The youngest of nine, his parents were of Polish origin, Eugene Bertram Krupa was born in 1909 in Chicago, Illinois. He began playing drums at age eleven. His first gig was in 1927 when he became one of Thelma Terry’s Playboys. The following year he recorded with the Playboys and then with the Eddie Condon Quartet in New York.
By 1929 Krupa was with Red Nichols and his Five Pennies, along with Glenn Miller on trombone and the twenty-year-old Benny Goodman on clarinet, and over the coming years he played with Bix Beiderbecke, Adrian Rollini and Joe Venuti before a short spell with crooner Russ Columbo's band. He then joined Benny Goodman's orchestra in early 1935 – it sealed Krupa’s reputation.
In July 1937 the Goodman band recorded a long tune stretching over both sides of a twelve inch 78, clocking in at over eight minutes – the Louis Prima written, ‘Sing Sing Sing’ featured drumming like no one had heard before. In January 1938, Goodman gave a concert at New York's Carnegie Hall at which Gene played an amazing extended drum solo on ‘Sing Sing Sing’, the first time such a thing had happened in Jazz. Many of Krupa’s recordings with Goodman were re-released by Verve in 1964 as ‘The Essential Benny Goodman’. Soon after Krupa left Goodman, two stars in a Goodman band was one too many, to form his own band and in the early 1940s it gave Anita O’ Day her big break.
Krupa was abhorrent of segregation and racial intolerance. In November 1941 his band were in York, Pennsylvania, hoping to eat at a restaurant before a gig, where Krupa got into an argument with a police officer over whether Roy Eldridge could eat with them. He later forfeited a $10 bond for failing to appear in court to answer a charge of disorderly conduct. In 1943 Krupa was busted in Hollywood for possession of Marijuana; he served almost three months in prison but was released when the man who had been the state witness withdrew his evidence – there was a strong whiff of a trumped up charge.
After reforming his band, Krupa got Anita O’Day back as his ‘girl singer’ and they did a great version of ‘Opus One’ together in 1945. Krupa also became interested in Bop; Gerry Mulligan began writing arrangements for the band and clarinettist Buddy DeFranco joined. It was in February 1945 that Krupa first appeared with Jazz at the Philharmonic in Los Angeles; it was the first of many and his later drum battles with Buddy Rich became part of JATP folklore.
By the early Fifties, the big band days were over for Krupa, but he kept working in a small group format. His first studio session for Clef was in 1952 and there were many more for the label, as well as for Verve, up until 1964.
In 1959 the movie about Krupa’s life starred Sal Mineo; what it lacked as a factual recreation, it made up for with an excellent soundtrack that Krupa recorded. He had a heart attack in 1960 and while he did get back to working, he finally retired in 1967. In 1970, like so many great musicians, he came out of retirement and continued working until 1973. His last appearance was, fittingly, a reunion of the Benny Goodman Quartet; two months later he died. Gene Krupa encouraged more people to take up drumming than most any of his contemporaries – a proud legacy.
Words: Richard Havers
Big bands were on their way out by the late '40s, which left bandleaders and musicians who had played swing in a quandary: embrace bebop or become a nostalgia act. Certain wise musicians like Gene Krupa and Harry James, however, found a middle course by modernizing swing with new arrangements and selling it to ballroom dancers. The Complete Capitol Recordings of Gene Krupa and Harry James collects a multitude of splendid performances from both players as they transitioned from one era to the next. The four Krupa discs were recorded in 1946-1947 during the drummer/leader's successful comeback following a drug conviction. His band averaged around 17 pieces during these sessions, and occasionally featured vocalists Caroline Grey and Buddy Stewart. The band covers everything from bouncy straight-ahead swing like "Indiana" to tender ballads like "How Deep Is the Ocean." Of special interest are a number of stripped-down tracks, including "Body and Soul" and "Limehouse Blues," that feature Krupa, saxophonist Charlie Ventura, and pianist Teddy Napoleon. The three James discs were recorded between 1955 and 1958 and find the semi-reclusive trumpeter returning to the limelight. Married to Betty Grable and living in California, he had been perfectly content to perform locally. In the mid-'50s, however, his contract with Columbia ran out, giving him a chance to make another start. The first dozen cuts feature a large band with strings, providing James' horn with a plush background to play against. Guest vocalists Helen Forrest and Bob Marlo also help out here, offering fine renditions of "I've Heard That Song Before" and "My Silent Love." James's favorite drummer, Buddy Rich, also makes several appearances. Overall, The Complete Capitol Recordings of Gene Krupa and Harry James is an excellent collection that will please fans of both players and that will be a special joy to anyone who appreciates good swing.
