Buddy Rich - My Thoughts on A Drumming Great
There is a culture amongst the drumming community to fawn over a man named Buddy Rich, who was a superstar in the early days of television with his big band and his temperamental demeanor. They are not unjustified in their fawning...he was a monster behind the drum kit. Brilliant, graceful, unrelenting, powerful, agile, and any other adjective of grandeur could unarguably be used to describe him. In regards to technique, he was vastly superior to his counterparts of the era.
One night, during a late show interview, Rich confirmed that he was a dancer in his youth, and presently practiced in martial arts on a daily basis. This, I believe, is part of what gave him his technical superiority and made him the powerhouse drummer he was. Dancers are extremely coordinated, and have significantly greater muscular balance, flexibility and control than the average individual. Martial artists have similar physical characteristics, and additionally are trained to be mentally strong, calm and focused.
Drumming is an athletic endeavor (Rich agrees with me on this in another interview: both are linked below). It requires muscular strength, stamina, and precision. It also requires strength of and control over the mind. It is only logical that practicing dance and martial arts would be of invaluable benefit to a drummer. Many drummers today seem to neglect these philosophies, and instead adopt the philosophy that endless hours of practice is the path to greatness. But Rich never practiced…he repeatedly stated that the only practice he got was when he played, and his warm-up routine consisted of taking his hands out of his pockets.
However, what could this man have accomplished if he did practice? If he tended to his weaknesses? If he spent time before his gigs warming up, how much more impactful would his performances have been? There is an obvious shortcoming in potential here. I believe Rich was immensely talented, physically able, and played with passion and controlled aggression…yet he could have been so much more than what he was.
Let us learn from this man, not just from his incredible performances, but from his lifestyle and the shortcomings in his craft. His abilities are formidable, but not unsurpassable.