April of 2017 marked the 30th anniversary since one Buddy Rich died. For some of you, this gentleman may be a complete unknown, especially if jazz isn’t your thing. We’re not the biggest jazz aficionados in the world and often find it to be pretentious, with its fans looking down on other forms of music. You can’t argue with the skill of some of its exceptional drummers, though.
Thusly, you have legends such as Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, Joe Morello, Ginger Baker (also a rock drummer), but today we’re celebrating the grand behemoth of them all – Buddy Rich. We’ve yet to see drum solo from Rich that isn’t flat out captivating and physics defying, which is why he heralded himself as the World’s Greatest Drummer during his bandleader runs from the late 1930s right up to his death aged 69.
With a massive, often explosive, personality to match, Rich was a precocious virtuoso talent in his youth and never looked back. In the above clip, he kicks in full at the 1:40 mark and that’s where it becomes apparent he was a genius – with perfect poise, natural rhythm, and unnerving speed and power, the man carved a huge career for himself as the world’s greatest drummer (a slogan which adorned his posters ahead of shows).
He was a showman through and through, appearing regularly on the Jonny Carson show in the late 1970s as a highlight between celebrity interviews. We’ve not quite seen any drummer surprise as this much of the years – no matter the occasion, Rich was there to provide an incredible moment.
Whilst a bandleader and more than capable of fitting in amongst fellow musicians, he was at his best with his drum solos. By 1945, as you can see in the clip above, he was in his late 20s and could thrash about his kit as you’d expect rock drummers to do two decades later. Not that Rich thought very much of rock drummers (more on that later), of course, which in helped spur ’60s drumming god Ginger Baker to head into the jazz world to prove his skills post-Cream.
His career spanned over 40 years and we’ve still yet to come across a clip of him drumming which doesn’t blow our socks off. So, we can’t rant too much here, just favour of Mr. Rich’s drumming stle.
Personality & Legacy
Rich was also charming, confrontational, bad tempered, opinionated, and always entertaining. His furious rants at often terrified band members were secretly recorded and released as bootlegs known as the Bus Tapes – on his death bed, Rich actually asked to hear the recordings and was apparently in fits of laughter and apologetic.
His character permeates throughout brilliant, Oscar winning 2014 film Whiplash, with belligerent jazz psychopath Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) apparently inspired by Rich’s ranting at perceived imperfections of his band members.
As you can see above, he didn’t think much of country music (we can’t stand it either, in fairness), ridiculed other drummers for using matched grip instead of traditional grip, and any drummer who didn’t make it as a jazz drummer he said:
"If you don't have ability, you wind up playing in a rock band."
If you had his outlandish abilities, which were really quite ridiculous and absolutely perfect, then you can get away with such observations. Some of his criticisms of other drummers come across as “back in my day” talk as music shifted from big bands to rock and pop in the 1960s and 1970s, but his influence is still very much felt on the music scene to this day. We think he was an absolute genius and one of the best drummers ever – top marks, sir.