Friday, February 27, 2009


Gene Krupa (January 15, 1909 – October 16, 1973) was an influential American jazz and big band drummer and composer, known for his highly energetic and flamboyant style.


Krupa was born Eugene Bertram Krupa to Polish parents in Chicago, Illinois. He began playing professionally in the mid 1920s with bands in Wisconsin. He broke into the Chicago scene in 1927, when he was picked by MCA to become a member of "Thelma Terry and Her Playboys", the first notable American Jazz band (outside of all-girl bands) to be led by a female musician. The Playboys were the house band at The Golden Pumpkin nightclub in Chicago and also toured extensively throughout the eastern and central United States.

Krupa made his first recordings in 1927, with a band under the leadership of banjoist Eddie Condon and "fixer" (and sometime singer, who did not appear on the records), Red McKenzie: along with other recordings beginning in 1924 by musicians known in the "Chicago" scene such as Bix Beiderbecke, these sides are examples of "Chicago Style" jazz. The numbers recorded at that session were: "China Boy", "Sugar", "Nobody's Sweetheart" and "Liza". The McKenzie - Condon sides are also notable for being the first records to feature a full drum kit. Eddie Condon describes what happened in the Okeh Records studio on that day (in 'We Called It Music' - pub: Peter Davis, 1948):

“Mezzrow (Milton "Mezz" Mezzrow) was helping Krupa set up his drums. 'What are you going to do with those?' Rockwell (Okeh's 'A&R' man in the 1920's) asked. 'Play them,' Krupa said simply. Rockwell shook his head. 'You can't do that,' he said. 'You'll ruin our equipment. All we've ever used on records are snare drums and cymbals.' Krupa, who had been practicing every day at home, looked crushed. 'How about letting us try them?' I asked. 'The drums are the backbone of the band. They hold us up.' I could see that Rockwell was leery of the whole business; drums or no drums, I figured, we are probably going to get tossed out. 'Let the kids try it', McKenzie said. 'If they go wrong I'll take the rap'. I didn't know until long afterwards that Red had guaranteed our pay for the job'... 
Quietly we waited for the playback. When it came, pounding out through the big speaker, we listened stiffly for a moment. We had never been an audience for ourselves...Rockwell came out of the control-room smiling. 'We'll have to get some more of this... (Rockwell nodded towards Krupa): didn't bother the equipment at all,' he said. 'I think we've got something,'.”

Krupa also appeared on six recordings made by the Thelma Terry band in 1928.

Krupa studied with Sanford A. Moeller.

In 1929, he was part of the Mound City Blue Blowers sessions, that also included Red McKenzie, Glenn Miller, and Coleman Hawkins, which produced "Hello Lola" and "One Hour", which Krupa was credited with co-writing.

In 1929 he moved to New York City and worked with the band of Red Nichols. In 1934 he joined Benny Goodman's band, where his featured drum work — especially on the hit "Sing, Sing, Sing" — made him a national celebrity. In 1938, after a public fight with Goodman at the Earl Theater in Philadelphia, he left Goodman to launch his own band and had several hits with singer Anita O'Day and trumpeter Roy Eldridge.

In 1939, Gene Krupa and his Orchestra appeared in the Paramount movie Some Like It Hot, which starred Bob Hope, performing the title song, "Blue Rhythm Fantasy", and "The Lady's in Love with You". Krupa made a memorable cameo appearance in the 1941 film Ball of Fire, in which he and his band performed an extended version of the hit "Drum Boogie", which he composed with trumpeter Roy Eldridge.
In 1943, Krupa was arrested for possession of marijuana and was given a 3 month jail sentence. After his release, Krupa reorganized his band with a big string section, featuring Charlie Ventura on sax. It was one of the largest dance bands of the era, sometimes containing up to forty musicians. He gradually cut down the size of the band in the late 1940s, and from 1951 on led a trio or quartet, often featuring the multi-instrumentalist Eddie Shu on tenor sax, clarinet and harmonica. He appeared regularly with the Jazz At the Philharmonic shows. The 1946 film The Best Years Of Our Lives features Gene in a short cameo.

In 1954, Gene Krupa appeared as himself, along with Louis Armstrong, in the Universal International movie The Glenn Miller Story, which starred James Stewart, June Allyson and Harry Morgan, performing "Basin Street Blues".

In 1959, the movie biography The Gene Krupa Story was released, starring Sal Mineo as Gene Krupa with a cameo appearance by Red Nichols.


He continued to perform in the 1960s even in famous clubs like the Metropole near Times Square in New York, often playing duets with African American drummer Cozy Cole. Krupa retired in the late 1960s, although he occasionally played in public in the early 1970s until shortly before his death from leukemia and heart failure in Yonkers, New York at age sixty-four. He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Calumet City, Illinois.

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Many consider Krupa to be one of the most influential drummers of the 20th century, particularly regarding the development of the drum kit. Many jazz historians believe he made history in 1927 as the first kit drummer ever to record using a bass drum pedal. Others, however, believe this was done earlier by Baby Dodds. His drum method was published in 1938 and immediately became the standard text. He is also credited with inventing the rim shot on the snare drum.

Krupa in the 1930s prominently featured Slingerland drums. At Krupa's urging, Slingerland developed tom-toms with tuneable top and bottom heads, which immediately became important elements of virtually every drummer's set-up. Krupa also developed and popularised many of the cymbal techniques that became standards. His collaboration with Armand Zildjian of the Avedis Zildjian Company developed the hi-hat stand and standardized the names and uses of the ride cymbal, the crash cymbal, the splash cymbal, the pang cymbal and the swish cymbal.

The British techno-rock group Apollo 440 had a hit with "Krupa" which featured the sampled phrase from the movie Taxi Driver; "Now back to Gene Krupa's syncopated style." The song itself is an electronic dance track written in the style of Gene Krupa, giving the impression of Krupa's style in the form of a 1990s dance track, blending his musical idioms with a modern song using samples and synthesised basslines.

Krupa was featured in the 1946 Warner Bros. cartoon Book Revue in which a rotoscoped version of Krupa's drumming is used in an impromptu jam session.

The 1937 recording of Louis Prima's "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)" by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra featuring Gene Krupa on drums was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

In 1978, Gene Krupa became the first drummer inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.

In season 8 of The Simpsons Krupa's name and drumming style are briefly mentioned in the episode, Hurricane Neddy.

Rhythm, the UK's best selling drum magazine voted Gene Krupa the third most influential drummer ever, in a poll conducted for it's February 2009 issue. Voters included over 50 top-name drummers.


