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 love.
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 rhythms.
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
'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 -- for
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 was born.
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 recorded.
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
Though Krupa was perfect for the
Goodman Orchestra, problems developed.
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 it’s-your-loss
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 section.
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
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
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
"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 sound."
"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