Gene Krupa

A Personal Memory

I got a very nice e-mail with the picture beside this text via the Elecraft Ham Radio reflector from Terry Schieler W0FM, which contained an interesting story.

In 1964, during my senior year in high school, my school's band director (a former New Orleans jazz clarinetist) arranged for his friend, Krupa, to appear at our final band concert of the year. They set up a pair of kits (my old WFL kit and a brand new, Slingerland-sponsored kit for Gene) on the front of the stage. Krupa played one set and I played the other. The band played a number of old swing tunes and Krupa and I traded licks! HA, he killed me, man! But it was the thrill of a lifetime. I'll never forget it.

My Mom and Dad were beaming with pride in the audience. Dad was a professional musician with piano, vibes and drums being his specialties.

Krupa played "tastefully" when appropriate and kicked it when he soloed. Overall, I would say he"projected" well :o). As you know, he was a complete entertainer who enjoyed the flashy riffs and licks (as did Buddy Rich). The stuff movies are made of. He was also quite a rudimentary drummer.

There was no rehearsal for him when we played together. He just walked out on stage, took a bow and sat down and played. No surprise there, I suppose. But, I was scared to death! He was very kind to everyone and stuck around afterwards to sign autographs until everyone had gotten one.

In the early '60's I had a Ludwig kit similar to the one you're playing in the Krupa tribute clip. "Pink Champagne Sparkle" if my memory is correct. Today I kick myself for letting it go. My current kit is a 30-year old, 7 piece Pearl set with the "Silver Satin" finish. I play in my basement, not having played professionally since 1992.

I would be honored if you felt your web site visitors would enjoy seeing my Krupa memory. The concert was in 1964 in the Otis A. See Auditorium at Jennings Senior High School, Jennings, Missouri (suburb of St. Louis). Please, John, have at it! I have one similar photo of Krupa signing autographs that night that I will try to dig up and send along.

Gene Krupa

Sing Sing Sing (Live)

A Celebration

Eugene Bertram Krupa, born January 15th 1909 – the youngest of nine children - to a polish immigrant family on Chicago's South Side, achieved greater fame in the eyes of the man in the street, than any other jazz drummer. Despite the greater speed of such wonder technicians as Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson, who came after him, it was Krupa who captured the imagination of the fans.

A combination of circumstances propelled him into the public eye in the mid 1930s. He was white, (important in an age in which racial prejudice was rife) he was good looking, he was a great showman, with an intense driving beat, that came straight out of New Orleans, from people such as Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton and Tubby Hall. This was later fashioned by the influence of the dynamite drumming of Chick Webb, the little giant of the drums, who died tragically young in 1939.

Chicago in the 1920s was a thriving centre of New Orleans Jazz. King Oliver's Creole Band with Dodds, Carroll Dickerson's Band with Hall, Jimmie Noone’s with Singleton and a host of other hot combos were to be found all over the city.

Gene’s mother was grooming him for the Priesthood and he was sent to St Joseph’s College, where an inspired Priest, Fr Rapp, encouraged the boy’s musical aspirations. He told Gene, there are only two types of music, “good and bad”.

The pull of jazz was becoming stronger than the vocation to the Priesthood, although he remained a devoutly religious man all his life. Saxophonist Carmen Leggio, who played in Krupa’s 1960’s Quartet, said,"Gene was 100 percent, very spiritual. After we finished playing at the Metropole many times at 3:00 in the morning...He’d go to church, say his prayers and then go to sleep".

Clarinettist, fantasist and drug pusher, Milton ‘Mezz’ Mezzrow was looking for a drummer. He was given Gene’s phone number. The two became firm friends. Gene, "was a neat ,well dressed,... very good looking youngster..shy and serious".

Mezzrow took him to see the South Side drummers at the late night dives. Mezz was concerned at how Mrs Krupa would feel about young Gene keeping such late hours. “Oh, it’ll be alright Milton, as long as I’m with you. Momma thinks you’re a genius and anything I do with you is OK". If only she knew.

Gene was in musically good company, hanging around with fellow drummer Dave Tough who took him to see Dodds. The two percussionists had the same influences, but each achieved a clearly identifiable sound of his own.

Prior to these two and George Wettling, who also studied Baby Dodds, jazz drumming by white and in some cases black drummers, who were not New Orleanians, had very little going for it. The urgency and drive of Tony Sbarbaro of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band was not to be found in the riki-tick rhythms of Bix Beiderbecke's Wolverines, Red Nichols Five Pennies, Adrian Rollini's Goofus Five or Paul Whiteman's lumbering ensemble. Even Fletcher Henderson’s all Negro orchestra suffered rhythmically in comparison to the Southern bands.

