Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


RICH, Buddy

(b Bernard Rich, 30 June 1917, Brooklyn, NY; d 2 April 1987) Drummer, bandleader. Apparently a natural performer from birth, worked with his parents on stage at 18 months, played drums as Baby Traps, danced and drummed on Broadway at age four and led a band on stage at eleven. He played in the bands of Joe Marsala '37-8 (clarinettist; b 4 January 1907, Chicago; d 4 March 1978), then Bunny Berigan, Harry James, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey '39-42, Benny Carter '42. Opinionated and with a flint-hard intelligence, he did not get along with Dorsey (nor with Frank Sinatra, though they somehow remained friends). After military service he rejoined Dorsey '44-5.

He was one of the best white drummers of the Big Band Era, with the tendency towards the showmanship of Gene Krupa but a much better drummer. He formed his own band '45, which lasted two years (One Night Stand live '46 on Bandstand); joined JATP '47, played with Les Brown late '49, member of Big 4 '51 with Charlie Ventura, Chubby Jackson, pianist Marty Napoleon (b 2 June 1921, Brooklyn; d 27 April 2015). He played with James and Dorsey again '50s, led combos, and was also a good singer. There were albums as a sideman with Flip Phillips, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton, Harry Edison, a trio set with Art Tatum and Hampton, This One's For Basie '56, Rich Versus Roach '59 with Max, Sings Johnny Mercer, Just Sings, In Miami etc almost all on Norman Granz's labels. He contemplated giving up playing for singing and acting but always came back to drums.

He had his first heart attack '59, came back with a keep-fit regimen and acquired a black belt at karate. He worked for James again from '61; when he formed his own big band again '66 some thought he was crazy, but the demanding boss and incredibly hard worker had international success with a brilliant band, arrangements by Bill Holman, Don Sebesky (b 10 December 1937, Perth Amboy NJ), John La Barbera (b 10 November 1945, Warsaw NY), Bill Reddie (arranger of 'West Side Story' medley including a tour- de-force drum solo), others. Art Pepper played in the band briefly; La Barbera played trumpet, brother Pat reeds (b Pascel La Barbera, 7 April 1944, Mt Morris NY). With fine young talent and roaring versions of contemporary pop including Beatle songs, Paul Simon etc, he toured the world, had his first TV show '68. He led a small group '74, lent his name to club Buddy's Place, and re-formed the big band '75. After heart by-pass surgery '83 he ignored doctors' orders and was back at work in two months, at first with a combo; he toured nine months a year '85-6, including concerts with Sinatra.

Some of the albums made the pop charts: Swingin' New Big Band, Big Swing Face, Mercy, Mercy, Buddy And Soul '66-9 on World Pacific/Pacific Jazz; Rich In London '72 on RCA (live at Ronnie Scott's), Live At Ronnie Scott's 1980 on DRG; many more including Big Band Machine and Roar Of '74 on Groove Merchant; Stick It and Different Drummer on RCA (compilation Time Being on a Bluebird CD); Keep The Customer Satisfied on Liberty; Hampton Presents '77 on Who's Who, etc. Rich's personality and flashy showmanship saw to it that many of his fans were the kind of people who talk through the music on the bandstand, but musicians were always in awe of his phenomenal technique; on The Swinging Count '52 with Basie small groups he was certainly in evidence, but every accent was appropriate and in exactly the right place. When Big Swing Face '67 (live in a Hollywood club) was reissued '96 on Pacific Jazz with previously unreleased material, the band that sounded like a heat-seeking missile reminded everyone of the intense, swinging precision that the best big bands were once capable of, and Rich had done it 20 years after the era was supposed to have ended.

Drummer Neil Peart's Burning For Buddy: A Tribute '94 on Atlantic brought together eleven alumni and 18 guest drummers; Vol. II '96 had eleven drummers, vocalists including Cathy Rich and Annie Ross plus Buddy himself on tape on one track.