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The self-taught jazz drummer Buddy Rich died at 69 on this date in 1987. Rich was the son of vaudevillians and began drumming on stage before he was 2. By age 11 he was a bandleader, and by 20 he was drumming with a major jazz group. He joined Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra in 1938 and played with Frank Sinatra before joining the Marines in 1942. In 1946, he formed his own band, with Sinatra’s financial backing. Rich was known as an amazingly fast, smooth, powerful, and precise drummer who also “hammed it up” behind the drums with stick tricks and cross-armed drumming. He never learned to read music, and he had a notorious temper, yet he was a sought-after player who spent time professionally with Louis Armstrong, Les Brown, Benny Carter, Herb Ellis, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Harry James, Oscar Peterson, and Art Tatum, among other jazz greats. Gene Krupa called Rich “the greatest drummer to have drawn breath.” To see him in action, look below.
“He’d always have a drummer there during rehearsals to read and play the parts initially on new arrangements... He’d only have to listen to a chart once and he’d have it memorized. We’d run through it and he’d know exactly how it went, how many measures it ran and what he’d have to do to drive it... The guy had the most natural instincts.” —Bobby Shew