"Buddy Rich was born 30 September, 1917 into a show-business family. If the Vaudeville legends are true, he was working the stages as Traps the Drum Wonder by 1920. Playing a few hours a day since age one-and-a-half added up to an enormous amount of experience - of smoothness. Not to mention that few children can even keep time at that age; it's thought to come around age three. So there was a mighty gift as well. Just consider that fact - that history - combined with the quote from perhaps the only other candidate for all-time drum hero, Gene Krupa. He said Buddy Rich was 'the greatest drummer ever to have drawn breath'.
"Those are fightin' words, no question, and that was maybe 50 years ago, but I believe Gene was correct. It's not just Buddy's natural musicality, soloist's instinct, and the ears of a dancer. He had those, all right, but chief among his gifts was... those hands.
"In the early '90s I was invited to play at a Buddy Rich tribute in New York City. I decided to perform some of Buddy's traditional tunes - because that seemed 'sensible'. Yeah, right. Disconcerting enough - but the deeper you listen the more you learn. As I played along with Buddy's performances over and over, I had the eerie experience of inhabiting his mind.
"The writer in The New Yorker who [reviewed] the movie Whiplash in disparaging terms toward Buddy Rich [he called Rich 'a loud and insensitive technical whiz, a TV personality, not a major jazz inspiration'] - well, he's just wrong. As someone who has done more research than most anyone on Buddy and his musical life - even just professionally, as a performer and historian - I am sure of this. It is not 'fan talk,' because I never really was a Buddy Rich 'fan'. I can take that young journalist back to Buddy in his youth, with the small groups of Nat King Cole or Louis Armstrong. Or a host of invisible background parts that Buddy could deliver on command. Believe me, it's all there.
"I was rehearsing for a tour once at Drum Channel in the 2000s, just me and my drums. At lunch I'd sometimes watch a little television with Don Lombardi and Terry Bozzio, and with Don engaged in building the library for the Drum Channel, our topic was Buddy. We went through the footage one piece after another, on slo-mo, trying to determine how he did it.
"That the 'it' was sublime seems given - and was. Buddy was truly the master of everything. For the novice, Buddy's percussive universe might best be introduced by a 'modern' direct-to-disc recording, Together Again - For the First Time, with Mel Tormé. It's not a matter of style, because that may have dated for the listener, but of essence.
"Recorded in 1978, it captures Buddy as a mature artist, and with masterly ease - the drum kit just sings with musicality and crisp, clear tones. Especially the dynamics are impressive, because the drums are usually recorded without the air that surrounds them. lust listen to the raindrops Buddy delivered on the cymbals as an intro to 'Here's That Rainy Day', then go on to the big notes.
"The brief solo in 'Blues In The Night' is exemplary, musically and technically, and not to be topped. Yes, there are plenty of people who can swing and rock those sticks, no question - but here we have a blend of a great gift, a life devoted unstintingly to its perfection, and audiences to appreciate it along the way. We shall not pass that way again."