Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 15 Jan. '09, Chicago; d 16 Oct. '73, Yonkers NY) Drummer, bandleader. Active in Chicago with the Benson Orchestra, others (Edgar A. Benson's dance band had hits '21--5; also employed Frankie Trumbauer); first recorded late '27 with McKenzie and Condon's Chicagoans, said to be the first recording with a full drum kit; to NYC '29, worked with Red Nichols, Irving Aaronson, others; first records as leader made in Chicago Nov. '35 as Gene Krupa and His Chicagoans with octet: Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy, guitarist Allan Reuss (b 15 June '15, NYC), trumpeter Nate Kazebier (b 13 Aug. '12, Lawrence KS; d 22 Oct. '69, Reno NV), two others from the Goodman band plus Israel Crosby on bass, incl. beautiful 'Blues Of Israel'. By that time Goodman had sparked off the Swing Era and Krupa became a pop hero, the original model of the hair- tossing, gum-chewing, stick-flying flashy drummer. He featured in the Goodman small groups (well transferred now on Bluebird CDs), was the star of the hit 'Sing Sing Sing' (two-sided 12]im[ 78 interpolated 'Chistopher Columbus') and played at Goodman's historic Carnegie Hall concert Jan. '38, leaving a few weeks later to form his own band. He possessed little subtlety and the Goodman band often sounded leaden compared to its black models, at least on record, a fact for which Krupa must take some blame (Stacy said many years later, 'You can't ask all drummers to keep good time.') Krupa was infl. by Zutty Singleton and Chick Webb, but could not leave his heritage in Chicago jazz behind; his showmanship was honest and his technical skills were real, yet his effects seemed laboured and his use of the cymbals was corny. He was not as good as Dave Tough among white big-band drummers, to say nothing of any number of black ones, yet he was the most famous of all; but he improved over the years and he inspired countless youngsters: Teddy Wilson believed that he was the most important of all because he brought the drum kit out front and established it as a musical instrument.

His own extrovert outfit '38--43 was popular, hits incl. 'Let Me Off Uptown' (vocal by Anita O'Day and Roy Eldridge), 'Knock Me A Kiss' (Eldridge); other vocalists were Irene Daye and Johnny Desmond; more records incl. his theme 'Apurksody' '38 (written by Chappie Willet). The band appeared in films Some Like It Hot '39, Ball Of Fire '41. He went to prison '43 on a marijuana charge; it is widely believed that he was framed and refused to pay off corrupt cops; he was let out pending an appeal, returned to Goodman briefly, worked for Tommy Dorsey '44, then in June the charges were dropped, freeing him to form a band with strings which could not record because of a musicians' union strike. He led a conventional band '45--51 with Charlie Ventura on tenor sax; this band appeared in films George White's Scandals '45, Meet The Band '47, Make Believe Ballroom '49, had hits 'Chickery Chick', 'Boogie Blues' with O'Day. Ventura left to form a famous combo; other vocalists were Buddy Stewart, Bobby Scots (on 'Bonaparte's Retreat' '50). The band was always a very good one musically; Krupa never really mastered more modern music but he was certainly not afraid of it, and he hired good arrangers: 'Margie' was arr. by Gerry Mulligan; 'Leave Us Leap' and 'Calling Dr Gillespie' '47 both by Ed Finkel; George Wallington's 'Lemon Drop' '49 arranged by George Dale 'The Fox' Williams, b 5 Nov. '17, New Orleans, who worked for Krupa for several years; both Finkel and Williams also wrote for Boyd Raeburn. Three CDs on Hep compiling transcriptions from '46--7 are an excellent Krupa legacy in very good sound: What's This?, It's Up To You and Hop, Skip And Jump.

Krupa toured with JATP '50s; ran a drum school in NYC with Cozy Cole from '54; occasionally led combos, often with Ventura; reunions with Goodman incl. quartet LP '63 (now on Bluebird CD), film and soundtrack album The Benny Goodman Story '56; he also appeared in The Glenn Miller Story '54 but The Gene Krupa Story '59 with Sal Mineo is a Hollywood low point, one of the worst biopics ever made. He had a heroin habit at one point but kicked it; he died of leukaemia. Verve albums incl. Plays Gerry Mulligan '58 (arrangements from '46), Original Drum Battle with Buddy Rich etc; CDs now on Verve incl. Krupa And Rich '55 with JATP, Drummer Man '56; compilations of the big band are on Columbia and Classics, air checks on several labels. Krupa was the most decent of men; an appreciation of him by Bobby Scott was published Jan. '84 in Gene Lees's Jazzletter.