“YOU ARE GENE KRUPA.”

Gene Krupa was born one hundred years ago today, January 13, 1909.

Krupa, alive and dead, has been the subject of a good deal of speculation — trying to establish his place in jazz, in history, in American culture.  I prefer to celebrate him as a musician who was at one with his instrument, someone who kept his artistic identity intact (except for a brief period in the late Forties, when the band wore berets to show that they too were beboppers).

My title comes from a film clip — from a movie that must have been made in two days, if that, called BOY! WHAT A  GIRL!  The scene below includes my hero Sidney Catlett, Benny Morton, Dick Vance, Don Stovall, and a few others . . . with a surprise visit from Mr. Krupa.  He plays, incidentally, as he did in 1927 with Condon and McKenzie, in 1938 with Goodman, and as he did at the New School in 1972, the last time I saw him: throwing himself fully into the beat.   ‘

The conceit of Krupa surprising Catlett (who is asked to pretend that he doesn’t recognize his friend Gene, one of the most famous figures in the world in 1947) is fanciful, somewhat like one of those cameos Hope and Crosby used to do in each other’s movies, but Sidney’s tagline, “You are Gene Krupa,” makes me pause.

One of Krupa’s great gifts was that he made a whole generation, perhaps two, want to do “tricks with the sticks” just as he did.  Think of Louis Bellson, of Mel Torme, of a young Kevin Dorn.  And think of all those people, practicing paradiddles on their Slingerland Radio Kings, who wanted to be Gene Krupa.  And they believed that they could be Gene.  Bing Crosby made millions of people think that they could sing just as well as he did.  That gift — of making people think such mastery was possible  — is a rare one, and we dare not undervalue it.  Some artists — Charlie Parker and Art Tatum come to mind — are so far beyond the ordinary that we know emulating them is a lifetime’s work.  But Krupa, whose art was no less subtle, humbly suggested by his very presence that his art and the resulting pleasure was within our reach.  It was as powerful a democratic idea as FDR talking to Americans through their radios as if they and he were . . . just people, to whom you could tell the truth.

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I will conclude this post with a picture of a man who looks out of place in a jazz blog.  He doesn’t have a suit; he doesn’t hold a musical instrument.  (His clothes, mind you, are something we all should aspire to.)

But he belongs here.  Readers will have noticed that the Beloved and I have been visiting Maui (from where I am writing this).  A few days ago, we drove to Makawao and visited the church’s thrift store, where we both bought excellent clothing.  On our way out, this gentleman — energetic, garrulous, and enthusiastic — arrived to donate a chair he had made himself (you can see it in the picture) to the thrift store.  He didn’t want any money for it, although he said they should charge $75 for it, and told me that he made it just to keep himself healthy.

In the fashion of such conversations, he asked me where I was from.  When I said, “New York,” he got very excited and told me that he had been in New York in 1942, as a member of the 82nd Division, that he had been a paratrooper with 300 jumps, that he had stayed in New York at the Hotel Chesterfield (for two dollars a night), had been to the Statue of Liberty.

And then he paused, for dramatic emphasis.  “I went to Madison Square Garden.  Do you know who I saw there?  I saw GENE KRUPA!  Do you know who Gene Krupa is?  He (pantomining) played the drum!”

He was beaming, and so was I.

This man, who must be in his late eighties, still has Gene Krupa in his thoughts, in his memory, as if 1942 was yesterday.

If you give yourself generously to people, as Krupa did, you never die.  Happy Birthday, Gene.

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11 responses to ““YOU ARE GENE KRUPA.”

  1. Is his birthday the 13th or the 15th?

  2. Thanks for the fact-checking. Most of the websites say it’s the 15th, so I will follow that. I am far away from jazz reference books at the moment, so that accounts for a faulty memory. But Gene wouldn’t mind good wishes that were two bars early, I am sure.

    Cheers, Michael

  3. I should have led off with this – great appreciation of Krupa. I read your blog regularly and learn a great deal from it. Keep up the good work.

  4. Michael – Gang – musicians have a hobby of putting Gene down – he’s an easy mark. BUT: During my long tenure at RCA I may have been remastering Toscanini, but in the summer the smaller dupe rooms kept their doors open and the guy across the hall is making a cassette master of “Let’s Dance”. I found myself standing under the huge right speaker in a room bout the size of your bathroom. As though I was standing in the back of the band. And heard Gene as the huge frieght engine, playing press rolls – nobody banged on cymbals in those enlightened days – unstoppable, pulling the train triumphantly home…sam p.

  5. I think Krupa was underrated because of his popularity. I love the all-star combo dates he did for Norman Granz in the 1950s. Any Krupa fan who doesn’t know them (DRUM BOOGIE, THE EXCITING GENE KRUPA, THE DRIVING GENE KRUPA and KRUPA/RICH)
    is missing some great jazz.

  6. The first big-name jazz group I ever heard live was the Gene Krupa Trio – Teddy Napoleon, piano and Eddie Shu, tenor – sometime in the early 50’s. To an aspiring teenage drummer, it was thrilling – Wow, I’m seeing Gene Krupa! And of course, they did “Drum Boogie.” Nice memories.

  7. First and foremost Gene Krupa is the MAN the one and the only that started the whole drum solo thing going. I was a kid five years old and mom and dad had an old old ten inch television. Jackie Gleason had a show on Dumont T V circa l950 called Calvalcade of Bands. Saw Gene Krupa for the first time on that small t v screen. I think he did a chart called Leave Us Leap. Just the way Gene played his charisma was the way that a true jazz musician could convey his magic. Also Gene Krupa had all those drum rudiments in his messages and I loved the way he made those Slingerland Radio Kings sound like Thunder and that Snare Drum of his had that Ring to it. Buddy Rich said it Best. Could you imagine Jazz with out Gene? And one other thing. Gene Krupa surrounded him self with top shelf musicians. He had Charlie Ventura. Roy Eldbridge Anita O Day. Frank Rosilino. Gerry Mulligan. Krupa had that way about him? I would also say you could DANCE to a Gene Krupa drum solo he would make you force you want to learn and understand jazz. Give me Gene Krupa any day of the week. Gene Krupa the Legend. Gene Krupa the Man. Love you GENE. always Will.

  8. Have you heard my man Kevin Dorn? Not a Krupa copyist by any means, but he loves and understands Gene as you do. Check out http://www.kdorndrums.com.!

  9. You want to talk Gene Krupa? Here you go. He played here in my hometown when he was not feeling good.?? It was about two years before his death. I talked to him back stage and he told me what it was like playing in his big band on the road. He had Roy Eldbridge with him and Charlie Ventura. he told me he had this practice pad on the bus with a dime glued in the middle of the pad. He would do single stroke rolls with his hands never stopping. While the Gene Krupa Big band traveled from city to city. Anita O day was on that bus and Anita had a band uniform just like the guys in the band. Anita was way ahead of the other female vocalists. June Christy learned a lot from Anita oDAY. Gene told me he had the upmost respect for Buddy Rich and really thought buddy was the greatest drummer to draw breath. Temper and all buddy rich still ruled the roost. Louie Bellson Gene told me was not only a fine fine drummer but a gentleman. Gene talked to me just like a ordinary guy he pulled no punches. and you can say this one trillion times over and over Gene Krupa gave the drummer a chance to shine. Krupa started the whole concept of drum breaks and drum solos. We all owe a lot to the name Gene Krupa.

  10. If you know anything about swing and jazz you know Gene Krupa was one of the greats. I not only grew up with his music, but had the pleasure of seeing and listening to him play sitting up on the back bar at the Metropole off Times Square accompanied by greats like Roy Eldridge and Coleman Hawkins. All for the $1 price of a bottle of beer.

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