Gene Krupa...
Gene Krupa was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 15, 1909 and was the the youngest of Bartley and Ann Krupa's nine children. His father died when Gene was very young and his mother worked as a milliner to support the family. Allof the children had to start working while young, Gene at age eleven. His brother Pete worked at "Brown Music Company", and got Gene a job as chore boy. Gene started out playing sax in grade school but took up drums at age 11 since they were the cheapest item in the music store where he and his brother worked. "I used to look in their wholesale catalog for a musical instrument - piano, trombone, cornet - I didn't care what it was as long as it was an instrument. The cheapest item was the drums, 16 beans, I think, for a set of Japanese drums; a great high, wide bass drum, with a brass cymbal on it, a wood block and a snare drum."

His parents were very religious and had groomed Gene for the priesthood. He spent his grammar school days at various parochial schools and upon graduation went to St. Joseph's College for a brief year. Gene's drive to drum was too strong and he gave up the idea of becoming a priest. In 1921, while still in grammar school, Gene joined his first band "The Frivolians." He obtained the drumming seat as a fluke when the regular drummer was sick. The band played during summers in Madison, Wisconsin. Upon entering high school in 1923, Gene became buddies with the "Austin High Gang", which included many musicians which would be on Gene's first recording session; Jimmy McPartland, Jimmy Lannigan, Bud Freeman and Frank Teschemacher. In 1925, Gene began his percussion studies with Roy Knapp, Al Silverman & Ed Straight. Under advice from others, he decided to join the musicians union. "The guy said, 'Make a roll. That's it. Give us 50 bucks. You're In.'" Krupa started his first "legit" playing with Joe Kayser, Thelma Terry and the Benson Orchestra among other commercial bands. A popular hangout for musicians was "The Three Deuces." All of the guys playing in mickey mouse bands would gravitate here afterhours and jam till early in the morning. Gene was able to hone and develop his style playing with other jazz players such as Mezz Mezzrow, Tommy Dorsey, Bix Beiderbecke and Benny Goodman in these local dives. Krupa's big influences during this time were Tubby Hall and Zutty Singleton. The drummer who probably had the greatest influence on Gene in this period was the great Baby Dodds. Dodds' use of press rolls was highly reflected in Gene's playing, especially during his tenure with Gene has often been considered to be the first drum "soloist." Drummers usually had been strictly time-keepers or noisemakers, but Krupa interacted with the other musicians and introduced the extended drum solo into jazz. His goal was to support the other musicians while creating his own role within the group. Gene is also considered the father of the modern drumset since he convinced H.H. Slingerland, of Slingerland Drums, to make tuneable tom-toms. Tom-toms up to that point had "tacked" heads, which left little ability to change the sound. The new drum design was introduced in 1936 and was termed "Seperate Tension Tunable Tom-Toms." Gene was a loyal endorser of Slingerland Drums from 1936 until his death. Krupa was called on by Avedis Zildjian to help with developing the modern hi-hat cymbals. The original hi-hat was called a "low-boy" which was a floor level cymbal setup which was played with the foot. This arrangement made it nearly impossible for stick playing. Gene's first recording session was a historical one. It occured in December of 1927 when he is noted to be the first drummer to record with a bass drum. Krupa, along with rest of the McKenzie-Condon Chicagoans were scheduled to record at OKeh Records in Chicago. OKeh's Tommy Rockwell was apprehensive to record Gene's drums but gave in. Rockwell said "All right, but I'm afraid the bass drum and those tom-toms will knock the needle off the wax and into the street."

Gene moved to New York in 1929 and was recruited by Red Nichols. He, along with Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, performed in the pit band of the new George Gershwin play "Strike Up the Band." Gene had never learned to read music and "faked" his parts during rehearsals. Glenn Miller assisted him by humming the drum parts until Gene got them down. After "Strike Up the Band" completed in January 1930, Hoagy Carmichael gathered several great musicians together for many historical sessions. Gene played on some legendary "jazz" recordings with Bix Beiderbecke, Adrian Rollini and Joe Venuti. Krupa played in one more pit band with Red Nichols for Gershwin's "Girl Crazy." He then joined Russ Columbo's band in which indirectly led to his joining Benny Goodman's group.

Benny Goodman urged Gene to join his band with the promise that it would be a real jazz band. After joining, Benny soon became discouraged with the idea of having a successful jazz group. The band was relegated to playing dance music and Benny was considering packing it in. Upon the band's engagement at the Palomar, Benny decided to go for broke and play their own arrangements. The audience went wild and the band took off. The Goodman group featured Gene prominently in the full orchestra and with the groundbreaking Goodman Trio and Quartet. The Trio is possibly the first working small group which featured black and white musicians. On January 16, 1938, the band was the first "jazz" act to play New York's Carnegie Hall. Gene's classic performance on "Sing Sing Sing" has been heralded as the first extended drum solo in jazz. After the Carnegie Hall performance, tension began to surface between Gene and Benny. Audiences were demanding that Gene be featured in every number and Benny didn't want to lose the spotlight to a sideman.

Gene departed on March 3, 1938 and less than 2 months later formed his own orchestra. His band was an instant success upon it's opening at the Marine Ballroom on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City during April of 1938. His band went through several incarnations during it's existance and at one point even featured a string section with 30 to 40 members. During this time Krupa authored his own book titled "The Gene Krupa Drum Method"(1938) and began an annual Drum Contest (1941). The contest attracted thousands of contestants each year and saw drum legend Louie Bellson as the first year's winner. Gene appeared in several motion pictures including "Some Like it Hot" & "Beat the Band", becoming a sort of matinee idol. His noted likeness to Tyrone Power and musical fame was a magical combination in the eyes of Hollywood.

In the summer of 1943, Krupa was arrested in San Francisco in a bogus drug bust. He was charged with possession of marijuana and contributing to the deliquency of a minor. Gene was sentenced to 90 days, of which 84 were served. He was later cleared of the latter charges. During this time, Roy Eldridge led Gene's band and eventually had to break up the group. After Gene got out of jail, he briefly joined up with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey before re-forming his own band. Krupa's groups of the early 1940's were often criticized as being too commercial but Gene's big band was one of the first in the mid-forties to introduce Bop arrangements with the help of Gerry Mulligan and the playing of trumpeter Red Rodney. Gene managed to keep the full band together until December of 1950, when most big bands had already fallen apart. He kept a smaller version of the big band together through 1951.

After breaking up his big band, Gene wasn't sure which direction to take. He had led small groups within his big band during the 40's, this was a logical choice with the growing popularity of be-bop. The Gene Krupa Trio was one of the first acts recruited by Norman Granz for his "Jazz At The Philharmonic" concerts(due to contractual reasons, Gene was first billed as "The Chicago Flash."). The JATP dates introduced the famous "Drum Battles" with Buddy Rich in October of 1952 and the subsequent studio recordings on the Lp "Krupa and Rich" in 1955. Some of the greatest jazz recordings of all time were the result of the "All-Star" jams at JATP. The alumni of these dates included Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Shavers, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich and of course, Gene. Along with Cozy Cole, Gene formed the Krupa-Cole Drum School in March of 1954. He also began studying tympani with the New York Philharmonic's Saul Goodman(1951). In 1959, actor Sal Mineo portrayed Gene in the motion picture "The Gene Krupa Story." The film was very loose in the facts of Gene's career but did feature an excellent soundtrack recorded by Krupa himself. Gene's huge resurgence in popularity eventually led to his departing the teaching role he had at the Drum School.

By the late fifties Krupa was prompted to slow down due to increasing back problems. He had a heart attack in 1960 which forced him into a retirement for many months. After recuperating, the ever-changing Quartet continued to perform, record and regularly appeared at New York's Metropole. The Goodman Quartet reunited and played several live dates. Gene led a hectic schedule with the Quartet through the early and mid-sixties, performing throughout the US and abroad. His health once again became a problem and his second marriage fell apart. He retired in 1967 proclaiming that "I feel too lousy to play and I know I must sound lousy." During his hiatus, Krupa practiced and coached his baseball team. In 1969, Gene began a series of anti-drug lectures and clinics for Slingerland Drums. He officially came out of retirement in the spring of 1970, re-formed the Quartet and was featured at Hotel Plaza in New York. Gene's last commercial recording was in November of 1972, titled "Jazz At the New School" with Eddie Condon and Wild Bill Davison. Gene's final public performance was with a reunion of the old Goodman Quartet on August 18, 1973.

His soloing ability was greatly diminished but his overall playing had become more modern sounding than ever. Gene died October 16, 1973 of a heart attack. He had also been plagued by leukemia and emphysema. He was laid to rest at the Holy Cross Cemetary in Calumet City, Illinois.

Gene Krupa will forever be known as the man who made drums a solo instrument. He single-handedly made the Slingerland Drum Company a success and inspired millions to become drummers. He also demonstrated a level of showmanship which has not been equaled. Buddy Rich once said that Gene was the "beginning and the end of all jazz drummers." Louie Bellson said of Gene, "He was a wonderful, kind man and a great player. He brought drums to the foreground. He is still a household name."



Bio by: Donald Greyfield

Band Leader, Drummer. He was considered to be the first drum "soloist" by his introduction of extended interludes into jazz renditions which brought the drum to the forefront in music. He was born Eugene Bertram Krupa in Chicago, the youngest of Slovak immigrants Bartley and Ann Krupa's nine children. The death of Bartley left Ann with the burden of supporting the entire family by working as a milliner designing, making and trimming women's hats. All of the children found employment to help their mother. Gene, age eleven, worked as a chore boy for the Brown Music Company a store located on Chicago's South Side which led to his future as a drummer. He took a little of his wages to buy a musical instrument. The cheapest available were the drums. His education was garnished from the Catholic school system in Chicago. In deference to his religious mother, he enrolled at St. Joseph's College, a seminary prep school in Rensselaer, Indiana, with the intention of a vocation in the priesthood but washed out. The musically inclined Eugene was proficient at playing the sax while still in grammar school but joined his first band "The Frivolians" as a drummer. Upon entering high school, he became associated with the "Austin High Gang" a group of musicians which led to percussion studies with famous drummer Roy Knapp and joined the musicians union which led to performances with various Chicago commercial bands. Gene moved to New York in 1929 and was recruited by Red Nichols. He along with Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, performed in the pit band of the new George Gershwin play "Strike Up The Band." Krupa joined Russ Columbo's band which let to his joining Benny Goodman's band with a promise that it would be a real jazz band. He soon became discouraged as the band was relegated to playing dance music. Gene departed in 1938 forming his own orchestra which was an instant success upon opening at the Marine Ballroom on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. During the bands tenure, he authored his own book titled, The Gene Krupa Drum Method." He appeared in several motion pictures including "Some Like it Hot" and "Beat the Band." The group took a hit when Krupa was charged with possession of marijuana and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was sentenced to 90 days, of which 84 were served. This incident triggered the demise of the band. Released from custody, Gene briefly joined up with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey before reforming his own band. The revised band remained intact until 1950 long after the era of the Big Band was history. By the late fifties, Krupa was prompted to slow down due to increasing back problems and in 1960, a heart attack forced him into a long period of recuperation, reemerging to perform with the Goodman Quartet throughout the US and abroad. His health became a problem again and he retired for good in 1967. Gene's final public performance was with a reunion of the old Goodman Quartet in August 1973 giving a greatly diminished performance followed by his death in October at his home in Yonkers. Although he had been under treatment for leukemia for several years, the official cause of death was heart failure. The most charismatic and innovative drum legend of the Swing Era was gone at age 64 but remembered at a requiem mass held at St. Denis Roman Catholic Church in Yonkers. Goodman, Freeman and McPartland gathered to pay their last respects. His body was transferred back to Chicago with burial in the family plot at Holy Cross Cemetery, Calumet City. Legacy...Gene Krupa will forever be known as the man who made drums a solo instrument. He single-handedly made the Slingerland Drum Company a success and inspired thousands to become drummers. His level of showmanship has never been equaled. His name is forever linked and synonymous with the drum. He convinced H.H. Slingerland of Slingerland Drums, to make tuneable tom-toms which gave one the ability to change the sound. The new drum design was introduced in 1936 named "Separate Tension Tunable Tom-Toms." He is considered "The Pioneer of the Modern Drum Set" and the company even today sells the a Gene Krupa Set with his signature plate mounted on the bass drum. Gene was a loyal endorser of Slingerland Drums until his death. He was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1983. In 1959, actor Sal Mineo portrayed Gene in the motion picture "The Gene Krupa Story." The film was very loose in the facts of Gene's career but did feature an excellent soundtrack recorded by Krupa himself. 


Gene Krupa - A Celebration

by John Petters 

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 Louis 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”. (1) 

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”. Said Mezz.

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”. (2) 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.

