Bernard “Buddy” Rich (September 30, 1917 – April 2, 1987) was an American jazz drummer and bandleader. He is widely considered one of the most influential drummers of all time and was known for his virtuoso technique, power and speed. Rich performed with many bandleaders, most notably Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Count Basie, and later led his own big band.
Rich was born in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn to Jewish-American parents Bess (née Skolnik) and Robert Rich, both vaudevillians. His talent for rhythm was first noted by his father, who saw that Rich could keep a steady beat with spoons at the age of one. He began playing drums in vaudeville when he was 8 years old, billed as “Baby Traps the Drum Wonder”. At the peak of his childhood career, he was the second-highest paid child entertainer in the world after Jackie Coogan.
In addition to Tommy Dorsey (1939–42, 1945, 1954–55), Rich also played with Benny Carter (1942), Harry James (1953–56–62, 1964, 1965), Les Brown, Charlie Ventura, and Jazz at the Philharmonic. He led his own band and performed with all-star groups, including Charlie Parker and his Orchestra, featuring Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk (on the 1950 album Bird and Diz). In the early ’50s, Rich again played with Dorsey and began to perform with trumpeter Harry James, an association which lasted until 1966. That year, Rich left James to develop a new big band. From 1966 until his death, he led successful big bands in an era when the popularity of big bands had waned from their 1930s and 1940s peak. In this later period, Rich continued to play clubs, but stated in multiple interviews that the majority of his big bands’ performances were at high schools, colleges, and universities, with club performances to a lesser degree. Rich also served as the session drummer for many recordings, where his playing was often more understated than in his big-band performances. Especially notable were Rich’s sessions for Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, on which he worked with pianist Oscar Petersonand his famous trio featuring bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis.