Post Eagle Newspaper


Sep 22, 2023

69°F, clear sky
New Jersey

Time Now


The Drummer

There is American contemporary music and there is Polish music. There are those Poles who have become historically famous for their contribution to Polish music, such as Chopin and Moniuszko, and then there are Poles whose fame is primarily due to their contribution to American music. Liberace must be considered in this vein for his expertise as a pianist. There is another Pole who fits into this mold undeniably the greatest drummer of his time. His name, if you haven’t heard was Gene Krupa and this column is dedicated to the man and his music…..

How did this fascinating story begin? Well, Eugene Krupa was born in Chicago on January 15, 1910. He came into the musical field as part of a group of young musicians who were identified with the Chicago-style jazz in the late 1920’s. He began drumming with a band of youngsters called the ‘Frivoleans’ on a summer job at Wisconsin Beach near Madison, Wisconsin, when he was 12. At the age of 16, Krupa entered St. Joseph’s College, at that time a preparatory seminary in Indiana, to study for the priesthood as his mother had wished. After a year, however, he dropped out.

During the next few years, Krupa played with a number of musicians all destined to become well-known jazz figures. These included: Thelma Perry, girl bass player; Joe Sullivan, Pianist; Mezz Mezzrow, saxophonist; and Frank Teschemacher, clarinetist. At this time, Gene Krupa also began to study drums more seriously and with a variety of teachers.

Finally, on December 9, 1927, Krupa made his first record. As the story goes . . . “this was one of the first recording sessions in which a bass drum had been used. Under normal circumstances, drummers used only small drums and wood blocks on records because it was feared that the vibrations caused by a bass drum would cause the recording needle to jump. When Mr. Krupa innocently set up his usual equipment, including the bass drum, the recording manager rushed into the studio shouting, “You can’t use those drums, throw those drums out.”

“But the musician protested, and a compromise was reached when rugs were put down to absorb the vibration.”

I guess you might say that from the first recording session Gene Krupa was on his way. During his next eight years he played in Chicago and New York with such famous names as Red Nichols, Russ Columbo and Buddy Rogue. In February 1935, a band under the leadership of Benny Goodman had just formed and requested Krupa to join them. Krupa accepted and immediately “gave the band a solidity and firmness, as far as rhythm was concerned, that it never had before.”

After he joined, Gene Krupa took part in further recordings with the Goodman trio and the success of these records not only set a style for big bands but also would draw small groups from the full band to develop their own stylized musical movements. Woody Herman became famous for this format.

With the Goodman band, Krupa was absolutely fantastic as is evidenced by the following descriptive paragraph written by New York Times columnist John S. Wilson . . . . “As a young man with the Goodman band, Mr. Krupa was lean, wiry and handsome. He hunched over his drums, chewing gum in vigorous tempo with a beat, a dangling lock of black hair waving back and forth in front of his eyes which filled with an almost fiendish zest as he flailed away at his snare drum, tom-toms and cymbals. Suddenly he would rear back, holding both arms in the air as he pounded his bass drums with a foot pedal. And then, perspiration dripping from him like a tropical rainfall, his arms and drumsticks became a blur of motion as he built his solo to a clashing climax.

“The cheers that filled the dance halls, nightclubs and theaters when he had finished sounded more like the response at an athletic event than at a musical performance. As a result, the long drum solo quickly became a sure-fire applause rouser in jazz and has continued on through the rock era.”

By the time the year 1938 rolled around, Gene Krupa became as celebrated a drummer as Mr. Goodman, who was “King of Swing.” Following his ambitions, Krupa left the Goodman band and formed one of his own. With vocalists like Anita O’Day and trumpet players like Roy Eldridge, the Krupa band became an overnight success.

In 1942, his career was threatened when he was arrested in San Francisco on Possession of marijuana. He served an 84-day sentence and the charges were dropped. He rejoined the Goodman band in ‘43 and became an instant hit . . . He was voted the country’s outstanding drummer in January ‘44. For the next six months, Gene Krupa toured with Tommy Dorsey and the great drummer then decided to again form his own band.

Although the band was a bit of a disappointment initially, Krupa brought in new accents of Jazz in the mid-to-late forties with such greats as Gerry Mulligan. In 1951, the group disbanded and Krupa toured with the Philharmonic Jazz Troupe for three years. From then on, he led trios or quartets until 1960 when he suffered a heart attack. On his doctors orders, Gene reduced his performances to six months a year. More than half his time was spent at the ‘’Metropole’ in Times Square. Finally in 1967, Gene Krupa returned because as he told it . . . “I felt too lousy to play and I was sure I sounded lousy”.

In the spring and summer of ‘73, he made several appearances with the original Benny Goodman quartet with Goodman, Teddy Wilson on piano and Lionel Hampton on vibes. They played at Carnegie Hall on opening night of the Newport Jazz Festival.

The last ten years of his life, Gene Krupa had been suffering from benign leukemia. It finally got the best of him, in October of ‘73, at the age of 64, Gene played his drums for the last time.

Regarding his music, the man had one thing to say a few years before he died…. “I’ve succeeded in doing two things! I made the drummer a high-priced guy and I was able to project enough so that the people were drawn to Jazz.”