Gene recalled“..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” (3)

By 1927, Krupa had become part of a group of young Jazz nuts known as the ‘Austin High School Gang’. This group included Joe Sullivan, piano, Bud Freeman, saxophone, cornettist, Jimmy McPartland and guitarist/banjoist/ fixer, Eddie Condon. 

Condon and vocalist / comb player, Red McKenzie managed to secure a record date for the band, which recorded under the name of ‘McKenzie & Condon's Chicagoans’. 

It was on this date from 8th December 1927 that the first recordings of the jazz that became known as ‘Chicago Style’ were cut. The band recorded two titles, ‘Sugar’ and ‘China Boy’.

Significantly, it is the sound of Krupa's drums which define the style more than any other factor. 

Jazz historians have long believed this to be the first recording session on which a full drum kit was used. This is not the case. Baby Dodds had recorded with a full kit some months earlier. It was, however, usual for drummers to record only with snare drum, blocks and cymbals, due to the problem of vibrations upsetting the early recording equipment.

The rules of jazz drumming in the mid 1920s had been laid down by Dodds and a little later Singleton. It was essentially a parade beat made up of press rolls. There are various different ways of rolling on a snare drum and drummers certainly varied their approach. The basic method for playing an up tempo tune was to play four even beats with the right hand whilst rolling the left stick across the snare drum on beats two and four. Rim-shots, where the stick hits the rim of the drum and the drum head instantaneously were also common place. (see my demonstration video on YouTube accessible via

The bass drum would play either two beat (beats one and three) or four beats and often a combination of the two.

Woodblocks and cow bells were used. The blocks, in the case of Baby Dodds, provided a constantly shifting rhythmic pattern, using a combination of triplets, single and double strokes, flams and paradiddles.

Cymbals were not played open, but choked or muffled by holding the left hand and stick under the instrument while striking it with the right.

Hi-hats were not around until the mid 1920s - pioneered by Vic Berton.

No one had thought of riding the cymbal to give that "ten to ten" sounding swing rhythm that is obligatory in every Jazz band today. This rhythm most likely came from the washboard players in the 1920s and was first adapted to the ride cymbal on record by Zutty Singleton with Jelly Roll Morton’s Trio in 1929. (5) The sound clip is available in the right hand column. 

Krupa's drumming on the McKenzie / Condon sides is obscured by the over recorded, double bass of Jim Lannigan, but he played press rolls in the manner of Dodds and Singleton, using rim-shot punctuations, plus cymbal accents. The ride out is driven by an off -beat tom tom in the same manner as used by Dodds - and by Andrew Hillaire on Jelly Roll Morton's "Black Bottom Stomp".

The records caused a sensation amongst musicians. Vic Berton was impressed with young Gene’s exuberant drumming. 

The band decided that they needed to make it in New York. But work was scarce.

They lived in one room in a hotel. “We really scuffed it out”, said Gene (6).

Eddie Condon recalled, “We lived on olives from Martinis and cherries from Manhattans at cocktail parties to which we were invited. ......We opened a charge account at a delicatessen for canned tomatoes to be kept on ice until we called for them in the morning – or in the afternoon”. (7)

Condon talked Tommy Rockwell at Okeh records into recording two sides with a quartet, himself, Sullivan, Teschmacher and Krupa. 

The fee was timely. “Back at the hotel I paid the bill. The clerk gave me a dollar. What shall we buy with it?” I asked the boys. The vote was unanimous – canned tomatoes”.

"Indiana", from that session on 28th July 1928, offers a first glimpse of Krupa the soloist - albeit briefly. A two bar tom tom and cymbal introduction is answered by Tesch’s alto sax. Gene can also be heard using brushes on this track, behind Joe Sullivans's piano solo. The press rolls, however, sound heavy handed.

By 14th November, 1929 Gene had more control and a lighter touch to his drumming on an unusual session by the "Mound City Blue Blowers". Led by Red McKenzie, blowing a comb and paper, this all star ensemble included Pee Wee Russell, Coleman Hawkins and a young Glenn Miller. Krupa is well recorded and the interplay between the snare rim-shot and cow bell is in evidence, together with a rim-shot off-beat ride out.

Gene was going places. He joined Red Nichols Five Pennies and the pit orchestra on Broadway for Gershwin’s ‘Strike Up The Band’. He couldn’t read music, so Glenn Miller used to hum the arrangements to enable Gene to learn them. He took up serious study under Sanford ‘Gus’Muller, whilst absorbing all the sounds that Harlem had to offer. 

“I’d practice on the rubber pad, six, seven, eight hours, during the day. Go out and work. Then, after hours, I’d play uptown...and watch tap dancers and great drummers like George Stafford and Sonny Greer. I learned a lot of beats that way”. (6)

The Nichols recorded repertoire from this period further demonstrates Gene’s continued development. A well constructed four bar drum break can be found in "After You've Gone" (1930) with the augmented "Red Nichols Five Pennies". Gene uses a combination of single strokes and paradiddles played between snare, tom and cowbell.

With the same band Gene, following Zutty’s lead, plays open ride cymbal, played behind Nichol's cornet solo on "China Boy". The ring of the cymbal can be clearly heard on this recording, as well as a trade mark rim-shot before Krupa returns to the press roll behind the clarinet solo.

The ride cymbal was to become the standard tool of the Jazz drummer from the late 1930s onwards, replacing the snare drum as the principal instrument in the drummer's time keeping armoury. 

By 1932, Krupa was playing in dance bands, and must have relished the odd Jazz recording date, such as a memorable session by the Rhythmakers, which featured the wonderful New Orleans trumpeter, Henry Red Allen and the unique Pee Wee Russell.

Gene's style at this point is very similar to Zutty Singlton's, who was on the later sides by the band. Gene gets a four bar solo on "Bugle Call Rag", of which there are two takes, with very different drum breaks.
See article on Zutty Singleton. Click here. 
In 1933, Gene married Ethel Maguire, a telephone operator at the Dixie Hotel on 42nd St.  

He took part in several recording sessions with the early Benny Goodman Orchestra, including the first session by Billie Holliday. Krupa's drums, however, are best captured on a session recorded under the pseudonym of Bill Dodge and his Orchestra (1934). On ‘Georgia Jubilee’ the opening bars are played on the hi-hat. For the middle 8 bars of the first chorus the rhythm is transferred to the snare drum press roll. Another Krupa trademark, the stick shot, where one stick hits the other and the rim at the same time are in evidence on this recording. 

