| As a young boy,
Krupa met many exiled musicians of New Orleans who, after
Storyville closed, packed their bags and moved north to
Chicago. Zutty Singleton met Gene at the time, when his
talents were as yet, untapped.
Chicago from 1915 to 1929 was a major center of innovative
music. Some of America's greatest musicians came out of
Chicago during this time period including: Russell, Jimmy
McPartland, Dave Tough, George Wettling and Benny Goodman
Krupa's first introduction to music came while working as
an errand boy in a local music store Many times he would
go off by himself and listen to the records For a time, he
played saxophone. But, it was in a dance hall that Gene
had his first meeting with a drumset and it was instant
Sensing Gene's potential, his brother went out the next
week to buy him a set. At 13, Krupa first played with a
band at a jam session. This debut landed him a job with
the Frivolians and that summer, he played with Ben
Pollack's Orchestra, Later in his life. Gene attributed
those two playing assignments as having the greatest
influence on his drumming career. While trying to develop
proficiency on the drums or "beating the hides,'* Krupa
also did a lot of listening to develop his musical
background. His perseverance paid off. While playing a
string of amateur clubs and private parties, the Joe
Karper Orchestra hired him as their drummer. This was his
first professional job.
A club called the Three Deuces was a musician's paradise
and location of nightly jam sessions among Joe Sullivan,
Tough, Condon. Bud Freeman and Frank Teschmaker. One
evening Benny Good- man dropped by the club and first saw
Krupa, then 19, jamming with the group. In 1928. Krupa
recorded with the Three Deuces musicians. Under the label
of Red McKenzie and Condon's Chicagoans, "Nobody’s
Sweetheart" was recorded With the same group, under the
name Chicago Rhythm Kings, they recorded, "There'll Be
Some Changes Made," "Changes." and "I've Found a New
By 1928, Krupa relinquished all thoughts of becoming a
priest and joined Red Nichols and his Five Pennies for
three years Benny Goodman also joined the Nichols band to
record "Chinatown." "On the Alamo," "Dinah" and "Indiana"
For George Gershwin’s Strike Up The Band, Nichols was
hired as the orchestra pit leader and assembled the best
musicians he knew of: Benny Goodman, clarinet; Glenn
Miller, trombone; and Krupa. At this point in his career,
Krupa could not read music and during rehearsals, would
fake the drum parts. Glenn Miller, however, came to his
rescue. According to Krupa: "I couldn't tell a quarter
note from an eighth note and Glenn knew it. So
| everytime we got
something new 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 and then
I'd play it.
"There must have been 40 men in the band and I'd be
drumming away with all my might when Red would signal me
to give. I just didn't have the technique to control the
drums without killing myself. I was a jazz drummer, not a
musician. I used all the Chicago beats, four with one hand
and a light press with the other on the second and fourth
beats, hand to hand rolls accented and a lot of woodblock
So, right then and there 1 resolved to learn the drums
technically, from the bottom up.
I got myself the best teacher in New York and started in.
I used to practice seven and eight hours per day. At the
same time, I'd go up to Harlem after the job and watch tap
dancers and great drummers like George Stafford and Sonny
Greer. I learned a lot of rhythmic beats that way."
During the run of Strike Up the Band, Gene recorded,
"Rockin Chair," and "Barnacle Bill" with Hoagv Carmichael.
Carmichael's sidemen included: the Dorsey Brothers, the
Goodman Brothers, Bud Freeman, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang and
Bix Beiderbecke. With the end of the show, Gene played his
last date with Red Nichols in Gershwin's Girl Crazy. By
1931, he joined Irving Aaronson and His Com- manders and
after a year, toured with Russ Columbo's band. Benny
Goodman organized the band for Columbo and they spent a
summer at Woodmansten Inn.
Goodman and Krupa eventually parted and it was not until
1934. while playing at the Music Hall Restaurant, that
Goodman, now with his own band, decided to assemble the
top musicians and tour Europe. The band personnel included
Wilson and Krupa The tour, however, never happened but
Krupa became a member of the Goodman Orchestra. From
1935-1937, Goodman's fame escalated, as did Krupa's.
Goodman wanted a drummer who could "swing" and felt that
only Krupa could meet his standards.
Of Krupa, Goodman said, "From the time he joined us, Gone
gave the band a solidity and firmness as far as rhythm was
concerned, that it never had before."
According to Krupa, on working with Goodman, "I worked
with (Buddy) Rogers one year and then I joined Benny
Goodman. That was the greatest thrill of my life, an
opportunity to play straight from the heart jazz with a
full band of top-notchers. I took the band as seriously as
Benny did and worried all the time about each new man and
how we were going over.
"Or course, Benny had a tough time get- ting started. I
remember when we were playing Elitch's Gardens in Denver
that we never had more than five people on the floor and
it was very discouraging. One night, Benny laid out a lot
of rhumbas and stocks.
| 'What's up Benny,'
I said. Benny shook his head. 'I guess this jazz idea of
ours is no good. I'm going to get people to dance if I
have to play all the mouse music ever written.' "I shook
my head right back. 'Look Benny, I'm making $85 a week
with you and if you're going commercial I might as well go
back to Buddy Rogers and make $125 a week. Let's stick to
your original idea even if we go under.' "Benny did and a
week later at the Palomar in Los Angeles, we clicked --
Though Krupa became established with Goodman's Orchestra.
it was the fame of the Benny Goodman trio and quartet that
had much to do with Krupa's rise in the music world. It
all began at a party in the home of jazz singer Mildred
Bailey. Teddy Wilson at the piano to provide some music
for the guests. Goodman followed Wilson's lead and took
out his clarinet. A cousin of Bailey's had set up his
drums in the living room. Krupa sat behind the drums and
the three began to jam. The idea of the Benny Goodman trio
Several days later, Goodman arranged a recording date with
Wilson and Gene. Such memorable cuts as "Body and Soul,"
"After You've Gone" and "Someday Sweetheart" were
The Goodman Quartet, equally as popular as the trio
included Lionel Hampton on vibraphone. The trio came upon
Hampton at the Paradise Nightclub in Los Angeles, and to
his surprise, wound up on the bandstand with him. They
played together for several hours that night and so
impressive was Hampton, he was invited into their circle,
making the famous trio a quartet.
Though Krupa was perfect for the Goodman Orchestra,
It was rumored that Krupa's technique and showmanship drew
attention away from the orchestra, particularly Goodman,
and that their relationship suffered because of it. But
Krupa tried to dispel those rumors in an interview with
Ken Alden shortly after his exit from the band.
"All my life I've wanted my own band. I've sweated and
saved for it. Leaving Benny had to happen. It was never a
case of not getting along with Benny. Let me tell you he's
a swell guy and a wonderful musician. You see, Benny used
to let me lead the band when he got off the stand. I was
sort of concert master of the outfit I got to like the
feel of it. And I wanted more."
| "About 4,000
neighborhood and visiting vantage in the Marine Ballroom
of Atlantic City's Steel Pier on Saturday. April 16 and
then. once perched on their pet posts. proceeded to
welcome with most exhuberant howls and huzzahs the first
public appearance of drummer man Gene Krupa and his newly
formed jazz band.
The way the felonic herd received, reacted to and
withstood the powerful onslaughts of Krupa's quadruple "f"
musical attacks left little doubt that Gone is now firmly
entrenched at the helm of a swing outfit that’s bound to
be recognized very shortly as one of the most potent bits
of catnip to be fed to the purring public that generally
passes as America's swing contingent… Throughout the
evening the kids and kittens shagged, trucked, jumped up
and down and down and up, and often yelled and screamed at
the series of solid killer-dillers."
George Simon's review of the Gene Krupa band debut exudes
the same amount of enthusiasm as Krupa's style of swing
caused. At the height of its tremendous popularity, the
band featured trumpter Roy Eldridge and lead vocalist
Anita O'Day. Of O'Day, George Simon said: "Her rhythmic,
gutty, illegitimate stylee first confused but soon
converted many listeners. Whereas most band girl singers
had projected a very feminine or at least cute girl image,
Anita came across as a hip jazz musician. She would dress
in a suit similar to those of the musicians, and when
she'd sing she'd come on strong, full of fire, with an
either-you-like-me-or- you-don't-but if-you-don't
Krupa had his eye on Eldridge for a long time and, when
Eldridge finally consented to join the band, Krupa was
ecstatic. Some of Krupa's most successful recordings were
made during this period, such as "Georgia On My Mind,"
"Green Eyes" "Thanks For the Boogie Ride." and "Let Me Off
Though the relationship between Krupa and Eldridge was
affable, the same could not be said for O'Day and
Eldridge. For undisclosed reasons, they did not get along
and the riff resulted in O'Day's exit from the band.
