"You want to know what I think of Gene Krupa? Well, where do you begin? Gene Krupa was the beginning and the 'end' of all drummers. He's a great genius - a truly great genius of the drums. Gene discovered
things that could be done with the drums that hadn't been done before, ever. I'll tell you about Gene. Before Gene, the drums were in the background, just a part of the band. To put it in plainer terms, the drums didn't have much - meaning. Along comes Gene and the drums take on meaning and they're out of the background. The drummer
becomes somebody, you know? Gene gets credit for making people aware of the drummer - of what he's doing and why he's doing it and he deserves every bit of that credit. Can you imagine jazz without Gene?"
Roy Knapp (world-class drummer & one of Gene's teachers) :
"There is not a professional drummer, percussionist or other instrumentalist who does not in some way owe something and should be
grateful to Gene Krupa for his imaginative and creative contributions in the modern drum techniques and styles in performance that we are using today. He invented and gave to the world a 'new look' into
the progressive studies in the modern rhythmic patterns for the drums, hi-hat, cymbals, wire brushes, tom-toms, tympani, mallet-played instruments and accesories. With Gene's unusual talent and the magnitude
of his influence, the reaction became monumental internationally."
Louie Bellson :
"Gene Krupa was a wonderful, kind man and a great player. He brought drums to the foreground. Benny Goodman often said 'Gene was a spark plug that ignited the whole band.' He was a great natural showman. Gene cared for his fellow man and past on to others(drummers) his knowledge of the instrument.
He is still a household name, I was privileged to know him."
Roy Haynes (legendary jazz drummer) :
"He was such a wonderful person. He was so different from some other drummers I had known. Later on when I was with (Stan) Getz, we played the Tropicana in Las Vegas. Gene was doing a radio interview, and the bass player with us had heard it. Gene had talked so much about me on the show. That was very inspiring.
He was such a wonderful person and a great master of the instrument."
Jim Chapin (teacher/author) :
"Like the best of them, he was able to concentrate on his music and he meant what he played. Though his performances were visually dramatic, the sound of his music was dramatic as well. Gene was larger than life, a charismatic figure that made the public fully conscious of drummers. He was so important, it's almost difficult to talk about him.
Norman Granz (producer and promoter of JATP) :
"I'll never be able to say enough for him or about him. Frankly, I was worried at first about him (when he first joined the Jazz at the Philharmonic tour in 1952). Face it. Gene is a top cat to the public. He's like Louis and Benny. Tops. So I figured maybe he'd be a great attraction, yes, but, you know, a little temperamental. Well, I'd play ball. I said, 'Gene, you want to take a plane or travel alone or anything, go ahead.' He laughed and said, 'What
for Norm? I'm no better than anybody else.' What happened all through the tour was that Gene did anything I wanted him to do. And all the other cats are nuts about him. And I think, honestly, that they play better with his beat because they like him so much personally. As for Buddy Rich, finally, I reached the end of my patience with that guy. He was through, period. I wouldn't have him around, that's all."
Lionel Hampton :
"I have to call Gene a miracle drummer boy. I compare him with the drummer playing in the Spirit of '76. I put Gene in the category of not only a great musician and one of the world's greatest performing artists, but he was also a real patriot. All the kids used to hear him play and he had a rapport with them that no other drummer had. The people responded to him and saw him in a different light. They never compared him to other drummers. There was always a special, honorable place for Gene.
Other drummers came before him, but when Gene appeared on the scene, he mapped out a place for himself and became well-respected. It was a great thrill playing with Gene. He was always my favorite."
The following are some of the great letters I have recieved from visitors to this site:
Mike Breneman :
"Thanks for the great page. Gene has been my musical "IDOL" since I was a
kid.(I'm now 47 !) I met Gene 3 months before he died in Chicago while he was
performing with the Goodman Quartet. I actually went on the stage and got his
autograph !!!!! The concert was at Ravinnia near Chicago,an outdoors gig. The
place was packed. They did Sing,Sing,Sing and Gene,even with the pain he must
have been in, flat out, brought the house down !!!!
He was a real gentleman,excellant musician,all around super guy."
Philip Dossick :
"Shawn, you've done something very important: remind the world
just what a great artist GK was.
When I was 16 years old, I had the great good fortune of studying with
Gene at the school he ran with Cozy Cole.
I was with him from '56-57.
And that experience remains the most treasured of my life.
Unfortunately (for me), I did not continue as a musician, and left
the business in '64.
