My vote goes to Jeff Indyke.
I agree with Jeff Indyke
Yes Indyke, one of the great American originals.
People tend to forget that drums are a musical instrument. Playing for the song is a lot different than seeing how many notes you can play in under a minute. Any time I see one of these speed racers I think of what Buddy himself said about Chick Webb:" CH-the daddy of 'em all." They had lots of great drummers who were great musicians like Gene Krupa, Louis Bellson, Jo Jones. The list goes on forever. Another thing that Buddy said was: "You either swing a band or don't swing a band." Too much emphasis is being put on how fast you can play, not how musical. Another thing is that the equipment of today is miles ahead of what those folks had to deal with. Calf heads are great until the room starts to heat up and the air in the club gets more humid. I think back on how rickety the old bass drum pedals were and those damn railette tom holders! Listen to Joe Morello on "Take Five" if you want to hear pure technique being applied in a musical manner. He uses silence as a note. That's real drumming! Buddy was a great, natural drummer but he wasn't the best. No one was or is the best. We have really great drummers but they're all great in their own, unique way.
The OP asks
But is he really the greatest of all time? Taken literally, that means he's the best drummer who has ever lived. But when I see the amazingly intricate polyrhythms and four-limb independence of drummers like Marco Minnemann and Thomas Lang, the extreme creativity of drummers like Gavin Harrison and Benny Greb, and the new crop of ultra-talented jazz virtuosos like Antonio Sanchez, Eric Harland and Keith Carlock, I can't help but think that drumming has really evolved to a whole new level since Buddy's days.
Any of the drummers mentioned above transported back in Buddy's prime time, playing with the greats he did, on his level of gear... would fall on their faces.
They even admit it, they admit BR is THE MAN! They're not being modest.
The difference is, a lot of todays so called 'greats' have spent thousands of hours not playing in the worlds greatest bands executing a myriad of styles (each night) to the new music of the time, what these modern day greats have spent thousands of hours doing (someone in another topic thread used the term 'masturbating' a drum kit) is regurgitate a bunch of random chops real fast, randomly arranged. The musicality between BR and todays so called greats is literally at right angles. Music vs exercise routines.
No one to this day is at BR's level of playing the level of music he played, that's obvious. Maybe some today could rehearse a chart of that music, but to go out night after night, own the band and sound as good as BR doing it.... there's nobody who could sound as good. BR was hungry to the end, he always played in the red, and no matter what he played everyone knew he owned it, in a suit and tie most of the time.