As a world class drummer, Buddy Rich enjoyed great commercial success. It is surprising that he never learned how to read sheet music! So how did he play? He would listen to drum parts and play them from memory.
The lead trumpeter for Rich’s band during the 1960’s, Bobby Shew, was once asked if Rich could read music. “No,” Shew said. “He’d always have a drummer there during rehearsals to read and play the parts initially on new arrangements. Buddy would just sit in the empty audience seats in the afternoon and listen to the band. He’d only have to listen to a chart once and he’d have it memorized. We’d run through it and he’d know exactly how it went, how many measures it ran and what he’d have to do to drive it.”