Rich, Buddy (Bernard)

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Rich, Buddy (Bernard)

Rich, Buddy (Bernard) , jazz drummer, band leader, singer; b. Brooklyn, N.Y., Sept. 30, 1917; d. Los Angeles, Calif. April 2, 1987. He appeared in his parents’ vaudeville act Wilson and Rich before he was two years old; he tap-danced and played drums in a Broadway show at age four. His parents dropped out of the act to manage his career and from the age of six, he began touring the U.S. and Australia as a single act, Baby Traps the Drum Wonder; at 11, he led his own stage band. Rich began gigging with Art Shapiro (c. 1936) and received his first jazz notice after sitting in with Hot Lips Page’s Band in September 1937. He performed with Joe Marsala (October 1937-June 1938), briefly led own band at Piccadilly Roof, N.Y., then worked with Bunny Beri-gan until joining Harry James in December 1938. After working with Artie Shaw, he joined Tommy Dorsey (November 1939–42). He played in Los Angeles with Benny Carter, and served in the U.S. Marines until June 1944. After being released, Rich rejoined Tommy Dorsey until October 1945; while filming with Dorsey in Hollywood, he played for two weeks with Count Basie at the Club Plantation, Los Angeles. He formed his own band in late 1945, which he continued to lead until January 1947, then in February did first of many tours with Norman Granz’s “Jazz at the Philharmonic.” With the main exception of Harry James, whom he would join, quit, and rejoin several times, he would alternate between leading his own groups, recording, and touring with “Jazz at the Philharmonic” through the 1950s. During this period, he collaborated with many talented artists, such as Art Tatum, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, and Count Basie. He had a bop-oriented band in 1948 which included Warne Marsh, Terry Gibbs and Hal McKusick. The group played at the Hollywood Palladium in June and July (with broadcasts), then went on a three-month cross-country tour, heading first for Northern Calif., with Jimmy Giuffre joining in San Francisco; the tour ended in N.Y. in October. On Dec. 22, Rich fired the whole band for refusing to play what they called “commercial junk.” He soon reformed a band, adding a second drummer, Sonny Igoe, which played among other places at Ideal Beach, a resort near Montreal, and on TV shows (1948–49). Rich joined Les Brown in June 1949, but left in September to resume work with J.A.T.P. He led his own band in 1950, performed for the “Josephine Baker” show (1951), then worked in Charlie Ventura’s Big Four until November 1951. He worked with Harry James for a year (1953–54), then resumed with Tommy Dorsey until April 1955. He returned to Harry James (1956–57), including a tour of Europe, then formed his own small group; he also acted on TV and worked briefly as a solo vocalist (1959). While on tour with his own quintet in November 1959, he suffered a mild heart attack, but resumed leading a small band in N.Y. (spring 1960) and later toured Asia. He again worked regularly with Harry James (1961–66), reportedly as the world’s highest paid sideman; he also did many guest spots on TV shows, concerts, etc. He formed his own big band in 1966, which rapidly achieved international success in clubs, concerts, and college campuses, with albums on the U.S. charts, several overseas tours including “Command Performance” in London (November 1969). He led a small group (1974; with Sonny Fortune and Jack Wilkins) at his own N.Y. club, Buddy’s Place, then re-formed his own highly successful big band in the mid-1970s, which continued to tour through the late 1970s and 1980s. Another stroke in the early 1980s slowed him down for a while, but he made a full and remarkable recovery which he credited to acupuncture. Rich underwent surgery on March 16, 1987 at UCLA Medical Center for a brain tumor and had been undergoing daily treatment before he died.

Among musicians, his work is often criticized as epitomizing cold technique, and as not swinging or being too busy. But his rhythmic style was in keeping with his generation, and he contributed tremendous vitality to any musical occasion. His technique was most evident in solos, where he might fly around the drum set at amazing speed, perform drum rolls and other feats with one hand, or sustain an unbelievably perfect snare drum roll for a minute or more while varying the volume. For such things, drummers often forgave him any shortcomings in musicality. On the other hand, those who were members of his bands are unlikely to forgive him for his truly rude and insulting manner of criticizing them. One band member taped him during such a tirade and circulated this tape as a form of revenge. Many fine musicians passed through his bands, including Warne Marsh, Greg Hopkins, and Steve Marcus. In public, he was very witty, which made him a favorite on the Johnny Carson show, Carson being an amateur drummer.


One Night Stand (1946); And His Legendary ’47–48 Orchestra (1948); Swinging Count (1952); Swingin’ Buddy Rich (1953); Super Rich (1953); Buddy and Sweets (1955); This One’s for Basie (1956); Sings Johnny Mercer (1956); Buddy Rich Sings Johnny Mercer (1956); Just Sings (1957); Buddy Rich Just Sings (1957); Rich Versus Roach (1959); Buddy Rich vs Max Roach (1959); Burnin’ Beat (1962); Big Swing Face (1967); Swingin’ New Big Band (1966); Swingin’ New Band (1966); Rich Ala Rahka (1968); Mercy, Mercy (1968); Rich in London (1971); Different Drummer (1971); Buddy Rich in London (1971); Roar of ’74 (1973); Big Band Machine (1975); Speak No Evil (1976); Sound of Jazz (1977); Lionel Hampton Presents Buddy Rich (1977); Europe ’77 (1977); Class of’78 (1977); Buddy Rich Plays and Plays and Plays (1977); Best Band I Ever Had (1977); Live at Ronnie Scott’s (1980); Live at King Street Cafe (1985). L. Young: “Giants” (1946). C. Parker: Bird and Diz (1950). B. Powell: The Genius of Bud Powell (1950). A. Blakey: Drums Ablaze (1960).


D. J. Cooper, Buddy Rich Discography (Lancashire, England, 1974); D. Cooper, Buddy Rich: A Lifetime of Music (1989); W. Balliett, Super Drummer: A Profile of Buddy Rich (Indianapolis, 1968); D. Meriwether, The Buddy Rich Orch. and Small Groups (Spotswood, N.J., 1974); K. Stratemann, Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa: A Filmo-Discography (Lubbecke, Germany, 1980); D. Meriwether, We Don’t Play Requests: A Musical Biography/Discography of Buddy Rich (Chicago, 1984); J. Nesbitt, Inside Buddy Rich: A Study of the Master Drummer’s Style and Technique (Delevan, N.Y., 1984).

—John Chilton, Who’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter