"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?"
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."
(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
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."
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 accessories. With
Gene's unusual talent and the magnitude of his influence, the reaction
became monumental internationally.
"Like the best of them, he was
able to concentrate on his music and 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."
Krupa: The World Is Not Enough" by Bobby Scott
Eugene Boris Krupa was an
enigma. His tiny frame belied his impact upon the music scene of his
heyday. People could not associate a small man with the sound of his
drumming. It was only after a double take that he was recognized and
entered the ken of the viewer. That was, to him, just fine: he'd spent
half his life living down a "slip" he had never even made.
The Ol Man, as I called him,
in keeping with the tradition of the band era when all leaders were
thus called, never used narcotics, nor could he ever have been in even
remote danger of addiction. As one might try a roller-coaster ride,
once or twice at most, he had tasted them. But in fact they frightened
him, in a way that liquor never did.
In the year or so I worked and
traveled with him, occasionally taking meals with him, we spoke of his
"hitch" two or three times at most. And always it was wrenched up out
of his memory. It was not the recollection of the bars on the windows
and the isolation but the shame of it that troubled him. He said it
changed him inwardly.
He remembered arriving in
prison. "This one screw took me to the laundry, where I'd been
assigned to work, Chappie,"he said. was his nickname for me. "The
screw and I stood there before all the convicts and he said, 'I've got
a guest for you fellas. The great Gene Krupa.' Well, not one of the
convicts cracked a smile. Then he gives them a big smile, don'cha see,
and says, The first guy that gives 'im any help.. .gets the hole.' You
understan' me? He meant solitary. Well... the minute he walks out, all
of 'em gather aroun' me, shakin' my hand, and one of 'em, a spokesman,
says to me, 'What is it we can do to help ya, Mr. Krupa?'"
He chuckled, remembering that
moment of friendship. The convicts knew he'd been railroaded. They
made sure his drumming hands never touched lye or disinfectants. One
afternoon an old-timer inquired of the Old Man, "How long's your
stretch, Krupa?" When Gene told him, the convict retorted, "Geezus! I
could do standin' on my head!" Gene said that was the best tonic he
got behind bars. It made him see things in a jailhouse long view. He
was bush league in that hardened criminal population. He did a lot of
deep thinking while he was "inside". Hard thinking, too. He said that
he hadn't used much of what he learned until quite recently, about the
same time I had joined his group, in the fall of 1954.
That's what I liked about him,
right off the bat. He was as honest as he could be. I had to keep in
mind, of course, that I was a sideman and a kid. I expected he would
hide behind what he was, but obfuscations were very rare.
I auditioned for him one
afternoon at Basin Street East in New York. He had never heard me
play. I had been recommended to replace Teddy Napoleon on piano. He
wanted to see if I could fit in comfortably with tenor saxophonist
Eddie Shu and bassist Whitey Mitchell. We played, the four of us, for
ten or fifteen minutes, and I got a decent idea of the head charts
they had been using. Afterwards, Gene and I talked salary and the
upcoming jobs and travel. Then, out of the blue, he said, "I know
you'd have more fun playing with a younger drummer more in the bebop
bag, but I still think we can make a few adjustments and enjoy
Coming out of a living legend,
such self-deprecation startled me. Yet I knew he meant it. I came away
that day thinking that I could certainly learn something about
deflating my own ego from this tiny, soft-spoken, dapperly-dressed
When you're young, and foolish,
you think every thought that comes into your head is of oracular
origin. But many of one's youthful ideas are of worth. Gene helped me
through a sorting process. His own contributions to the quartet were
insightful, and they came out of his tested experience.
Like all the successful
bandleaders of the 1930s and '40s, he knew his primary task was to
choose the right tempo for each piece. It doesn't seem all that
important. But it is. The tempo can make the difference between
success and failure.
One night in Las Vegas he
picked a tempo for so fast that he couldn't double it. He had either
to play a solo that differed from the recording or slow the tempo.
Though the listeners expected the doubling up, he slowed it as he
began his solo. Very, very infrequently did he make such a mistake.
Although he asked us to play
certain tunes, for the most part he gave Eddie Shu and me a free hand
with new pieces and the arranging of them. Occasionally he'd insist on
something. He wanted us to learn Sleepy Lagoon. When he mentioned the
Eric Coates classic, the three of us threw glances at each other. The
old man reminded us of the melody's rhythmic character. He said it'd
lay well as a four-four bounce, though it was originally in
three-four. When we finally got it into a form, it proved a staple of
our repertoire. Eddie Shu and I would never have considered it.
It was Gene who first got me to
sing, and though the first recordings I made under my own name were
done for ABC-Paramount, I had already recorded a single under Gene's
aegis for Verve. and She's Funny That Way were recorded in 1955, with
Norman Granz as producer. Although the performances I turned in were
hardly what I'd find acceptable today, Gene told me, "You've got to
start some time, Chappie, and it might as well be now."
Gene continued to encourage me,
even insisting that I sing a song in each set of an engagement at the
Crescendo in Hollywood. He told me that he had no doubt I would make a
success with singing and writing, and this amazed me. And then, once,
in a rather serious mood, he urged me to address my thoughts to the
success he insisted was coming.
"The toughest thing in life,
Chappie, is to mellow with success. A lot of people with talent never
seem to be able to handle success." Now I give him high points for
perceptiveness, but when you're seventeen, as I was at the time, you
can't understand such things. Gene meant me to stash the thought away.
He hoped, as he later told me, that I'd begin to set up a value
structure to lean upon when I had to face what loomed ahead. Gene knew
how success can destroy. He had witnessed what it had done to others
what it had done to himself. He remarked upon an imaginary power that,
like a snake, sneaks into your breast and ruins you from within. I
used precious little of what he'd told me as I stumbled and bumbled my
way through the next ten years of my life and proved to myself that
human nature is a disaster.
Gene was, as I've said,
physically small, with delicately shaped fingers, salt-and-pepper
closely-cut hair, and a compellingly handsome face. Though it was
never a strut, his walk told you much about his well-made character.
There was magic in his eyes and smile and, in fact, his very presence.
These attributes made him both a ladies' man and a man's man. Even
kids loved Gene Krupa.
For me he symbolized, maybe
epitomized, the Swing Era; the driving dynamic of his drumming
characterized the whole period.
In the winter of '54-'55 during
an eight-week gig at The Last Frontier, I got an opportunity to clock
the Old Man. I was delighted (and sometimes dismayed, I admit) by his
In a town flooded with Show Biz
people, Gene was a loner. Though he was always convivial and warm, in
his own genteel fashion, he never let casual acquaintances grow into
friends. He gave me the feeling that he'd rather be home in Yonkers,
New York. It was as if he'd seen enough towns to last him the rest of
his life. And of course there was that question behind the eyes of
every listener. Was he still using drugs? What a colossal bore it must
have been to him, never having been even a casual user. So he kept his
contact with the general public short, and he avoided making new fans
He was ritualistic about his
day, which had a shape and constancy. In the earlier hours he took his
meals in his room. He left the hotel grounds rarely, and spent little
time with us, his sidemen. He was troubled. At home, his wife, Ethel,
was entering upon an illness that would take her life before the close
of the year.
A woman who watched us every
night became enamored of him. She couldn't understand his remote
attitude. She cried on my shoulder on several occasions. She was in
her thirties, quite beautiful, and mature. He just had no interest in
her, not even platonic. Finally I took up her cause with him. He
received this intercession in a surprisingly sweet manner. He
discussed her lovely disposition. Then he alluded to home. And his
cleanshaven, tanned face wrinkled a bit. "It'd be wrong, don'cha see,
Chappie," he said.
"Hell, we're on the road, Ace,"
retorted the morally bereft teenager. Ace was my nickname for him.
"Certain things you just don't
do, Chappie. Certain things you just can't live with, son."
When I heard "son", I knew it
was my cue to zip up.
And he stayed to his lone
regimen. After our last set, he always played a few hands of Black
Jack, then started off to bed. On entering the lobby of the casino, he
would play a dollar one-arm. He must have beaten the machine with some
consistency, for he showed me several bags of silver dollars he was
"going to take home for the kids in my neighborhood." He was a
celebrity in Yonkers. There was even a Krupa softball team, made up
mainly of Yonkers policemen and neighborhood friends.
Gene exuded an aloofness most
of the time. But there was no hauteur in it. He never used his
position. He was in fact the least leaderish leader I'd worked for
till that point in my life. And now I think of it, never did work for
anyone after the Old Man; I worked with them. Only Quincy Jones, later
on, in the 1960s, had an ease of leadership that echoed the Old Man's.
Q.J. had gained a fund of respect for his arranging ability, but he
never picked a player who could not cut the charts, nor one he'd have
to "bring along". He was luckier than Gene, who had to put together
road bands, not often peopled with great talents. Still, Gene was
proud of his bands of the past, proud of encouraging and championing
talents like Anita O'Day, Roy Eldridge, and Leo Watson. He was quick
to take a bow for letting new people like Gerry Mulligan write freely
for the band. (Disc Jockey Jump is a classic from that pen.)
One afternoon in Vegas, the
four of us were in Gene's room, rapping. Gene sat on the huge high
bed, his short legs hanging off the fat mattress, much as a child's
would, feet not touching the floor. Eddie Shu, bassist John Drew, and
I sat in chairs semi-circling our leader. The conversation turned to
"serious" music, that is, the written variety of music so often and
incorrectly called "classical" music. (The "classical" was but one
period of "serious" music's history.)
Eddie was talking of his
beloved Prokofiev. Gene introduced Frederick Delius into the
conversation. Having ascertained that we all had a passing
acquaintance with that much-traveled Englishman's music, he sent his
bandboy-valet-aide Pete off to the center of town to buy a stereo
phonograph and every available recording of Delius' music. With a
fistful of large bills, Pete disappeared. We ordered sandwiches and
beer to consume the time. Our anticipation had reached a zenith when
Pete came through the door with a brand new portable phonograph and an
armful of LPs. (Oh for those halcyon days of the 1950s when record
shops had inventories!) That armful of music made the afternoon one of
the most pleasurable I've known. Sadly, one is today hard put to find
a single album of that wonderful music.
I had touched on the music of
Delius with my teacher, but his academic fur had been rubbed the wrong
way by the inept way in which Delius often developed his materials. In
fact my teacher though it "pernicious" to treat one's musical thoughts
in such a lack-a-day manner. I had to admit he was right. But for me
it was a matter of the heart, not the brain. There was a glowing
genius in Delius' vision, his sheer individuality. That uniqueness
could not easily be dismissed. Of course, when you're studying, you
address yourself to examples of lasting structural achievement,
including the engineering of Bach, and, among the moderns, the neatly
dry but marvelous Hindemith. To the teacher of composition, Delius is
unnecessary baggage, ordinarily used as an example of what shouldn't
be done with one's musical ideas.
But Krupa found much in Delius'
music to commend it. He credited Delius, if the English will forgive
him, with developing an American voice, melodically and harmonically.
Gene pointed to a bass figure, a fragment, in the orchestral piece
Appalachia to show us what Delius was "into" in the 1880s. That phrase
shows up in the opening strain of Jerome Kern's Old Man River. Gene
didn't mean to imply that Kern had plagiarized it. He meant only to
show that Kern, like others, was affected by Delius' music.
That afternoon, acres of hours
were consumed listening to 'North Country Sketches, Paris: Song of a
Great City', and the shorter tone poems 'On Hearing the First Cuckoo
in Spring In a Summer Garden.' To my delight I discovered that I was
disposed towards Delius' music, that it spoke to me of my self in an
odd and mysterious way. It also offered relief from the rhetorical
now-hear-this quality of the Late Romantic literature that consuming
desire of composers to out-Wagner Wagner. Since that afternoon, I have
read a learned critic's assessment that I find marvelously on the
mark. He placed Beethoven as the dawn of the Romantic Era, Wagner as
its high noon, and Delius as its sunset. There is a point that has
been made before that still bears emphasizing. Delius, unlike Wagner,
never rages. It is his understating that draws his listeners. Though
other composers have captured nature in her glory, with splashing
colors that cover the score pages, none has captured her tranquility
as Delius did. No one.
Krupa pointed to the folk-song
elements in the last scene of the opera about miscegenation, Koanga,
insisting, quite correctly, that Delius was years ahead of other
composers, Gershwin in particular, in using what can only be termed
American materials - those materials we've come to associate with
jazz, blues, and popular music. This is no doubt a startling view to
the many English fans who find Delius painfully English, a star
brightly shining in the Celtic twilight. But Delius' own inclinations
drew him to the ground-breaking American poet Walt Whitman, whose
texts he used for 'Sea Drift' and 'Once through a Populous City.'
Krupa was astonished that
Delius could have been born of Dutch parents in Bradford, England,
write his marvelous early music in the United States, live the better
part of his life in Grez-sur-Loing in France, and speak nothing but
German in his home. Gene revealed a hitherto unseen excitement in
putting the composer's life before us. (He would later laugh on
discovering that I shared Delius' birthday, January 29.)
It was the longest non-stop
conversation I'd had with him, and he began opening up some of his
memories. He spoke of a time when he was a kid, playing in a speakeasy
in Chicago. It was brought to his attention that Maurice Ravel was in
the audience. History, it seemed, had stepped right on his toes. That
visit started another love affair for Gene, one that culminated in his
recording of Ravel's 'Bolero in Japan.' The recording was never
released because Ravel's one remaining relative, a brother, sat
heavily on the composer's estate. Gene never did tell me what
departures he'd made from the score.
Most surprising to me, as a
student of music concerned with its historical periods, was Gene's
knowledge of what had gone before. Even as a kid, he said, he'd been
interested in and inclined towards "serious" music. So were his
confreres. Wasn't Gershwin a departure? he'd ask. And what of Paul
Whiteman's efforts? He'd laugh that chuckle of his but never allow
himself a guffaw. Then he'd draw attention to the obvious differences
between the freer jazz playing and written music. Having been in the
pit band put together by Red Nichols for Gershwin's 'Strike up the
Band' on Broadway, he had more than an adequate idea of how the
wedding of the seemingly disparate elements of the "played" and
"written" was to be effected. Among the movers of his generation, he
was one of those who favored the marriage of "serious" music and jazz
and never disparaged attempts at a Third Stream. This was of enormous
value to me, then, because I leaned toward it myself. Once I mentioned
Stan Kenton. Gene commended the adventurous nature of what that
California orchestra was doing. But he was put off by the martial
quality that came from those blocks of brass. He was not disposed to
the materials, either, preferring the work of Woody Herman's and Duke
I wonder now whether there'll
be any more Krupas or Woodies or Dukes. There may not be, in fact.
Will they be missed? 'I' will miss them, mused the war-weary typist.
We've witnessed the battle of the camera and the turntable over the
last sixty years, and though the phonograph record/tape has made
enormous strides, they are small beside the gains of motion pictures
and television. Not to mention that there no longer are dance halls
and cabarets, and there are too few jazz clubs. The extinction of the
latter means there'll be no places to woodshed. For the new recording
artist, the making of an album is not the end but the beginning of a
now-larger process. The videotape of the song, the actuating of it, is
the new culmination. There lies the defeat. The LP was a complete
parcel of entertainment. The pictures you saw were of your own mind's
making, like the fantasies of the young. Sinatra sang a song and you
saw the face of your own loved one in your mind's eye. added the
lazily falling snow when Nat Cole painted a warm familial setting in
'The Christmas Song.'
