Bernard Rich was born on September 30, 1917 in Brooklyn, NY and began his drum career very early. At the age of two he performed as “Traps, the Drum Wonder” in his parent’s vaudeville act. He continued these performances into his early teens, touring Australia when he was eight years old and appearing in a short film at age eleven. By the time Buddy was fifteen years old he was earning $1000.00 a week and was the second highest paid child star behind Jackie Coogan.
Buddy started becoming interested in Jazz in his teens and would go see drummer Tony Briglia at the Crystal Club in Brooklyn. During this time he also frequented the Sunday jam sessions at the Hickory House, where Joe Marsala’s band was featured. Buddy came to the Sunday sessions for a month before finally on the fourth try he got to play and impressed Joe Marsala so much, Buddy was asked to join his band. Buddy got bored quickly with the Dixieland music played with Marsala, and after a short stint with Bunny Berigan’s band, joined Artie Shaw’s famous big band in 1938. In 1939, Rich was hired by Tommy Dorsey and roomed with Frank Sinatra while on tour with Dorsey’s band until Buddy joined the Marines in 1942. In 1944 Rich was discharged from the Marines and joined back with Dorsey, becoming the highest paid sideman in the music business.
Frank Sinatra gave Buddy $50,000 in 1946 so Buddy could start his own band. He had varying success in his first attempts as a band leader but also played with Norman Granz’s “Jazz at the Philharmonic” during this time. In the 1960s Buddy found much more success leading his own band and would from then on while playing with a who’s who list of the great jazz musicians. He also opened two successful jazz clubs; ‘Buddy’s Place’ and ‘Buddy’s Place II’. He was a regular guest on the popular late night television talk shows of the time including The Steve Allen Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and The Merv Griffith Show among others. Videos of some of the appearances on these shows can be found in the Video Tribute above.
Buddy Rich performed and toured with his band right up until the time of his death in 1987. His dexterity, speed and execution are considered the ‘holy grail’ of drum technique. Rich won so many awards and honors throughout his life, including The Downbeat Music Hall of Fame Award, the Modern Drummer Magazine Hall of Fame Award, and the Jazz Unlimited Immortals of Jazz award.
“The greatest drummer ever to have drawn breath.” – Gene Krupa
“Almost everything I've done, I've done through my own creativity. I don't think I ever had to listen to anyone else to learn how to play drums. I wish I could say that for about ten thousand other drummers.” –Buddy Rich
“But, I don't think any arranger should ever write a drum part for a drummer because if a drummer can't create his own Interpretation of the chart and he plays everything that's written, he becomes mechanical; he has no freedom.” – Buddy Rich