Chauncey Morehouse and Vic Berton who graced many white jazz recordings may have been good percussionists, but they did not speak the language of ‘Hot Jazz’. Their accompaniments consisted mainly of cumbersome choked cymbal beats, which served only to break up the rhythm, instead of laying it down. Syncopate it did, swing it manifestly did not.

"There was only one Baby Dodds. ....Baby taught me more than all the others - not only drum playing, but drum philosophy. He did all that the others did and more. He was the first great drum soloist. ....Not only was he a great showman, the man played with fantastic drive. Those press rolls! He could really get things moving. It soon became clear how much I admired him and we struck up a friendship that was only broken by his death in 1959. Until I got to New York a bit later and heard Chick Webb...Baby was my biggest influence."

See my article on Baby Dodds here.

See John Petters Demonstrate The Press Roll

It is quite likely that a mutual admiration society was formed between Hamp and Krupa, since Lionel, as well as being the number one on vibes at the time, was also a spectacularly showy drummer.

When playing with sticks, up tempo, Gene shortens the roll. The solo on "Ding Dong Daddy" from a 1937 radio air-shot is probably the fastest on record to that date. Playing between the snare drum rim and the cowbell, Krupa moves on to the snare drum with some rapid fire excursions between the toms and cymbals, building up to climatic finish.

Krupa heard records of Zulu Natives in the Belgian Congo. Absorbing these sounds and blending them with Dodds (who was the closest of the New Orleans drummers to that African root) Gene created the work which firmly put him on the map. "Sing Sing Sing" was a combination of two songs, one composed by trumpeter, Louis Prima and the second, “Christopher Columbus”, by saxophonist, Chu Berry.

It was Krupa's pounding tom tom beat which made this a hit. Gene was given a large amount of solo space on toms throughout the piece, which on the commercially released record, took up two sides of a 12 inch 78rpm disc. When the band came to play at Carnegie Hall in January 1938, it was "Sing Sing Sing" that was the highlight of the concert, lasting a glorious twelve minutes.

Gene Krupa- Sing Sing Sing

The beat is fairly simple, echoing the African influence. It is constantly moving. Gene shifts between snare, high hat and toms creatively and dynamically, building the tension behind each soloist. Gene is explosive behind Harry James and Goodman, soft and controlled behind Jess Stacey’s unexpected piano solo. The piece comes to a dead stop with a thump on the bass drum. Then the snare comes in building to a cowbell figure, lifted directly from Zutty, before a roaring finish, with rapid triplets going into fast single stroke beats between snare, tom tom and cymbals.

The Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall Concert remains a masterpiece of 20th century music. It was the peak of the band's career to date, but the sound of the orchestra was about to change. Goodman, jealous of the applause his star drummer was attracting, sought to diminish Gene solos. Eventually, after a famously reported on-stage row, Gene left to form his own Orchestra.

The most noticeable thing about the Carnegie Hall concert is that the drums were captured live, without the usual restraint put on Gene by the whims of a recording engineer. They sound full bodied and real. For sure the bass drum is loud and heavy - but that is what bass drums sounded like in those days. Modern audiences are used to bass drums that are dampened, with more of a thud than a note. Gene came out of Baby Dodds - Baby's bass drum always sounded loud.

It must be remembered that the Goodman Orchestra were superstars of their day, and Gene’s departure was highly newsworthy. Dave Tough came into the band. Although he was a great drummer, he did not drive the band to the same frenzy as Gene. Some years later, he would be part of one of the hottest rhythm sections, that of Woody Herman’s Herd.

The first Krupa Orchestra was a good swinging unit, but with its leader being the only outstanding soloist. Early hits included Drummin’ Man and Drum Boogie. By 1941 with the arrival of trumpeter Roy Eldridge and vocalist Anita O'Day, the orchestra raised its game. A stack of hit records including ‘Let Me Off Uptown’ followed. Gene, by this time, had become a movie star, appearing in the original ‘Some Like It Hot’ with Bob Hope, ‘Ball of Fire’, which starred Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck and ‘George White’s Scandals’.

Gene’s marriage ended in 1941. Anita O’Day recalled he had flings with Dinah Shore and Lana Turner. He was also drinking heavily.

See a video of Drum Boogie, where Gene also plays on a matchbox with two matchsticks:

Gene Krupa- Sing Sing Sing

In 1943, at the height of his fame he was arrested on a trumped up drugs charge and jailed. His ex-wife, Ethel, came to the rescue and returned the cheque for $100,000 dollars – her divorce settlement. Anita said it was at this point that Gene really grew up. He re-married Ethel when he was released from jail. He would later invest time lecturing on narcotic abuse to young people.

The rebuilding of his career started with him re-joining Goodman for a short while. A spell with Tommy Dorsey followed.

In 1944, Eddie Condon secured a series of broadcasts on the Blue Network, which were straight no-holds-barred Jazz shows. Gene was a frequent guest, whenever he was in town, always delighting the crowds with his explosive solos. These live recordings spotlight Gene, the traditional jazz drummer, using all the tricks of the trade.

