When it came to technique, speed, power, and the ability to put together incredible drum solos, Buddy Rich lived up to the billing of "the world's greatest drummer." Although some other drummers were more innovative, in reality none were in his league even during the early days. A genius, Buddy Rich started playing drums in vaudeville as "Traps, the Drum Wonder" when he was only 18 months old; he was completely self-taught. Rich performed in vaudeville throughout his childhood and developed into a decent singer and a fine tap dancer. But drumming was his purpose in life, and by 1938 he had discovered jazz and was playing with Joe Marsala's combo. Rich was soon propelling Bunny Berigan's orchestra, he spent most of 1939 with Artie Shaw (at a time when the clarinetist had the most popular band in swing), and then from 1939-1945 (except for a stint in the military) he was making history with Tommy Dorsey. During this era it became obvious that Buddy Rich was the king of drummers, easily dethroning his friend Gene Krupa. Rich had a bop-ish band during 1945-1947 that did not catch on, toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic, recorded with a countless number of all-stars in the 1950s for Verve (including Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Art Tatum, and Lionel Hampton), and worked with Les Brown, Charlie Ventura, Tommy Dorsey (1954-1955), and Harry James (off and on during 1953-1966). A heart attack in 1959 only slowed him down briefly and, although he contemplated becoming a full-time vocalist, Rich never gave up the drums.
In 1966, Buddy Rich beat the odds and put together a successful big band that would be his main outlet for his final 20 years. His heart began giving him trouble starting in 1983, but Rich never gave his music less than 100 percent and was still pushing himself at the end. A perfectionist who expected the same from his sidemen (some of whom he treated cruelly), Buddy Rich is definitively documented in Mel Tormé's book Traps the Drum Wonder. His incredible playing can be viewed on several readily available videotapes, although surprisingly few of his later big band albums have been made available yet on CD.