])[44]
  • One Night Stand (Sandy Hook SH 2004, 1953 [1978])[45]
  • One Night Stand With Buddy Rich & Harry James (Joyce LP 1078, 1953 [1980])[45]
  • One Night Stand With Harry James at The Blue Note (Joyce LP 1124, 1953/1958 [1983])[46]
  • Live! (Sunbeam SB 230, 1953/1962 [1979])[47]
  • Saturday Night Swing (Giants of Jazz Productions GOJ LP-1016, 1953-54 [1979])[48]
  • 1954 Broadcasts (Sunbeam SB 217, 1954 [1976])[49]
  • Trumpet After Midnight (Columbia CL 553 and B-410, 1954)[50]
  • Dancing In Person With Harry James At The Hollywood Palladium (Columbia CL 562 and B-428, 1954)[51]
  • Juke Box Jamboree (Columbia CL 615, 1953-54 [1955])[52]
  • Harry James and His New Jazz Band, Vol. 1 / Vol. 2 (Mr. Music MMCD 7010/7012, 1956 [2002])[53][54]
  • Wild About Harry! (Capitol T 874 / ST 874, 1957)[55][a]
  • Double Dixie (MGM E-4137 / SE-4137, 1963).[57]
  • 1964 Live! In The Holiday Ballroom Chicago (Jazz Hour Compact Classics JH-1001, 1964 [1989])[58]
  • One Night Stand With Harry James on Tour in '64 (Joyce LP 1074, 1964 [1979])[59]
  • New Versions of Down Beat Favorites (MGM SE-4265, 1965).[60]
  • In a Relaxed Mood (MGM SE-4274, 1965)[61]
  • Harry James Plays Green Onions & Other Great Hits (Dot DLP 3634 / DLP 25634, 1965)[62]
  • Harry James, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman (Europa Jazz EJ 1041, 1965 [1981])[45]
  • The Ballads and the Beat! (Dot DLP 3669 / DLP 25669, 1966)[63]
  1. ^ Buddy Rich appears on Wild About Harry! under the pseudonym "Buddy Poor" since Rich was still under contract to Verve Records at the time.[56]

With Charlie Parker

With others


Rich was known as a performer and endorser of Ludwig, Slingerland, and Rogers drums.[65] While endorsing Slingerland in the '60s and '70s, Rich sometimes used a Fibes snare drum together with a Slingerland drum kit.[66] He switched exclusively to Ludwig in the late 1970s through the early 1980s. While recovering from a heart attack in 1983, Rich was presented with a 1940s-vintage Slingerland Radio King set, refurbished by Joe MacSweeney of Eames Drums,[67] which he used until his death in 1987. Rich's typical setup included a 14"×24" bass drum, a 9"×13" mounted tom, two 16"×16" floor toms (with the second tom usually serving as a towel holder), and a 5.5"×14" snare drum. His cymbals were typically Avedis Zildjian: 14" New Beat hi-hats, 20" medium ride, 8" splash, two 18" crashes (thin and medium-thin).[68] Sometimes a 6" splash and later a 22" swish.[69] He also used Remo drumheads and Slingerland drumsticks.


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  8. ^, "Louis Armstrong House Museum", [1] Archived 2014-10-25 at the Wayback Machine; accessed October 30, 2014.
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  12. ^ SanLouisKid, Johnny Carson Plays Drums, retrieved 2019-01-06
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  62. ^ Harry James plays Green onions and other great hits in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
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  68. ^ "Artists".
  69. ^ "Buddy Rich's Setup".

External linksEdit