Finding a replacement for O'Day was a problem and several
male vocalists were shuffled in and out of that spot, the
most successful being Johnny Desmond. Ray Eberle and
Howard Dulaney also performed briefly with the band.
Krupa was forced to leave his band in 1943, a result of
his arrest for possession of marijuana. Though the charges
were eventually dropped, Krupa served 84 days in jail.
Upon his release, Krupa re-joined the Benny Goodman
Orchestra for several weeks. The experience was personally
tragic and yet it did not seem to taint his career in any
way. The public still loved Krupa and in 1944, he regained
his title as the most outstanding drummer in the United
States. In that same year, he toured with the Tommy Dorsey
Orchestra for 6 months, gaining the confidence to form
another band, a big-band like Dorsey's with full string
| The new band was
not what Krupa's fans expected. Used to the "swinging"
quality that made audiences love the "King of the
Hidebeaters" a new Gene was being offered to them. Krupa
set himself in the role of bandleader, seldom playing the
drums. When he did play, Krupa’s perfor- mances were full
of flash, cramming as much technical prowess into his
playing as to become a disadvantage The new band was even
less of a hit with music critics. In his July 5, 1947
review For Melody Maker, Gerald Pratley said: "The band,
and Krupa, seemed noisy and without discipline. It created
no atmosphere, and to me there was neither excitement nor
inspiration in his performance."
Eventually, Krupa switched back to the kind of swinging
music that made him famous - recording "Leave Us Leap" and
"What’s This?" In 1951, Krupa became affiliated with the
Jazz At The Philharmonic troupe for three years and led
several trios and quartets. the first quartet with Charlie
Ventura and Eddie Shu.
Another successful venture of Krupa's was the drum school
that he and drummer Cozy Cole opened in 1954 In two years,
the school averaged 135 to 150 students per week.
Though the remaining years of his life were less active
due to a heart attack in 1960. Krupa tried to maintain a
steady working schedule. He was limited to playing about 6
months out of the year, mainly at the Metropole in New
York. At this time in his life, Krupa became reflective on
the state of drumming and the art of jazz in two separate
interviews with George Simon:
"It's getting to be that guys are concentrating too much
on what not to play instead of what to play… I always try
to produce some sort of sound that will blend with what’s
going on. For example, there are a lot of different
timbres you can get from just one cymbal. Sometimes, I'll
play it lighly with the tip of the stick and let it really
ring. At other times, a choked sound with no overtones
fits better, so I'll hit the cymbal rather hard and let
the stick stay on it a little longer to kill the ringing.
The same goes for the drums themselves. Many drummers
don't know how to tune their snares and bass drums right.
And they just forget about them and lay on that cymbal."
"To me a drum solo must have substance and quality. Each
one is something in itself. Before I begin, I try to have
a good idea of what I’m going to play. And while I'm
playing, I'll hum some sort of thing to myself. Even if
it's only in raw form such as boom-did-dee, boom did-dee,
boom-did-dee, boom, and then follow that with a rhythmic
sound (which I try to hear inside of me before I play it)
that will round out the phrase. Each syllable that 1 hum
to myself is not only a separate beat, but also a separate
"The point is that all the time while I'm playing, I hear
the tune and try to relate what I'm playing to it. I guess
I'm like any jazz musician who thinks as well as feels.
That's what we're supposed to do, isn't it."
Krupa decided in 1967 to retire, explaining, "I felt too
lousy to play and was sure I sounded lousy." But the lure
of the stage, audiences and the music brought him back
three years later. He appeared with Benny Goodman, Lionel
Hampton and Teddy Wilson several times, their most
memorable performance being opening night at the 1973
Newport Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall.