By Scott Yanow
There is no real explanation as to how Buddy Rich became the most remarkable of all drummers. He was self-taught starting when he was only 18 months old, and by the time he was three (when he was billed as “Traps – The Drum Wonder”), he was helping to support his family in vaudeville. He could play faster, louder and with more technique than any other drummer of the past or present. Just look at any film of Buddy Rich taking a drum solo on You Tube and try not to be amazed.
While there have been several fine books out on Rich including Mel Torme’s 1991 Traps: The Drum Wonder, the recent work by Pelle Berglund titled One Of A Kind is quite definitive. Conducting interviews with 25 of Rich’s associates, friends and family members and adding the highlights to the most interesting and illuminating stories and quotes from books, newspapers, magazines and early interviews with the drummer, Berglund has put together a continually fascinating and informative biography.
While the outlines of Buddy Rich’s life are well known, this book fills in the gaps. One learns quite a bit about Rich’s early years, his period in vaudeville, his struggle as he outgrew being a child his performer, and his discovery of jazz. There are full chapters on his periods with Joe Marsala’s Chicagoans, Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey. One learns of his difficult time in the Marines, his big bands of the bebop era, his association with Norman Granz and Jazz At The Philharmonic, Rich’s relationship with Harry James, and finally his unlikely emergence as the leader of his own successful big bands in the 1960s and ‘70s. Along the way Berglund discusses Rich’s love/hate relationship with Frank Sinatra, the three-month period after he broke his arm in the 1940s that he spent playing one-handed with his band (still taking solos that scared other drummers), his friendship and rivalry with Gene Krupa, and his personality and infamous temper. The latter are dealt with in an even-handed way. The author correctly recognizes that Rich gave 120% of himself on stage and expected the same of his musicians. They did not have to be perfect but they had to work hard at all times, and when they fell short because they were lax or did not care, he tended to blow up. Rich could also be quite kind at times, but he was certainly never dull.
In addition to the colorful biography, an extensive bibliography, and 16 pages of photos, the book has reviews of 21 film appearances that Rich made during 1930-60. One Of A Kind, published by Hudson Music and distributed by Hal Leonard, is available from www.hudsonmusic.com and is a must for all jazz collections. It comes as close as any work to covering the life and career of the World’s Greatest Drummer.