The Gene Krupa Orchestra was re-formed and sounded very different to its predecessor. Be-Bop had arrived. Gene, ever the forward looking musician, tried to keep up. Gradually he came to rely less on the snare drum for time keeping and more on the ride cymbal. But Be-bop drumming was altogether different from the Chicago / New Orleans style, which relied on a regular bass drum beat. The Boppers fragmented the beat, riding the top cymbal and using the snare and bass drums for accents only. Gene never really succeeded in playing Be-Bop. His playing became a sort of hybrid. With his trio however, which featured tenor saxophonist, Charlie Ventura, the futuristic sounding "Ten Ritchie Drive" still has the press roll as its foundation as does the V-Disc recording of ‘Liza’ with modernists, Buddy De Franco and Dodo Marmarosa.

When the Big Band era burned itself out at the tail end of the 1940s, Gene made some pseudo Dixieland / County records with a cowboy singer called Bobby Soots. He put together a first class band, which included Wild Bill Davison and Peanuts Hucko. ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’ sold over 200,000 copies. I played the record to Wild Bill when I was touring with him in the ‘80s. He hadn’t heard it for forty years – but he sure as hell remembered that singer!

Krupa joined Norman Granz's ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’ touring package. He worked mainly with a trio, then a quartet and sometimes with the jam session.

‘Jazz at the Phil’ gave him the opportunity to work with Buddy Rich, and the two were pitted against each other in drum battles. Though Rich was the faster and more technically advanced of the two, it was Gene's musicality and simplicity which enabled him to more than hold his own.

Buddy, unlike Gene, was not a schooled musician. He often asked Gene what he was playing. Gene would get him to slow the playing down in order to work out what Buddy was doing. Buddy was playing the correct rudiments, naturally picked up from watching pit drummers, as a child, in the Vaudeville shows in which his parents performed. The two drummers had tremendous respect for each other.

It was following one such battle in 1952, when Gene put down probably his finest solo – an extended workout on ‘Drum Boogie’.

The solo starts with a fast single stroke roll on snare whilst the sax and piano play the theme. Then Gene takes off. Hi-hat and bass drum firing on all four beats. Single strokes ala Zutty, develop into a paradiddle figure. The snare sounds crisp – the rim-shots ringing out in the crowded auditorium. Before long Gene is playing triplets, using a variety of drum rudiments, shifting between the snare and the toms. A climax is reached - you think he is getting ready to go out – but this is merely a gear change. He takes the volume down, keeping the triplet going, but this time lightly on the rims. Gene really knew how to get a good sound out of his kit. Gradually the tension is increased along with the volume and Krupa reverts to a spectacularly fast single stroke roll for the conclusion. The audience, as expected, went wild!

This format became the template for the Krupa extended solo, but each time it came out differently. A Krupa solo always made musical sense – another trick learned from Dodds, Webb and Singleton.

“If I beat out my wildest drum solo and the people couldn’t dance to it, I’d be really shocked ;for I learned years ago that you just can’t break time”

By the late 1950s Gene’s quartet had a very modern sound. He made two appearances in the Bio pics of Glenn Miller, where he duets with Cozy Cole and the Armstrong Allstars on ‘Basin St Blues’ and the ‘Benny Goodman Story’, where his drumming in the Big Band sounds tame compared to the ‘30s recordings. His playing on ’China Boy’ with trio and ‘Avalon’ with the Quartet however, have all the fire of the early days.

Basin Street Blues - The Glenn Miller Story

He formed the Krupa /Cole Drum School with Cozy Cole and appeared on a series of Timex All Star TV Jazz Shows with his partner. Hollywood beckoned again in 1959, this time the subject was Gene Krupa himself. ‘Drum Crazy’ is not a bad picture even though the biographical details are inaccurate. Sal Mineo played Gene in the film and does a pretty good job miming to Krupa’ superb soundtrack.

The same year, Gene married Patricia Bowler and the couple adopted two children. By 1960, Gene’s health started a long slow decline with his first heart attack.

In 1963, when he again recorded with the Goodman Quartet, (Together Again - Victor Records) there was little left of the drumming of the 1930s Gene, save the solos. Ride cymbal and hi-hats were the fashion of the day. Later, however, as a number of TV and broadcast items evidence, he would still switch back to the press roll style. In fact, shortly before he died, he appeared at Philharmonic Hall with Goodman, and plays snare drum on the opening chorus of ‘Avalon’.

Benny Goodman Quartet - Avalon

The marriage to Patricia ended in 1968 and Gene spent the remaining years at his Yonkers home alone, when not on the road. Reunions with Goodman, Condon and other gigs with traditional bands filled the last few years of his life.

A final farewell concert with Chicago mates, Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood in 1972, (Jazz at the New School) provides the opportunity to hear Gene, without a bass player, playing with the style of band with which he grew up. It is fair to say that his playing had changed - only occasionally does he play press rolls. Most of the time is kept on the ride cymbal - but the beat is strong and exciting, despite the fact he was in poor health. The trio recording of ‘Shimee-sha-Wobble’ with Davern and Wellstood is one of the most exciting jazz records of all time in the opinion of this writer.

Earlier in the year, Gene’s Yonkers home was badly damaged by fire, destroying years of memorabilia, photos and arrangements. Condon’s death soon after grieved him deeply, but he was well enough to be able to speak at the funeral.

Film exists of a rehearsal session of the BG Quartet from 1973 in which Gene looked very ill. He needed regular blood transfusions and pain killers, yet this failed to dampen his drive or enthusiasm for the music.

His last performance was with Goodman on the 18 August 1973 at Saratoga Springs.

Gene Krupa died on 16th October 1973 aged only 64. He had fought against back pain, heart disease, emphysema and Leukaemia Krupa was responsible for making the drummer accepted as a soloist. Critics have not always been fair to him. Many have criticised the flash showmanship, yet Gene, for all the show, was a committed and creative musician, The show was always secondary to music. As Benny Goodman said, “He was a wonderful human being”. And Pee Wee Russell insists, “You play with Gene, you’ve got to play better".

John Petters Demonstrates A Couple of Gene Krupa's Often Used Breaks

More

There is a CD /DVD 2 disc set – A Centenary Tribute to Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman by John Petters Trio featuring James Evans and Paolo Alderighi.

There are also links to Shawn Martin's Gene Krupa Web site and Bruce Klauber's jazz Legends site, which has many recordings on CD of Gene available, as well as two superb DVDs – Gene Krupa – Jazz Legend and Swing Swing Swing and the book., "The World of Gene Krupa". as well as many Krupa videos on YouTube.

Selected Discography

  • The early Condon sides are available in a 4 CD box set, Eddie Condon, The Classic Sessions on JSP Records JSPCCD906
  • The Benny Goodman Trio & Quartets are widely available on Bluebird / Victor
  • ‘ Ding Dong Daddy’ is available on ‘Benny Goodman – On the Air 1937-38’ - Sony Columbia
  • The Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall Concert CD has recently been reissued on Sony Columbia and also on Avid Records in the UK and is an album no drummer should be without.
  • Jazzology Records in New Orleans have issued the Eddie Condon Town Hall Concerts , the first four volumes of which have Krupa material of specific interest. The Bill Dodge CD from 1934 can be obtained from the same source.
  • Hep records in the UK have issued three volumes of Gene’s mid 1940s band and these should be obtainable from specialist shops as should ‘Jazz At The New School’ Chiaroscuro: CR(D) 110.

References

  • Interview with Carmen Leggio from The World of Gene Krupa – Bruce H Klauber.
  • Really The Blues – Mezz Mezzrow & Bernard Wolfe
  • Gene Krupa Interview from ‘The World of Gene Krupa’ – Bruce H Klauber
  • That’s Like It Ought To Be – Jelly Roll Morton Trio – Jelly Roll Morton Vol 2 JSP Records
  • Gene Krupa Interview from The World of Gene Krupa
  • We Called It Music – Eddie Condon and Thomas Sugrue 1947
  • Gene Krupa Interview – The World of Gene Krupa
  • Many of the above videos are available from Bruce Klauber's jazz Legends website, where you will find the biggest collection of Krupa video and audio recordings anyware.
  • Jazz Legends
  • Check out Shawn Martins Gene Krupa Website also
  • Drummerman

Selected Audio

China Boy

McKenzie & Condon's Chicagoans (1972)

Indiana

Eddie Condon Quartet

Hello Lola

Mound City Blue Blowers

After You've Gone

Red Nichols Orchestra

China Boy

Red Nichols Orchestra

China Boy

Benny Goodman Trio

Bugle Call Rag

Rhythmakers (Take One)

Bugle Call Rag

Rhythmakers (Take Two)

Jubilee

Bill Dodge Orchestra

The Last Roundup

Ding Dong Daddy

Benny Goodman Quartet

Bugle Call Rag

Gene Krupa Orchestra

Challenging The Challenger

Gene Krupa Orchestra

Teen Ritchie Drive

Gene Krupa Jazz Trio

I Know That You Know

Fidgety Feet

Condon Town Hall Concert

Impromptu Ensemble

Condon Town Hall Concert

Swingtime In The Rockies

Benny Goodman Orchestra (Carnegie Hall)

Sensation

Benny Goodman (1938)

Sing Sing Sing

Benny Goodman Orchestra (1938)

Drum Boogie

The Famous Solo From 1952

John Petters Productions
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Hospital Drove
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