Bobby Rosengarden was a strict adherent to the principles of subtlety and restraint, virtues rare in any musician, let alone a drummer. A supremely gifted and far-reaching player, he recorded with jazz icons spanning from Duke Ellington to Miles Davis, but remains best known to the public at large for his stint as bandleader on ABC's The Dick Cavett Show. Born in Elgin, IL, on April 23, 1924, Rosengarden began playing drums as a teen. His mother was an accompanist at the local silent film theater, and he played percussion while she practiced, substituting spoons for want of actual drums or sticks. His parents immediately recognized his talents, and installed Rosengarden under Chicago drum teacher Roy Kapp, who also instructed another budding prodigy, Louie Bellson. He later won a music scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he studied until World War II duty intervened.
During the war Rosengarden played in an Army Air Corps band, where he captured the attention of bandleader Henry Busse. Following his 1945 discharge, Rosengarden immediately joined Busse's orchestra, and after a year on the road he settled in New York City to pursue a career as a session player. Rosengarden quickly emerged among the busiest and most sought-after drummers in the Big Apple, with a résumé rivaled only by Phil Kraus. In addition, he served for close to two decades as a member of the NBC Orchestra, even moonlighting under conductor Arturo Toscannini with the NBC Symphony Orchestra.
Rosengarden's list of credits is staggering in terms of both quantity and quality -- in addition to supporting pantheon names like Ellington, Miles, and Benny Goodman, with whom he toured off and on for years, his taste for economy made him ideally suited for bossa nova dates, and he appears on virtually all of Astrud Gilberto's classic Verve LPs. By all accounts Rosengarden admired the sheer power and skill of drummers like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich but eschewed flash throughout his career, rarely if ever taking a solo. Eventually he did agree to record as a bandleader, cutting several duo dates with Kraus and leading his own group on efforts including Percussion...Playful and Pretty and Hot Line for Sound.
Rosengarden left NBC in 1968, joining rival network ABC to serve as bandleader behind Cavett, the compellingly highbrow comedian whose late-night talk show aired opposite The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Rosengarden proved an estimable wit himself, most famously introducing artist Salvador Dali to the theme from the musical Hello, Dolly! When the broadcast networks shifted their headquarters from New York to Los Angeles in 1974, Rosengarden chose to remain on the East Coast, joining trumpeter Yank Lawson's World's Greatest Jazz Band and later touring Europe with Gerry Mulligan. For over a decade, he also led his own orchestra at New York's Rainbow Room, and for years was the on-stage bandleader during Jerry Lewis' annual Muscular Dystrophy telethon broadcast. Rosengarden died of kidney failure in Sarasota, FL, on February 27, 2007 -- he was 82 years old.