Buddy Rich: Two Kinds of Technique I Admired

SKF NOTE: Mel Torme‘s two-part 1978 Down Beat interview with Buddy Rich is one of my all-time favorites. It is a conversation between friends, between first-class musicians, and between people with utmost respect for each other. Both Messers Torme and Rich are relaxed, they’ve both lived through the experiences discussed.

Compared with the umpteen times I’ve heard Buddy interviewed on t.v., read Buddy interviewed in magazines and books — Mel Torme’s Down Beat is hands-down the best of the best. It is the interview every Buddy Rich admirer wanted: no wise cracks, just one of the world’s greatest drummers talking about drumming.

The DB intro to this interview says, “The interview will be used by Torme in a forthcoming biography of Rich.” This interview is so good it raised high the expectations for the Rich biography, published as “Traps – The Drum Wonder: The Life of Buddy Rich” in 1991. In my opinion, the book – while good to have from a historical perspective – was disappointing. This interview is much, much better.

Here’s a snippet:

Buddy Rich (Photo by philsternarchives.com)

Buddy Rich (Photo by philsternarchives.com)

Buddy Rich: Some of the best drummers I ever heard had no technique at all. [W]henever I played Chicago on Saturday night they used to have a breakfast show for the various entertainers. They always had a line of 16 girls…. I used to go only because Red Saunders was the greatest show drummer that ever lived. He had a 10-piece band, playing all these outside jazz things for the girls to dance to. He was a cue drummer, he would catch every step the girls did. He would catch comics, catch their lines. He had things with the band that were just impossible to know. You just have to instinctively know that this is the way to play.

As far as technique was concerned, he could play a roll if they slipped him a jar of butter.

Red Saunders (Photo by myweb.clemson.edu/~campbe)

Red Saunders (Photo by myweb.clemson.edu/~campbe)

He had no technique, but he had the innate ability to play drums. He wouldn’t astound you by playing a solo. He couldn’t play a  solo, probably.

I was very into that kind of playing, the show type drumming.

And I had a great respect for Billy Gladstone. He used to play snare drum at Radio City Music Hall in New York. I used to go to see him and I used to sit in the last row in the balcony, in the back, only because I wanted to hear his roll. [W]ithout the slightest bit of motion he could almost shatter your eardrum. He had that kind of technique. When he played a roll you couldn’t tell if it was a roll or if he had only one stick on the drum. It was that pure. That was the other kind of technique that I admired.

Source: “Rich + Torme = Wild Repartee,” by Mel Torme. Down Beat, February 9, 1978.

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