Words: Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
On this CD reissue, drummers Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich only actually play together on one of the seven songs, a lengthy rendition of "Bernie's Tune" that has a six-minute "drum battle." Krupa and Rich do perform two songs apiece with a remarkable all-star band consisting of trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge, tenors Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips, pianist Oscar Peterson, guitarist Herb Ellis, and bassist Ray Brown. Each of the principals get some solo space, giving this release more variety than one might expect. In addition there are two bonus cuts from a Buddy Rich date that feature the drummer with trumpeters Thad Jones and Joe Newman, tenors Ben Webster and Frank Wess, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, and rhythm guitarist Freddie Green. Excellent music overall if not quite essential.
Words: Scott Yanow
This set was initially issued as the 15th instalment in Norman Grantz's Jazz at the Philharmonic series of LPs, EPs, and 45s. As that highly collectible compilation of performances has been out of print since the 1960s, many of the volumes were later issued under the respective artists' name. As the title would imply, Drum Battle: Jazz at the Philharmonic features the artistry of the Gene Krupa Trio with Buddy Rich (drums) sitting in on a few numbers as well as the inimitable jazz scat vocalizations of Ella Fitzgerald on a hot steppin' and definitive "Perdido." Opening the disc is Krupa's trio with Willie Smith (alto sax) and Hank Jones (piano) providing a solid and singularly swinging rhythm section. While Smith drives the band, Krupa is front and center with his antagonistic percussive prodding. "Idaho" is marked with Jones' rollicking post-bop mastery as he trades solos with Smith and can be heard quoting lines from Monk before yielding to Smith. The cover of Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" sparkles from beginning to end. Jones' opening flourish sets the tenure as Smith settles into a smoky lead, containing some nice syncopation and regal augmentation from Jones. Krupa primarily provides ample rhythm work on the emotive ballad. Smith's diversion into "Stormy Weather" is notable for exemplifying the lyrically improvisational nature of this combo. The tempo is significantly stepped up on a cover of Benny Goodman's "Flying Home," which is full of high-spirited playing and garners a sizable reaction from the audience. The lengthy "Drum Boogie" is one of Krupa's signature pieces and is greeted with tremendous enthusiasm. Buddy Rich climbs on board for a one-on-one duel with Krupa, whose styles mesh into a mile-a-minute wash of profound percussion. The duet segues into an inspired and free-form jam on "Perdido," with Fitzgerald belting out her lines with authority, class, and most of all, soul.
Words: Lindsay Planer
Gerry Mulligan was only 19 in 1946 when he joined Gene Krupa's band, playing a bit of alto and tenor sax, but primarily serving as an arranger. But the Verve LP Gene Krupa Plays Gerry Mulligan Arrangements wasn't made until 1958, long after Mulligan went out on his own. Although there are solo features built into the framework of each piece, Mulligan was quite confident in his ability to showcase the entire band as well. Mulligan's "Disc Jockey Jump" became a hit for Krupa, though it wasn't recorded until after he left the band. The vague liner notes fail to identify any of the musicians in Krupa's big band, which includes Jimmy Cleveland, Hank Jones, Barry Galbraith, Kai Winding, and Phil Woods, though Woods' alto sax solos are easily identifiable to his fans. Baritone saxophonist Danny Bank is a bit disappointing compared to what Mulligan could have recorded on the instrument, though it would have been unlikely that the composer would have been interested in rejoining Krupa, even for one record date, at the time it was recorded. It's surprising that this excellent LP remained out of print for so long, particularly with the strong resurgence of interest in all aspects of Mulligan's work since his death in 1996.
Words: Ken Dryden
Recorded live in front of a hometown Chicago crowd, Big Noise from Winnetka: Gene Krupa at the London House eschews the gimmickry that often undermines Krupa's studio LPs in favor of a simple small-group setting that enables the drummer to stretch his considerable muscles across an appealingly wide variety of tempos and moods. Ably supported by reedman Eddie Wasserman, pianist Ronnie Ball and bassist Jim Gannon, Krupa indulges in the kind of sheer childlike abandon that no doubt motivates one to pick up the drumsticks in the first place -- the energy and joy of his performance here is infectious, and inspires him to creative peaks on par with any in his catalog. This is jazz at its most lively, physical and accessible.
Words: Jason Ankeny