1935 saw the first of the Benny Goodman Trio recordings, with Teddy Wilson on piano. It was at this time that Krupa the soloist really started to emerge. There had been few drum solos prior to 1935 and it was Chick Webb who was to point the way forward. His solo on "Don't Be That Way" in 1934 incorporated very fast triplets to great effect. Krupa, who was well aware of the little giant of the drums by this time, had obviously absorbed what he heard and created his own reaction to it.

The BG Trio recording of "China Boy" is played on wire brushes throughout. Gene's technique on the brushes mimics his press roll rhythm, except that the left hand drags the brush across the drum head. This gives a lighter sound. For colour, shuffle beats are inserted. His solo starts with the brushes playing straight time, building, into more complex patterns, shifting eventually into a fast triplet rhythm, which concludes with the full stop of a bass drum beat. The ride-out reverts to the off-beat tom tom of the 1927 recording of the song.

With Lionel Hampton (vibes) added in 1936, the trio became a quartet. Gene's technique by this time was extremely well developed, and he was able to play at ridiculously fast tempi.

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.

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. 

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.

“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”. he said.

A Krupa solo always made musical sense – another trick learned from Dodds, Webb and Singleton.

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.

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’.

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, “You play with Gene, you’ve got to play better. He insists


By John Cohassey

Personal Information: 

Born Eugene Bertram Krupa, January 15, 1909, in Chicago, IL; 
Died of heart failure, October 16, 1973, in Yonkers, NY. 


Ethel McGuire (1934 - 1942) (divorced) 
Ethel McGuire (1946 - 1955) (her death) 
Patty Bowler (1959 - 1968) (divorced); 2 children Mary Grace and Michael (BG) 


Studied at St. Joseph's College, 1924-25. 


Drummer and swing band leader. Studied drums and performed with local Chicago groups, c. 1920; performed with the Austin High Gang, late 1920s; recorded with Red McKenzie's and Eddie Condon's Chicagoans and performed in jam sessions at the Three Deuces, 1927; worked with commercial groups, such as Red Nichols' Five Pennys, and free-lanced with the bands of Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, and saxophonist Adrian Rollini, 1930-34; joined Goodman's band and played on NBC-Radio's Let's Dance, 1934; left Goodman to form Gene Krupa Orchestra, 1938; drug charge led to disbanding of first group, 1943; briefly rejoined Goodman, 1943; joined Tommy Dorsey, 1944; organized own big band, 1944-51; toured with own trio/quartet, 1950s; played on soundtrack of film The Gene Krupa Story, 1959; led big band in Hollywood, 1963; came out of semi-retirement to lead own quartet at Plaza Hotel, 1967; performed at Newport Jazz Festival, 1972; appeared at the last reunion of original Goodman Orchestra, 1973. 


Voted best drummer, Down Beat Readers' Poll, 1944. 

he name Gene Krupa is synonymous with a driving drum style and a dynamic sense of showmanship qualities that made the Chicago-born drummer one of the musical giants of the Swing Era. Behind his public image--the gum-chewing hipster with the uncontrollable shock of black hair--Krupa was a devoutly serious and self-disciplined musician. As Benny Goodman would recall in his autobiography Kingdom of Swing, "No matter how much playing [Krupa] did, he was always working, developing his hands, and getting new ideas." Krupa's technique and explosive attack earned him praise from all quarters of the jazz world, from traditional swing stylists like Buddy Rich to modernist drummer Max Roach. 

The youngest of nine children, Eugene Bertram Krupa was born on January 15, 1909, in Chicago, Illinois. After the untimely death of his father when Krupa was young, his mother went to work as a milliner to support her family. At around the age of 11, Krupa got a job running errands and cleaning windows at Brown Music Company, a music store on Chicago's South Side. With the money he earned, Krupa decided to purchase a musical instrument, and he ultimately chose the drums, the "cheapest item" listed in the wholesale catalogue. 

Taken with the idea of playing the drums, Krupa searched his South Side neighborhood for the company of young musicians. "There were a few little bands in school that I got to hear at socials and tea dances," the musician recalled in Drummin' Men. "I'd watch the drummers and pick up what I could. After a bit, I got to make music with some of these fellows and substitute at the dances and socials." 

Soon Krupa's musical activities began to take precedence over his school work. As a result of his late-night musical activities, Krupa often fell asleep during classes. In 1924, in an effort to placate his mother' disappointment over his failing school studies, Krupa enrolled in St. Joseph's College, a seminary prep school in Rensselaer, Indiana. At St. Joseph's, Krupa studied under a classically trained professor of music, Father Ildefonse Rapp. 

Although Krupa received first-rate instruction at St. Joseph's, he decided to leave the school in 1925 in order to pursue a career as a professional drummer. He soon played various jobs around Chicago with commercial dance bands such as the Hossier Bellhops, Ed Mulaney's Red Jackets, and the band of Joe Kayser. Living on the South Side, Krupa spent evenings searching for jazz in neighborhood cabarets and nightclubs. 

In the spring of 1927 Krupa discovered a talented group of young white jazzmen playing at a South Side movie house. Known as the Austin High Gang, this devoted coterie of musicians included banjoist Eddie Condon, saxophonist Bud Freeman, and Dave Tough, the premiere white Chicago drum stylist. Krupa "sat through two shows every night and three on Saturday to hear Tough on drums," remembered Condon in his autobiography We Called It Music. 

Soon afterward Tough, in an effort to introduce his younger protégé to authentic jazz, took Krupa to see the great New Orleans drummer Baby Dodds. "Baby was the band's central strength," reminisced Krupa in Drumming Men, "the way he used the drums, the rims, the cymbals was just marvelous. I kept coming back to dig Baby, always showing my appreciation for the extremely musical things he was doing. He was one of my main inspirations." 

Krupa was so impressed by Dodds that he began to immerse himself in the study of black jazz. Austin High Gang member Milton "Mess" Mezzrow recalled in his autobiography, Really the Blues, how he and Krupa analyzed the rhythmic patterns of New Orleans drummers: "More than anything, it was the Negroes' time and rhythm that fascinated us. I would sit there with Gene for hours, just beating out rhythms of Zutty Singleton and Johnny Wells until my hands swole double." By 1927 Krupa was attending a regular jazz jam Session held at the Three Deuces, located across from the Chicago Theater--legendary sessions that included Austin High Gang clarinetist Frank Teschmaker, trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke, and Krupa's future employer Benny Goodman. 

