Monday, 20 April 2015

R is for Rich

Percussion instrumentalists often don't get appreciated for their work even though almost all music requires some form of beat to play by.  Bernard "Buddy" Rich was born in 1917 in Manhattan New York to parents who were active in the vaudeville scene.  He showed a talent for rhythm very early in his life, but reportedly had no formal instruction on the drums because he believed that it would degrade his ability.  Also he wasn't known to read music or even practice on a regular basis.

By age 11 he was already a bandleader and during his youth played in various jazz bands, which included the Vic Schoen Orchestra and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.  By some accounts he was the second-highest paid child entertainer in the world.  In 1942 Buddy enlisted in the Marine Corps but after the war he returned to performing and put together his own band with the financial backing of Frank Sinatra.  Through the 1950s and 1960s his bands remained successful even in an era when the popularity of the Big Band style was waning.  He had stated on multiple occasions that he enjoyed playing at schools and clubs in order to entertain young people and get their interest in music.

Buddy also had a long recording career, as he served as the session drummer for such big stars as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Oscar Peterson.  One of his most popular performances was a big band arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story".  He was a frequent guest on variety shows, most notably a 1981 episode of The Muppet Show in which he challenged Muppet drummer Animal to a drum battle.  Despite being known for a hot temper he was also kind-hearted.

He remained active in the music scene and continued to perform until the end of his life, touring around the globe and playing for heads of state from Queen Elizabeth II to Ronald Reagan.  Buddy died in 1987 from heart failure after surgery for a brain tumor, and was buried in Los Angeles.  The Downbeat Magazine Hall of Fame Award, the Modern Drummer Magazine Hall of Fame Award, and the Jazz Unlimited Immortals of Jazz Award are just a few of his numerous honours.  There have been memorial concerts in his name, and his grandson Nick also plays drums.

Here is a video of the Buddy Rich vs. Animal drum duel.
The Muppet Show - Buddy Rich vs Animal

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