Way before there was a competition with the same name, a jazz drummer was going around calling himself the “World’s Fastest Drummer”—and who could argue with Chicagoan Barrett Deems when he was on the stage with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, and many more of his day’s biggest musical stars.
Deems was born March 1, 1914 in Springfield, Illinois. He played with Armstrong from 1954 to 1960 or so, appearing with Satchmo and Bing Crosby in the 1956 film High Society. The clip above is his solo from that film. The drummer grew up playing jazz drums in a time when jazz was often a big part of vaudeville acts, and that showmanship comes through on the big screen.
According to an article in a Chicago publication from the 90s, Deems was quite the character. He was not one to shy away from complimenting a lady, and his wife in his later years was the 35-years-his-junior saxophonist in his band.
Deems passed away in 1998, but kept playing through his 80s. In the video below, at age 82 he still impresses the crowd as he performs at the Chicago Drum Show in 1995.
The contemporary of Buddy Rich may not have been able to play him off the stage, but he could surely hold his own. Check out his musicianship and chops in this live concert with Benny Goodman in 1976.