In December of the same year, Red Mckenzie assisted the Austin High Gang in landing a recording session with the Okeh label. Billed as Mckenzie's and Condon's Chicagoans, Krupa, Freeman, Teschmaker, Condon, bassist Jim Lannigan, and pianist Joe Sullivan recorded four sides: "China Boy," "Sugar," "Nobody's Sweetheart," and "Liza." Expecting to use his entire drum set, Krupa became outraged when producer Tommy Rockwell demanded that he play the standard set-up: a snare and cymbals. 

Although Krupa argued that the recording equipment could not handle the vibration of the additional drums, Rockwell finally agreed, at Mckenzie's urging, to allow Krupa to use his entire kit. "So they let Gene play the drums, and he beat the heck out of them all the way through the set," described Jimmy McPartland in Talking Jazz, "It gave us a good solid beat." Assessing the impact of the session, Condon wrote, "Krupa's drums went through us like triple bourbon." 

The success of the Okeh session didn't just mark the first known recording of the bass drum in jazz music, it defined the Chicago jazz sound. As Richard Hadlock pointed out in Jazz Masters of the Twenties, Krupa was the "biggest surprise" of these sessions, "an unknown, whose well-recorded drum work ... rocked the New York Jazz cliques." In 1928 Condon's Chicagoans headed to New York to back singer Bee Palmer. When the job fell through, Krupa and the Chicagoans recorded sessions with trumpeter Red Nichols and trombonist Miff Mole. 

After playing with Nichols's band, Krupa performed with the pit band for George and Ira Gershwin's 1930 Broadway production Strike Up the Band. "Gershwin was crazy about his playing," explained Max Kaminsky in My Life in Jazz, "because Gene was the first white drummer who could swing the beat so that the chorus girls could kick, in time." 

While working with commercial groups in the early 1930s, Krupa, determined to become a "legit" Drummer, began formal music instruction with "Gus" Moeller. Practicing eight hours a day, he worked on inventing his own rhythmic variations and patterns. "My work with Moeller," related Krupa in Drummin' Men, "made possible more graceful playing, better control and freedom to be myself no matter what kind of music I had to interpret." 

In 1934 record producer John Hammond traveled to Chicago to recruit Krupa for Benny Goodman's big band. Although Krupa had reservations about joining, Hammond convinced him that he would be a featured performer of the Goodman band, a noncommercial swing group featuring the arrangements of Fletcher Henderson. "Our drummer was merely adequate," explained Goodman in Eddie Condon's Treasury of Jazz. "The man we wanted, Gene Krupa, was in Chicago playing with Buddy Rogers." Through Hammond, Goodman hoped to draw Krupa to New York City, for as he stated in Kingdom of Swing, "Gene had some not too favorable recollections of our previous jobs together, but he had the same feeling about real jazz that I did, and the chance to play music the way we felt it was as important in his life as it was mine." 

Joining Goodman in New York in December of 1934, Krupa performed on the NBC Saturday broadcast Let's Dance, a national radio spot that bolstered the popularity of Goodman's orchestra and brought great attention to Krupa's drumming talent. In 1935 the band's engagement at Los Angeles's Palomar Ballroom extended from four to seven weeks, drawing more than 200,000 listeners who responded wildly to the solos of Goodman, Krupa, and trumpeter Bunny Berigan. Around this time, Goodman formed a trio with Krupa and pianist Teddy Wilson, and a quartet featuring vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. Krupa's brush work with these two groups displayed his musical versatility and refined sense of accompaniment. 

By the late 1930s Krupa emerged as a national phenomenon. His work on Goodman's 1936 hit "Sing, Sing, Sing" produced the classic drum anthem of the Swing Era, and his appearance on stage and film catapulted him to superstar status. In 1938 he performed on Goodman's classic live recording Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert, which emanates with the intensity of Krupa's near-frantic drum work. Despite the popularity of the Goodman-Krupa combination, however, artistic and personal disputes prompted Krupa to leave the group in 1938. "They had different ideas about how to play music," explained band member Lionel Hampton in his book Hamp. "Benny didn't like all the crazy antics and sensationalism that he felt were overshadowing the real music. Gene thought the craziness was just basic showmanship. Although I tended to agree with Gene, I stayed out of it." 

On April 16, 1938, a crowd of 4,000 listeners gathered in the Marine Ballroom on Atlantic City's Union Pier to hear the newly formed Gene Krupa Orchestra. Following this triumphant debut, Krupa's band recorded several instrumentals, including "Wire Brush Stomp" and "Blue Rhythm Fantasy," for the Brunswick label. Among the Orchestra's talented members were trumpeters Shorty Sherok and Corky Cornelius, saxophonist Sam Donahue, and singer Irene Daye. In 1941 the band enjoyed even greater fame with the addition of trumpeter Roy Eldridge and singer Anita O'Day, who together gave the band its most legendary hit, "Let Me Off Uptown." 

In 1943 Krupa was arrested in San Francisco for the possession of marijuana. Out on bail after an 80-day period of incarceration, Krupa returned to New York. Although the case was finally dropped, it caused the break-up of his orchestra. Leaderless, Krupa decided to accept an offer to rejoin Benny Goodman's band. In 1944 he joined Tommy Dorsey, and, despite his condemnation by the media concerning his drug charge, was voted best drummer in the Down Beat Readers' Poll. 

In re-forming his orchestra, Krupa made an effort to explore the new modernist trends rooted in the bebop jazz movement. Between 1945 and 1949 his band featured such arrangers as George Williams, Neal Hefti, Eddie Finkel, and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, who brought the band the instrumental score "Disc Jockey Jump." Krupa's musical line-up featured a number of contemporary jazzmen, including saxophonist Charlie Ventura, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, trombonist Frank Rosolino, and trumpeter Red Rodney. Describing Krupa's artistic commitment to the new styles of jazz, Rodney explained in From Swing to Bop, "Gene was a modern, progressive-type person who, unlike most of the big-name bandleaders of the era, decided change was important, necessary, and right." 

With the demise of big bands during the 1950s, Krupa began performing in small combos and toured internationally with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic. In 1959 his career was honored with the biographical film The Gene Krupa Story, starring Sal Mineo as the famous drummer. After suffering a heart attack in 1960, Krupa became limited to sporadic performances. During 1972 and 1973 he played several reunion concerts with Goodman's band--one of which resulted in the 1972 live album Jazz at the New School. 

On October 16, 1973, Krupa died at his home in Yonkers, New York. Though he had been under treatment for leukemia for several years, the official cause of death was heart failure. Attending a requiem mass held at St. Dennis Roman Catholic in Yonkers, Goodman, Freeman, and McPartland gathered to pay their last respects to a man known by millions of listeners as "The Chicago Flash"--the most charismatic and innovative drum legend of the Swing Era. 


Gene Krupa: Let Me Off Uptown

By John Twomey

Although Gene Krupa has been gone now for more than 30 years, in August of 2003 the Gene Krupa Orchestra hit the road again under the direction of Michael Berkowitz, a drummer known widely in the music business for his longstanding collaboration with the late Nelson Riddle. In jazz, Gene Krupa blazed the trail for band drummers, raising their profile. Krupa was the first superstar white drummer, and he was, naturally enough, highly scrutinized on account of this distinction.  

He possessed a remarkable personality, being a sincere gentleman in a tumultuous business. He was always ready to give credit where it was due, helping to popularize some of the first true jazz drumming pioneers like Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton.
Gene was the youngest in a family of nine children, two girls and seven boys. His father was a Chicago Alderman, and his mother was a milliner who owned her own store. His father died when Gene was still young. His mother encouraged him to become a priest. An older brother, Pete, had a job working in a local music store called Brown’s. He got the 11-year-old Gene a part time job at Brown’s as a chore boy. Gene saved up $16.00 and bought an inexpensive drum set. He didn’t have a percussive epiphany- just a desire to play an instrument, and the drums were the least expensive. 

He joined the musicians union while still a schoolboy, and started playing gigs around his neighborhood. The effects of late night playing made him fall asleep in class. The nuns who taught him reported this to his mother.
To please her, he attended a prep seminary, St. Joseph’s College, in Rensselaer, Indiana. He was 14. “I gave it a good try. But the desire for music was too strong”. (1) While studying, he met Fr. Ildefonse Rapp, a professor of music on the faculty and a serious classical trumpeter. Later in life, Gene said, “Father Rapp taught me the appreciation of all music. He was a wonderful trumpet player but strictly legit. But he was marvelously relaxed and cool about all music including jazz”. (2) 

Returning to Chicago, Krupa met another drummer by the name of Al Silverman, who introduced him to some very important musicians then on the Chicago scene: Drummers Baby Dodds, George Wettling, Dave Tough and Coronetist Bix Beiderbecke. Gene and Dave started hanging around together, and Gene’s name became known among what was then the Austin High School Gang. The gang was to become the Chicago "School" of jazz, led by such lights as Bud Freeman, Jimmy McPartland Eddie Condon and Frank Teschmaker. When Tough decided to go to Europe and write, Bud Freeman recommended Gene take his place. Said Gene, “It was great, like dessert, exchanging ideas with Tesch, Condon, Bud and the rest after so many nights with commercial bands.”(3)
After these connections were made, more interesting work followed. An exciting gig over the state line in Indiana featuring a chorus of showgirls seemed like a tremendous opportunity for the teenage drummer. The only problem was that it wasn't paying anything.  

Krupa explained the situation at this point in his life: “I was being pressured at home to get a normal job, to do better at school…One day I got this call from Leo Shukin…He said he was putting a band together, including guys like Teschmaker, Mezzrow, trombonist Floyd O’Brien and pianist Joe Sullivan for "The Rendezvous", a club in downtown Chicago.”(4)
Shukin hired him after an afternoon audition. Krupa returned to his current no-pay Indiana club job that night and “told the bosses about what happened. They all but dismissed it. “You don’t want that job,” they said, snickering more than a little about my great opportunity. I was broken hearted. I called Leo and told him these guys wouldn’t let me out. He quietly asked for the top man’s name. The next night…the boss handed me three weeks back pay and patted me on the back, benevolently, and said, “Gene, God bless you son. We’ll see you. We know you’re going to be an enormous success.” Shukin had called his uncle Johnny Fogerty, a big man around Chicago who knew how to throw his weight around. Johnny got on the phone with the Indiana boss man and made it clear that if his request concerning my release was not granted, people would be hurt. Simple as that.”(5) 

Gene’s first jazz recordings came next. Remarkably, these sides caused a sensation among drummers as far away as New York. Krupa brought his entire drum set to the studio. This had never been done before. Tommy Rockwell, the session producer for the Okeh label on the date, wondered if the noise from the bass drum would “knock the needle off the record” while recording. Rugs were placed around the set to dampen the sound.
Krupa’s technique was very different from the established styles of some of the big-name drummers in New York. “The top white players in town like Vic Berton, Chauncey Morehouse, and George Beebe played mostly on the cymbals, doing little tricks underneath them and things like that. We (Chicagoans) moved the beat along the drums- snare, tom-toms, bass drum.”(6) 

After recording with such notables as Fats Waller and Red Nichols during the next few years, Gene moved to New York and played in the pit bands of two Broadway hits, “Strike Up the Band”, and “Girl Crazy”. In “Girl Crazy”, one of his band mates was Glenn Miller. Gene began to realize at this time that further musical study would be in his interest. Gene told Metronome Magazine in 1938 that “I couldn’t tell a quarter note from an eighth note and Glenn knew it. So every time we got a new thing to do, I’d pass my part to Glenn who’d hum it for me a few times until I got it in my head. The conductor of the orchestra never caught on.” (7)
During the worst years of the business depression of the early 1930's, Gene performed with commercial outfits such as Irving Aaronson’s Commanders, and then the 1932 band Benny Goodman formed for singer Russ Colombo. When that band broke up, Gene played with the Mal Hallet and Buddy Rogers bands. 

In 1934 producer John Hammond asked Gene to join a new band Benny Goodman was forming, but he balked at the offer. He had worked with Goodman in the Colombo band, and knew him to be difficult. Hammond convinced him to take the offer by telling him he would only have to work with Goodman on Saturdays. The rest of the week was his, and the pay was good. Krupa heard the Goodman band on the radio, with the stiff, metronomic Stan King on drums and decided to go for it.
Gene became an icon of the Swing Era as Goodman's drummer. 

Three years into Gene’s employment with Goodman, the band’s historic concert at Carnegie Hall took place. One carbon ribbon microphone suspended above the stage- a last minute thought- relayed the entire performance to a transcription studio in another Manhattan location. Krupa’s wild floor-tomming performance on “Sing, Sing, Sing”, an extended interpolation of the band’s earlier 1936 hit “Christopher Columbus”, caused a sensation, and within weeks he left Goodman to start his own band.
The Krupa band was an immediate hit with the public. In 1941 he hired both trumpet star Roy Eldridge and ultra-hip vocalist Anita O’Day. The two caused a stir with their work on the band’s hit record “Let Me Off Uptown”. Record sales were good, and the band played the choicest ballrooms and clubs, from Maine to California. 