But the lessons that man taught me, about love of learning, love of craft,
and true humility, have guided me ever since. Example:
My lessons with him were on Fri afternoons, at 4pm (after I got out of
high school). When we were finished around 5-something one day, he decided
to walk me outside as I headed for the subway home.
He asked me if I was headed uptown (Manhattan), and I said no, I was going
to get the train to Queens. I don't know what possessed me, but I asked
him, "Where are you headed?" And that's when he absolutely floored me.
He said (words to the effect) "I'm going to MY lessons."
I said, "What?"
And he explained that he was still studying, with Saul Goodman, the
tympanist with the NY Philharmonic!
The master was STILL TAKING LESSONS!
This was after his greatest days and greatest accomplishments were behind
him. He was still eager to learn! There was not a SHRED of "I already know
it all" in him. In fact, he seemed genuinely not to think he was anything
I never forgot that lesson in humility. That you can never stop learning,
that you can never know everything, that you can never really be the best
because human achievement is just too complex."
Ray Szymarek Jr. :
"I saw Gene Krupa for the last time in Pittsburgh, Pa. in a twin bill
Jazz Concert with Lionel Hampton in Pittsburgh, Pa. at Heinz Hall. Wow
you had to be there to feel and get the percussion excitement that Gene
Krupa projected. Lionel Hampton and his band were on and they saved
Gene till the end of the second set to do two great numbers. Hampton
and Gene traded fours and had a lot of fun. But the Killer Diller Knock
Out Punch was the second chart, I think it was 'Ring Them Bells' and
Hampton got off the stage, knocked Gene's red light circular spots on & all
the house lights went dim. Gene did his Krupa Magic in the special way
that makes you want to get up and shout GO GENE GO. He had the entire
Heinz Hall audience in the palm of his hands. I was there and there
were a lot of people who left the concert that night seeing Americas
Number One Ace Drummer Man show that he was a Drum Magnet. Gene the Man
projected and made you want to go out and dig Jazz. He will always be
remembered for being a great great gentleman and a truly super drummer
who contributed to Jazz like Buddy Rich, like Cozy Cole and like Louis
Bellson . Gene Krupa, just the name is like seeing a sky rocket go so
high and keep soaring. Gene Krupa and his reputation will live forever.
I want to thank our Shawn Crash Martin for making this dedication page
of Gene Krupa a happening."
I'm 45 years old. The first mention of Krupa that I
recall was in freshman year high school, when a
sophomore told me what a waste of drivel was Krupa's
Carnegie Hall "Sing, Sing, Sing" performance which his
Mother had played to him as an example of top-flight
"He was just beating on the tom-toms", said my friend.
This was about 1970. Hard rock was coming into its
commercial prime. Drumming was at a low. Ginger Baker
was the acknowledged King of Rock Drummers. Keith
Moon, during his more lucid moments, did his own
emulation of That Drumming Man, although we who
idolized him at the time didn't know that his was only
that most sincere form of flattery: imitation. Mitch
Mitchell with Jimi Hendrix had his moments. Overall,
the concept of the Swinging Drummer was drowning in
the rubble of drum sets being shattered on stage amid
the grotesque Bauhaus motifs of concrete block, hard
rock rhythms. Like trying to run a gymkhana in an
18-wheeler. If it weren't for Keith Moon, Dino Danelli
of the Young Rascals, and that earnest red neck
thumper, Ringo Starr, "swing" - the concept, not the
music - might have perished from the drum throne.
Then the Quartet regrouped. PBS-TV did a special on
them. My best friend (a guitarist) and I were
enthralled. They displayed no pretension, only
virtuosic panache and an ensemble of shit-eating
grins. Especially that wild freak on the drums. When
they played '"Avalon", the smile of his face and the
stroll of his snare were inseparable. He was so...
Cool! HOT! Cool... Cool in the by-then- abandoned Jazz
Era style which had been deemed passe, or at best
campy, by the Woodstock Generation (who nonetheless
went nuts when Santana let them swing mambo for awhile
amid the mostly inept stomping of bands now rightly
called "dinosaur rockers").
We started hunting down Goodman & Krupa records. One
of these was Goodman with Joseph Szigeti and Bela
Bartok playing Bartok's "Contrasts for Violin,
Clarinet & Piano", and so I was exposed to modern
classical music by the same maniacs who'd turned
Carnegie Hall into a dance hall about the time this
marvelous composition was written.