No more is that the case. It's
as if a great bell tolled the knell of all that was musical and
precious. What must it be like to be raised with the "pictures" on the
Bill Finnegan once predicted:
"Soon, people will be dancing by themselves in ballrooms and clubs."
He said it in the old Webster Hall RCA studio, now gone, to Larry
Elgart and me. It made us shudder, then laugh shallowly. How else
could two dinosaurs react to their own imminent extinction?
Krupa tried his best to keep
his band alive. "But going to jail," he said to me, "meant going
through one fortune I'd saved and it took darn near another one to put
it back together again." Worse was the damage to his morale when, in
order to reinstate himself, he had to become a sideman in the Tommy
Dorsey orchestra. Though he respected Dorsey's musicianship immensely,
"I couldn't stomach the man, personally, Chappie. Too self-centered."
Being a glamorous ex-con of newsworthy status, Gene no doubt brought
out as many people as the band did.
Somewhere on the path he was
traveling, it became clear to him that he needn't bother leading a big
band any more. After the stay in jail, he said, he found he'd lost the
degree of understanding necessary to be surrogate father to a group of
young players. "The problems never end, Chappie. Musicians are great
human beings, but face it: we're all kids! And I don't mean Boy
The other side of it was that
Gene didn't have the inclination to adapt to small-group drumming
either. He tried, sure, but night after night of restraining oneself
is not fulfilling. He'd smile and say, "Tonight, the way I feel, I'd
love to have sixteen guys out there with us...and push the walls
He was frugal, but I overlooked
that because he wasn't greedy. The two years I was with him, though,
were a searching time for him. He told me straight out that he was
looking to make a deal for the rights to his life story, hoping that
the movie monies would provide for him in his slow autumn walk. When
we worked Hollywood, he was always in the company of a screen-writer,
retelling the story. It took a toll on him. The memories no longer had
any sweetness for him. Confronted with the residue of his past, he
found himself unable to bring order to it. There was always a 'Why?'
on his face, though he hadn't an inkling that it was there.
By the end of the Vegas gig,
we'd worked out every wrinkle in the group and could have sleepwalked
through the performances that month in California. Norman Granz
recorded an album with the new group, which now featured the
English-born (and now late) John Drew on bass. Thus for the first time
I got the chance to hear the group "from out front", as it were. I was
brought down by my own work, but the Old Man had a better knowledge of
how talent matures, and he encouraged me, bolstering my sagging ego.
On one ballad I played so many double-time figures I could only say,
"Why so many goddamn notes?" Gene said, "It'll all come together one
day, Chappie. But it won't if you don't go at it seriously." I told
him I thought I sounded like a guy killing snakes with a Louisville
Slugger. "What do you think people want to hear?" he said. "Lullabyes?
Hell. Keep on playin'with that kind of drive. It'll come together,
don't worry. You've got a good problem. You've got more energy in one
finger than most piano players have in their whole body."
I perceive now that acting as
Gene did responsively is the largest part of leadership. What he
offered wasn't unqualified back-patting but an attempt to infuse
bristling youth with a dose of much-needed patience. It was within his
capabilities to understand my adolescence. Why, I'm still not sure.
Oddly, he'd had no experience in child-rearing, never having had a
family of his own.
Gene was a product of his own
making the self-made man of American myth. But is it myth? And who,
having witnessed the unexpected emergence of talents of such large
artistic dimension, could not applaud jazz for serving the commonweal,
as the Church of medieval times raised up the peasant-born to the
penultimate seat of power and influence? Jazz is truly a wonder of
magnitude. It can even make a piece of well-wrought written music
sound quite parochial. When Gene Krupa and the other burgeoning
talents were confined to bordellos and speakeasies, the heartbeat of
the American experience remained in limbo. But once the hats of
respectability were tipped as jazz passed by the reviewing stand of
life, the system proved it could loose the sources of its strength.
What a terrible reminder to the social scientists, too to find out
that it is neither our minds nor a polling place that brought us
together. It is shared aspirations in the same language that does it.
Regionalism. Nonsense. When Louis Armstrong ventured north, bringing
his New Orleans-born "Dixie", he found a Chicago version, a dialect of
the music, already in existence. Jazz had proved it is the
homogenizing influence, and the social historians have myopically
passed over this fact.
When you enjoy the people
you're playing with, you naturally perform to your limit, and
sometimes even touch on the tomorrow side of your talent. I grew while
I was with Gene's group. But by the end of a year and a half, I knew
it was time to move on. And so I took leave of the quartet. Such
partings were familiar to a man like Gene. I was pregnant with ideas I
had held inside for that period of playing and traveling. I learned a
lesson from my grinding dissatisfaction: the score pad was where my
talent should be directed. In a musical sense I had, to my sadness,
passed the group by. I couldn't go back, either. Writing was the way
I'd begin making my own personal history, and I am reminded that the
most important events in an artist's life are those that transpire
inside oneself, the invisible journeying and mental mountain-climbing.
Artistic endeavor is reduced to a war between two or more parts of the
self. The playing of jazz was at that point too diverting. When you
play every night, you don't listen to what others are playing. And so
I became a listener and reaped the rewards of hearing others speak.
I would have loved to have done
some writing for Gene, had he seen fit to record a special album. But
it was not to be. Gene looked on recording as something worth only
perfunctory effort. "It's dollars and cents, Chappie." He thought that
his name or likeness sold the albums; what was the point in loading up
the initial cost?
In that year, 1955, the Old Man
settled before my watchful eyes. He was in his fifties and secretly
unhappy with what was happening to his life. He never gave me the idea
we were doing one thing of productive purpose, other than pleasing
ourselves. The audience was an invited undemanding adjunct. It was as
if the Old Man knew the hotels and clubs were paying for his celebrity
and little else. We drew the head of the Nevada State Police narcotics
squad. He came in night after night to watch for dilated pupils.
The Jazz at the Philharmonic
tour that fall lifted Gene's spirits, at least for a while. But the
traveling paled them. I often watched that pointless drum battle with
Buddy Rich on every concert, and wondered what it was doing to his
ego. Buddy was like some great meat-grinder, gobbling up Gene's solos,
cresting his triumph in traded fours and eights and ending with an
unbelievable flourish. Gene took it in the finest of manners. He
didn't think music had a thing to do with competition. He had a way of
carrying himself correctly when he walked on, and used that strut of a
sort to the fullest at the close of those demoralizing drum wars. I
broached the subject to him once. Just once. "Anyone playing with Bud
is going to get blown away, Chappie. And remember, the audience isn't
as perceptive as you are." His answer was matter-of-fact, with no hint
No one cared less than Gene
about press notices. There is a danger in listening to what is said
about your talent by non-players. Gene never gave them even a
I let him down one night in
Vegas. I got thoroughly sloshed and had to be carried out of the Last
Fronter. And who did the carrying? You guessed it. Gene tried to get
my six-foot-one through the outer door sideways and ran my head and
feet into the frame. It served me right.
After that night, I was cut off
in the Gay Nineties room. But Gene, a merciful judge, saw to it that I
could have a taste in our band room. And he never counted my drinks.
He accepted that everyone slips, and he didn't carry your mistakes
around inside him. What I did was one occasion to him, nothing more.
I believe his Catholicism kept
his judging of others to the minimum. If you made an apology, he
cleaned the slate. But then, Gene never chalked a thing like that on a
mental blackboard in the first place.
His wife Ethel had only
antipathy for musicians, seeing them as wayward and malicious little
boys. Wonder of wonders, though, she liked me very much. As young as I
was, she thought my lapses were excusable. Not so those of Gene or
One afternoon, when we were
already late getting on the road for a gig in Connecticut, she
insisted that "this young fellow have a sandwich" before we left their
Yonkers home. Gene bitched about her "mothering concern" and the time,
but he didn't get the last word. I was made to "sit down and eat it
slowly." She was a fiercely dominating person, and I did as I was
told. My colleagues in overcoats grumbled through clenched teeth as I
finished the repast in record time and she told Gene to take better
care of the "kids" working for him. "A good meal'd kill that skinny
kid," she said of me, digging at the Old Man. I figured that once we
were in the station wagon and on our way, I'd hear about it. But he
didn't mention it. Months later I asked him about that little scene.
"Better she's on your case, Chappie, than on mine,'" he said with a
chuckle. By then I had witnessed a few of her verbal assaults on him,
particularly when we brought him home behind a pint of Black and White
scotch. But I never heard him bad-mouth her. Not ever.
Then, during the JATP tour, he
became very detached. His eyes seemed far away in some other time and
place. I asked about this obliqueness, and the conversation turned to
Ethel. "She's very ill, Chappie." He stared out of the plane's window
into the infinity of space, as if trying to decipher a future out
there, his handsome face screwing up, the eyebrows knitting. "The
doctors are lying to me. They say she's got an inner-ear infection.
She's got a problem with her balance, don'cha see? But I know. It's a
brain tumor."The last four words bled out of him. I let the subject
lie there where he'd dropped it, and made useless remarks about
worrying not meaning a damn thing, then pushed the button on my seat
and reclined, feigning that nap time was upon me. We never spoke of
her again until the day she passed away.
With all the trouble being
married to Ethel entailed and I got a notion of how hard she had
tried him when they were divorced, from people who were close to him
he remarried her to put himself back into the Church's fold and to
enjoy again the consolations of the Sacraments. To people outside the
Church, the remarriage was viewed as a disaster. It smelled of farce.
To the Old Man, however, it was all quite simple: he had contracted
with God to him a living God, a caring God, a right-here-and-now
God. No amount of worldly knowledge, no rationalization, could alter
his moral position. I certainly wasn't going to question the right or
wrong of it. Gene believed it idiotic to take wife after wife, praying
to hit on the right one. I tended to agree with him. Now of course I
am convinced that the ordinances and Sacraments are not to be taken
lightly. But even at the time, it struck me, this moral posture of
Krupa's, that doing the right thing doesn't always make one feel good.
