A Tribute to Gene Krupa Recollections

Buddy RichBuddy Rich :

"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
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
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 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.Gene and Phil Dossick, 1957 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 special! 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."

Robin Morrison:

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 drumming.

"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 finesse.

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 sunset....

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