I saw their concert at Ravinia in the Chicago suburbs,
an outdoor venue that mostly featured classical
concerts and Broadway revues. Critics' assessment of
their work at that time was, for once, accurate. They
played with extraordinary ease and rhapsodic groove.
By then, Krupa was so frail he couldn't solo worth
beans, but his ensemble groove was masterful, still
possessed of those simple yet rhythmically uncanny
insertions that delight the ear the way a roller
coaster thrills the gut.
Krupa, as ruler of the Swing Era's drumming elite, was
often compared in contrasting to Bebop's top drummers.
Despite the masterful complexity and subtlety of the
latter's masters, especially when artists such as Tony
Williams and Roy Haynes presented more balanced
approaches to spang-alang drumming, Krupa always held
a place of reverence and touched a nerve of thrill
above the bebop elite. I like to compare Krupa's
difference from, say, Philly Joe Jones, as the
difference between Coney Island and Disneyland. Disney
is allegedly marvelous, and full of more stuff than be
seen in a day, but Coney Island is a pure kick in the
pants. A box of Cracker-Jacks, a waxpaper cup of
Coca-Cola, a good hot dog, and a chance to hold it all
down while you ride the big roller coaster. Krupa,
whether inspired to complex rhythmic subtlety or just
laying down his patented syncopations, was always
kicking the gong around. He never took the fun out of
At Ravinia, we had front row seats owing to Mom's
connections with the Chicago Park District. Midway
through the concert as Gene was struggling his aged
way through a series of tepid solo breaks, my Dad, a
typically taciturn WWII vet of the John Wayne school
of reserved demeanor, jumped up from his chair (at
front row we were in full view of EVERYONE), raised
his fist in the air, and shouted, "GO GENE GO!!!" Who
was this finger-poppin' daddy* posing as my Dad? Yeah,
Krupa was too cool.
(*no, I am not a fan of the current retro swing
ensembles like the Cherry Poppin Daddies, Squirrel Nut
Zippers. The reinvention of mid-century swing as a
Damon Runyon acid flashback is not for me, thank you)
A tad later I saw the Sal Mineo film "The Gene Krupa
Story". Funny that this was one of the first times I
smoked pot, which caused the TV screen to visually
bend into a fish-eye lens look reminiscent of the
first TV sets. Great drumming, dopey film (no pun
intended), but I had to love the guys banging
toms-toms and wearing tasseled fezzes chanting "Go
Gene, Go!" while Mineo did a great job of playing
Krupa playing drums.
Of all the video images or, for that matter,
personally remembered images of seeing Krupa live, the
best by far is Krupa playing... what's its name? the
killer-diller that opens with a reveille fanfare....
Bugle Call Rag!... in "Big Broadcast of 37". It showed
the perfect chemistry of that original Goodman Band.
Goodman's perfectly fleet fingerings of highly
sophisticated swing statements (methinks of him and
Lester Young as hopelessly indebted to each other like
Siamese twins swung at the hip) were perfectly
contrasted by Krupa's fantastically deranged (no other
word serves descriptive justice) rhythmic
conflagrations. Harry James was a kick and all that,
and gave that brassy punch needed to not only raise
the roof but knock a hole in it so the moon and stars
could shine on down from the mirror ball revolving on
high, but it was really the Ben&Geney Show, and I
would have given my left nut in a WWII combat injury
to have been 19 years old in 1937 on the floor with a
jitter-bugging girl while those two raised hairs and
heirs apparent from then until the day Hot Swinging
Jazz is but a musicological curiosity like contra
dances and work chants are today.
When I hear an obese monstrosity like Pink Floyd as is
so revered by my generation, and ponder ponderosities
like a Led Zeppelin, I wonder why and when the youth
of my crowd decided they wanted "heavy music".
Moralizing movies. Pontificating preachers. Hard rock
noise blockades. Whenever I hear or see Le Geneius, I
feel I'm witnessing the peak of human frivolity:
serious, dead serious, about having a Real Good Time.
Jitterbug swing was an airy ballet wherein the dancers
regularly give each other an adroitly timed and
perfectly placed kick in the pants.
Finally, Krupa's the only guy I've seen who looked at
home in a bow tie. Even Miles Davis, the bon vivant
clothes horse, couldn't pull that one off.
Thanks for sharing the glow which, like Roman
aqueducts and Quixote-era windmills, is still in use
even to this day. Gone Gene, Gone!
Rim shot-press roll-hi-hat sizzle groove off into the