And the difference is all one need understand to gain insight into the
Old Man's decision. Life shows us, only too often, that what makes one
feel good is not necessarily right for us. I need only mention booze,
of which I have consumed my share, drugs, and promiscuity.
I was made to see, in a clear
and distinct way, that there are higher laws and hard pathways. The
world, of course, applauded someone who extricated himself from a
"bad" marriage. Gene knew that. But he also knew that one cannot
change one's mind except they step outside the Church's comfort. So he
remarried her. He could not take the easier road because of his deeper
commitment to his beliefs. Odd. Keeping a promise isn't worth much
anymore, is it? But the Old Man was right for himself. The life
outside is a consensus affair at best, and nothing in the streets does
a wise man use except so far as he is disposed to make a hell of his
morals and existence. It is always the will of men that disrupts
things, no matter how politely one wishes to view one's fellows. We
are responsible for making cesspools of our lives. What Gene bit off,
He gave me the impression that
he'd had a hell-raising youth. That this was in contrast to the
behavior of his devout Polish Catholic immigrant parents hardly
merited comment. He mentioned a younger brother, apple of his mother's
eye, who disappeared. Gene said his brother was "beautiful". There was
a suggestion that some deranged sexual pervert had abused and then
disposed of him. But whatever happened, no trace of the boy was ever
found. And this put Gene in a strange position in the family.
In strong Catholic tradition,
every family "donates" a son or daughter to the church. A tithe to the
cloth, in a manner of speaking. After the brother's disappearance, the
family's eyes fell on Gene. And he was suddenly in turmoil. He had
tastes for both the world and the spiritual. But in accord with family
wishes, he spent a term as a novitiate in a seminary, during which it
became clear to him, he said, that he was not worthy enough to wear
the collar of the priesthood. His faith never faltered; but the muddy
waters in which he found himself swimming didn't seem to be clearing.
And at last he decided against going on.
In 1955, his rocky Catholicism
embarrassed me, even though I sensed that it was only a matter of time
until I would be confirmed in my own beliefs. But in those days,
sitting in the front seat of the station wagon, hearing him braying at
the words of some evangelist leaking out of the radio, his speech
slurred by scotch, froze me. "There is only one true faith!" crowed
our leader. Eddie Shu, a non-believer, took no umbrage at this, but
Gene's intractable position abraded my liberalism, my
live-and-let-live view of things. The only church-going I had done as
a child was to an Evangelical/Reformed Lutheran church, a dissenting
sect, to my mother, a closet Catholic of no small dimension. It was
only in the last year of her life that she let me know her secret: she
had always gone to Mass, unbeknownst to all of us! My father had left
the Catholic fold and communed in a Presbyterian congregation.
And he and my mother, being at
odds, let their children practice whatever we chose to, or not at all.
But to Gene, the Church
strictures were the bottom line, whether you met that standard of
behavior or not. He felt the Church itself was an empowered instrument
of Almighty God. Now, having put much study into the subject of
validity that split the Christian world in the late Fifteenth Century,
Ive come to see Gene's view the Church's position as regards the
Apostolic continuance and tradition as correct. But in 1955, the
constant harping on the one and only true faith really upset me.
No matter what Gene had done in
his life, what profession he had pursued, his faith would still have
been his rock, his consolation, and his hope. He was not a
proselytizing zealot. He honored everyone's right to feel, to believe
or not believe, in a manner consistent with one's own judgment. The
syncretic form of Catholicism I came in time to embrace would be too
"mystical" and too free-thinking too "apologetic" in the theological
sense - to suit the Old Man. He was hide-bound, for he credited the
very existence of the Church as proof of its magisterium.
I was then fascinated by the
writings of the convert Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Several of his
other books were published after the success of his autobiographical
'Seven Storey Mountain.' Always I bought two copies of his books, one
for myself and one for the Old Man. I was never sure how much of
Merton's mystical approach Gene took to heart, but Merton's abiding
commitment consoled him.
For many musicians, music
either has become or simply is their religion - - the way through
which their deepest feelings are loosened and brought to the surface,
hopefully transfigured. There is a substantial value in this, although
the according of too much value to a means to an end is often
self-defeating and diversionary. What lies within one is not always
enchained for wrong reasons.
I have come to believe through
thirty years of writing music that there is at its source the
revelatory. Simply, I believe there is something else, outside or
inside me, that plays the major role in the process. No doubt
everybody who "creates" feels the otherworldliness of the process. The
mysterious is never farther away than the next blank bar on the music
pad. The real trouble comes when one is forced to ascribe authorship.
To please my own doubts, I have come to think of myself as an
instrument through which someone else's music is played. I am an aide
and abbetor of the spheres' ever-present sounds. If I be graced at
all, it is in being able to hear in the chaos a hint of form and an
Gene had no such grand
pretentions. But he did see, as I do, a relation between spirit and
sound. To ascribe a special grace to music wasn't what Gene would do.
In fact he saw music-making as one of the many joys provided by
Existence, i.e. God. For Gene, the religious state known as grace came
only to those who found it of the utmost importance in their lives.
His own faith struck down worldly measures and made his own success an
anomaly to him.
I don't wish to mislead those
who may not understand what being a Catholic of Gene's order entails,
nor its salient characteristics. To Gene, making a friend unhappy had
a direct bearing on how he thought he appeared in God's eye.
There are two seemingly opposed
traditions in the written and oral history of the Church. One is the
Pauline position. For St. Paul, reason, the use of the mind, was of
little value to the discovery of faith, and at its worst an instrument
of deception. He came down hard on the side of faith free, faith
unencumbered, faith rooted in the fact that the "gift" Christ gave on
Calvary had only to be believed and the inheritance collected. To
Paul, the Passion and the Sacrifice cleaned the slate for Mankind with
God. Then there is the Augustinian view, which is: God, in His wisdom,
would not have created an entity as glorious as the human mind if it
was not to be used to seek him! Therefore faith, through the use of
the mind, must be able to withstand the assaults of reason. Fire to
fight fire, as it were. In fact faith should be ennobled by the very
process of reason.
These two positions were what
Gene and I split hairs over, whether he knew it or not. I admit I
envied him his faith. He saw my journeys as escapes into "esoterica"
and, at best, "Words, words, words, Chappie." But then we needed
different things. He was one of the fortunate believers. There are
myriad pathways to faith, and I hadn't taken an easy one. But then no
one gets to pick his path. Sometimes in my despair I feel with
Nietzsche that "the only Christian who ever lived died on a cross."
Ultimately we are shaped by our surrender to God's will.
The uneasiness that all devout
people experience when the rules of men are imposed on them laid no
less heavily on Gene Krupa. The optimism and idealism of the Christian
ethic are burned by this worldly existence, with all its exigencies,
into a smouldering relic. Morality mutates, and is no longer sound,
and right or wrong are determined by the context. Subsequently, one is
hard put to judge if religion doesn't further alienate the already
alienated. Considering Gene's outlook, I am forced to say his rooting
in the Church was both a boon and a bane.
The prophet of Islam was asked
what was the one way to be secure in the eyes of Allah. "Speak evil of
no one," he replied. Gene observed that rule, though he had no
commerce with the thought of the man born in the Year of the Elephant.
Whatever the Old Man felt about people, or questioned, it never got
past his well-tended front teeth. His fairness rested on his
acceptance of everyone's individuality. The confusion made life
colorful to the Old Man, and he would never have endorsed uniformity.
He was so sensitive to the
sensitivities of others. Once I tried to get him to come to my home in
Westchester, not far from his modest house in Yonkers. He made every
imaginable excuse for not coming. Finally I forced him to tell me the
truth. And it was this: He felt that his emphysema would put us off
our food. His wheezing by then had become constant. I couldn't get him
to believe that it would not matter to us. He wouldn't budge. I told
my wife why he wouldn't come. She was mystified. He was concerned what
our kids might think. Such was the height of his deference. Such is
the pride that lives in that tiny man, I told her.
Gene was a man who loved family
life and had none of his own. He was sterile. It is impossible to know
what damage this had done to him. He told me of trips to doctors and
of ingesting substances supposed to make him potent. He even tried an
extract of steer's testes. Why a man wants to go on in his progeny is
something I have no ready answer for. It is too deeply encoded. As a
way to defeat death, it would have little charm for Gene. He believed
in eternal life as promised by God. But his sterility affected him.
When on some occasion a conversation turned to manly prowess, Gene
deprecated himself, resolutely assigning himself the last place on any
list of great lovers. He poked fun at himself. How he came to grips
with all this, I do not know. And to make things worse, his conviction
for a narcotics offense he did not commit ruled out his adopting
children. It was only some years later after my time in his quartet
that with the aid of the Catholic Church he finally did adopt two
children. And as life would have it, they were his only regret when he
passed away, for he had separated from his second wife and had only
visitation rights to quell his anxieties.
"Geezus, Chappie, I adopted the
kids so they'd finally have a home and family. Now they're shifted
back and forth between us. What the hell did I go and do?"
It was the only subject we
discussed during our last telephone conversation. He still would not
break bread at my house, but he offered me a seat in his box at Shea
Stadium to watch his beloved Mets. I couldn't get him to move on to
another topic. He felt he'd let the kids down. No outs or
rationalizations for Gene. And he said he had misjudged his wife,
forgetting that "old men don't marry young women unless they're ready
for problems." I tried to argue around things, but he'd have no part
of it. "I'm a grown person, Chappie, and there's no excuse you could
come up with that'd be good enough to get me off the hook. I made the
damn mistake an' I'll have to live with it, and make the best of a bad
situation." He paused, the portentous silence alive between us on the
telephone line. "There's no one to blame...but myself, Chappie."
The worst part of writing about
a departed friend is that you begin to miss them. It is painful. We
may be ships that pass each other in the night, but don't overlook the
great wakes we leave, and the affect, long after, of the ripples.
You don't get to know a person
like Gene Krupa without gaining insight into the conflict between
worldly goals and personal moral imperatives. I saw this private war
from a near vantage point, and what became clear was that he was a
complex man with absurdly simple needs and desires.