Then, just as suddenly, it was over.
Gene’s valet, who was being drafted, indiscreetly bought Gene some marijuana (something for the man who has everything, said the valet) as a parting gift. Someone heard the valet talking about the buy, and tipped off the cops.  

Before he had left for the army, the valet had shoved the pot into one of Gene’s coat pockets in a closet, and Krupa, who preferred drinking anyway, had forgotten about it. When the police came looking for him at the theater where he was working, he called his new valet, who was still a minor, and told him to flush the cigarettes he would find in a certain coat pocket. The orders were not followed, and the cops busted the teenager walking out of the hotel with the pot in one of his own pockets.
Needless to say, in 1943 this made headlines. Most people didn’t know what marijuana was, except some kind of “dope” used by “fiends”. It also didn’t help that the attorney he hired to defend him against the possession charge was feuding with the San Francisco D.A. Gene flew back to California from Rhode Island to pay the fine for pleading guilty, but found himself jailed for ninety days. Benny Goodman was the only friend to visit him in prison, and told the papers that Gene could have his job back with him any time he wanted it.  

Gene's orchestra disbanded, and his money dwindled. His first wife, Ethel McGuire, offered to give Gene back her $100,000 divorce settlement if he needed it. Then another trial was brought on two counts, the second one “contributing to the delinquency of a minor”. Krupa explained, “My new valet was a minor. We lost the felony case and made a motion for appeal. This meant I had to remain incarcerated until the appeal came up, or until the judge saw fit to let me go. After 84 days, I got out. I already had served the sentence for the misdemeanor. Out on bail, still convicted of the felony, waiting on the appeal, I went back to New York and stayed around home in Yonkers.” (8)

He took Goodman up on the offer to join his band, which was playing at the Terrace Room of the Hotel New Yorker on 34th St. Two months later, he switched to Tommy Dorsey's band, replacing Buddy Rich, who was serving in the Marines. When the Dorsey band rose on the platform stage of the old Paramount Theater at 44th and Broadway with Gene seated at the drums, "I got the greatest ovation of my life. It lasted several minutes and I have to admit I broke down." (9)
The final ruling in the long drawn-out legal battle which began with the marijuana bust and led to the later "morals" charges was handed down on May 31, 1943, releasing him from further prosecution. The judge found that Krupa had been placed in double jeopardy in the overlapping legal work. 

"I booked the Capitol Theater in New York for a new band I intended to put together. I gave Tommy notice and expressed my appreciation to him for all he had done. But in no way was I the same guy as the Gene Krupa of 1942. The whole experience- the arrest, the court trials, jail, disappointments with people, the terrible waiting- had changed me. I didn't feel guilty. But the shock of the entire thing straightened me up. I returned to religion and many other things that were important to me before I became a so-called big shot. Certainly I wanted no connection with drugs of any sort. (10)
After an economically unsuccessful year leading a new band known as "Gene Krupa and The Band That Swings With Strings", he junked it in favor of a Be Bop oriented outfit.  

He hired both Gerry Mulligan and Neil Hefti to write and arrange the music. Anita O'Day returned for a stay, and sang two more hit records with the band, "Boogie Blues", and "Opus One".
Looking back over his career, Gene later said, “Until about 1949, I enjoyed myself. I turned George Williams on to some of the colorful classical composers- Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakof, Ravel, Stravinsky, among others-and suggested he develop some scores for the band on their themes. Out of this came Sibelius’s “Valse Triste”, “Firebird Suite”, and Kabalevsky’s “The Galloping Comedians” and “Daphne and Chloe.”(11) 

Unfortunately he always had to contend with the shadow of the 1943 marijuana bust. If a dealer got arrested in another state, he would tell police “Gene Krupa gave it to me”, and Gene would get drawn into yet another investigation until he could extricate himself from the lies. When he noted that a few of his own musicians were using drugs, he got out of the big band business.
Between 1951-57 he was invited to tour with Norman Granz’s Jazz At The Philharmonic road company. Traveling the world with other stars like Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Lester Young, Flip Philips, Illinois Jacquet, Roy Eldridge, Willie Smith, Hank Jones, Bill Harris, Jo Jones, and Buddy Rich was a low pressure, relaxing interlude in his life. “I certainly didn’t miss the band”, he said, “It was as if a weight had been lifted from me.”(12) 

He remained active through the 1960’s, raising his kids in Yonkers, N.Y., and coaching their Little League team. He assembled large and small recording groups in New York studios, and released the occasional album. He spoke out against drug abuse in schools and did charity benefits. His small group's appearance at New York's Metropole was one of that club's most successful acts of the 1960's. Together with Cozy Cole, he formed the Krupa-Cole Drum School in Manhattan.
In spite of a major heart attack in 1960, emphysema, and a painful back condition, Gene continued to play. He recorded one last time at the New School in April of 1972. As if completing a circle, he performed on the stage of Carnegie Hall with the Benny Goodman Quartet during the summer of 1972. 

Gene died of Leukemia in October of 1973. He was 64.


All quotes are from Krupa interviews with Burt Korall unless otherwise noted.

(1) Korall, Burt. "Drummin' Men". Schirmer Books, New York. 1990. P.46. (2) Ibid, P.47 (Source: Rudi Blesh, "Combo: USA", Chilton Book Company, Philadelphia.1971. PP. 135-136. (3) Korall; P. 51 (4) Ibid. P.52 (5) P.52 (6) PP.55-56 (7) Korall; P.57 (Source: Gene Krupa quoted in "Metronome". March, 1938. P.48) (8) Korall; PP.76-77 (9) Ibid. P.78 (10) P.78 (11) PP.82-83 (12) P.84



"Some Like It Hot" (1939) with Frank Loesser and Remo Biondi
"Disc Jockey Jump" with Gerry Mulligan
"Manhattan Transfer" with Elton Hill
"Drum Boogie" with Roy Eldridge
"Drummin' Man"
"Bolero at the Savoy" with Jimmy Mundy
"Feelin' Fancy"
"He's Gone"
"Wire Brush Stomp"
"Jam on Toast"
"The Big Do"
"Murdy Purdy" with Jimmy Mundy
"Full Dress Hop"
"Swing is Here" with Chu Berry
"To Be or Not to Be-Bop"
"Quiet and Roll 'Em" with Sam Donahue
"Sweetheart, Honey, Darlin' Dear"
"Boogie Blues"
"I Should Have Kept on Dreaming"
"The Babe Takes a Bow"
"Blues of Israel"
"Blues Krieg"

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