When a man of reputation says
little about what is going on in his own profession, one may assume
that he has critical opinions he deems better left unsaid. But that
wasn't the case with Gene. It was rather a matter of his incapacity to
pass judgment upon what others did, or did not do. When Gene offered
praise, as he did on one occasion for the marvelous drumming of Art
Blakey, he always prefaced his remarks by disqualifying them as
objective evaluations. They were purely an expression of his taste, he
said, and subjective. I asked him why he didn't make judgments of
other drummers. It'd be pointless, he answered, to judge what it was
they were doing if he wasn't privy to what it was they were aiming
for. He refused to be presumptuous. And he never deviated from that.
We were listening one afternoon
to an old album of his big band. He was extolling the arrangement and
the arranger. I didn't care for the piece and said so. "Ah, but
Chappie," he said, "it didn't set out to bowl everyone over. But what
it set out to accomplish.. .it accomplished."
I told him, straight out, that
it was second-class arranging.
And his eyes took on that
twinkle. "Now," he said, "if you'd have written it, Chappie, I'd call
it second-rate, too, because you've more to say than this other
fellow." I didn't hear this as flattery. He wanted me to understand
that there is perfection even when the journey isn't to the polar
caps; that there is as much virtue in being featherweight champ as
there is in being heavyweight champ. "Where your writing is taking
you, Chappie," he said, "the air is very thin. A fall from up there
can kill you."
It was such challenges that he
offered to one's mind. Just when I thought I could easily say that the
Old Man was only capable of seeing things simply, he'd turn the
It is rare for an artist's
personality to rank with his work. There are thousands of volumes of
biography that do little to illuminate, though they paint disturbing
personal portraits. It is as if the biographers were screaming out a
desire that the artist reach in his life the perfection of his work.
But the artist is precisely the one whose personal life is likely to
be a disaster. Why else would he seek beauty and try to encapsulate
it? This applies to "creative" people. But the "re-creative"
individual, like Gene Krupa, doesn't suffer from involuntary surges of
newness and individuality or visions of the unattainable. It is within
the power of such a person as Gene to enjoy life, to accomplish things
he never thought he could. It is sort of a middle man's role, but it
is not without degrees of freedom that, say, a symphony player never
knows. Krupa could add to what was happening, join his oar with
Gershwin's, as he did in the pit band of a Broadway show, or give a
Mulligan a chance to write. These achievements were the brickwork of
his ease and fulfillment. I am sure he enjoyed the knowledge that he
had helped me along the way.
It is a fact that he partook of
that special world of dreams that made the usualness of day-to-day
living a bane to him. It never sat on him as heavily as it might a
creative person, whose visions never sleep, but he had tasted it, and
one is never the same after that. My father called the world of music
the only way one could glimpse paradise while still alive. He said
that once you had looked through that portal, nothing in the world
would ever mean as much as it once did.
Gene knew his limitations
better than most men, and handled them in worthy fashion. Though he
wasn't a pedagogue, he liked to teach, and had many students in the
school he ran with his friend Cozy Cole. Teaching rudiments gave him
the greatest pleasure. He knew that their mastery was the only way to
escape frustration. "Too many ideas, Chappie. These kids got too many
ideas an' no tools to realize them with. It's everybody's problem in
the beginning." He played no favorites among his students. Kids with
little or no gift got a share of his joy and encouragement. The sheer
making of music was Gene's end-all and be-all. If you could play well
enough to play with others, by his reckoning, you were a lucky person.
The last years of his life
found him in the grip of leukemia. It doesn't take you in one swoop;
you just feel it tapping your strength away, daily and monthly. True
to his stylish and graceful way, he made light of it to me, saying
he'd live with it. Being unable to get him out of his home, I decided
to drive up to Yonkers and surprise him. At the time I had several
pressing writing chores and I couldn't get a day to myself. My mother
called to tell me not to go up one particular day because she'd heard
on the radio that Gene had checked himself into a hospital for
transfusions. She said it wasn't bad, though.
The next day was Sunday, if
memory serves me. She called and said he'd gone home and was in
satisfactory condition. Then she berated me for not making time to
visit him. Well, I missed going the next day too, waking late on
Monday afternoon after writing almost all night. But on Tuesday
morning I was up like a shot, bathed and dressed, and starting out the
door when the phone rang. It was my mother.
"What are you doing up so
"I'm on my way up to see the
There was a long pause and her
sigh cut into me.
"Don't bother, son. He passed
away last night."
She then read me out in her
inimitable fashion, reminding me that friendship is a damn sight more
important than earning a living. I finally slowed her down by
reminding her that I was a grown person.
I went with her to Gene's wake.
I can still feel his tiny hands under my own hand, the fingers
intertwined with a Rosary in death's repose, as I said a prayer and
squeezed my good-bye to him in the coffin. Charlie Ventura broke down
before the bier, words fighting tears in a near holler. "You made me
what I am, Gene. I'd be nothin' except for you! Nothin!
I looked toward my mother and
caught her brushing a tear away.
"He wasn't too bad a stepfather
to you either, Jocko."
Copyright 1984. "Gene
The following are
some of the great letters I have received from visitors to this
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."
"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 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
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 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
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,
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
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
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....
( Discography )
(Gene Krupa/Buddy Rich
(GK on Facebook) (Audio/Video) (Jazz
(Drum & Cymbal
(78 Labels) (Modern Drummer Tribute)
Copyright © 1997-2020, Shawn C. Martin.