Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"The Man I Love" - Composed by Gershwin Performed by Feldman

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


As Victor Feldman recounted to John Tynan in a 1963 interview for Downbeat, “I was newly married and Cannonball had called me about a month before I went back to England in 1960 to introduce my wife to my family and friends.  He called me to make a record with Ray Brown, Wes Montgomery, Louis Hayes and himself. [Cannonball Adderley and the Poll Winners Riverside S-9355; Landmark LCD-1304-2].”

While we were in England, I got a cable from him with a definite offer as a pianist-vibist with his group.”

In my 1999 interview with Orrin Keepnews of Riverside Records when we were both residing in San Francisco, I asked him about how Victor Feldman came to be on  Cannonball’s “Poll Winners” in May, 1960.

According to Orrin, he and Cannonball had decided to use guitarist Wes Montgomery and bassist Ray Brown on the album and this led them to think further about “unusual instrumentation.”  Although there was some talk about Les McCann, the feeling was that he was primarily blues player, but more importantly, Cannonball just didn’t want to use a piano player.The rest of the conversation went as described by Orrin in the album’s liner notes:

“With all the established musicians (including the regular Adderley drummer, Louis Hayes) living fully up to expectations, the surprise element was provided by the then-unknown Victor Feldman.

In view of the unconventional feeling of guitar and bass, Cannon had wanted something less routine than just a piano player. West Coast friends recommended a highly skilled young L.A. studio vibraphonist, recently arrived from England; figuring that we only need him for coloration, we took a chance and invited him up [to San Francisco where the album was being recorded by Wally Heider at Fugazi Hall near North Beach].

At rehearsal, Victor sat down at the piano to demonstrate a couple of his compositions. I can still clearly visualize all of us standing there, open-mouthed and thunderstruck, as we listened to a totally unexpected swinging and funky playing of this very white young Britisher.

Finally one of us, struck by an apparent facial resemblance, expressed our mutual amazement. “How can the same man,” I asked, “look like Leonard Feather and sound like Wynton Kelly?”

“The Man I Love” by George and Ira Gershwin tune has always been among my favorite Great American Songbook standards, especially the version by Victor Feldman which accompanies the video tribute to the Gershwins that concludes this feature.

It would appear that the tune is also a favorite of many Jazz musicians as there are over 80 versions of it in my LP, tape and CD collection.

While with Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet and living in New York, Victor had the opportunity to record his own album on Riverside, Merry Olde Soul [Riverside RLP-9366; OJCCD-402-2] which was recorded in December, 1960 and January, 1961.

As Orrin Keepnews, the co-owner and producer for Riverside Records recalled: “There was no question of using Sam Jones and Louis Hayes on it as by now they had formed quite a rhythm section in Cannonball’s quintet; I think I was the one who suggested Hank Jones on piano for one session to free up Vic to play vibes on three tracks.”

Ira Gitler was selected to provide the liner notes to Merry Olde Soul and he had this to say about some aspects of the recording:

“There are not many albums where all the tracks deserve some comment. Here, each one has something to offer and bears mention. Various influences on Feldman’s style are in evidence, yet because of his own strong personality, he does not emerge as a mere eclectic. There is a great difference between intelligent absorption and imitation.”

Although all of the nine tracks are the album show off various aspects of Victor’s developing style and technique, here are Ira’s comments about four of the tunes. I would only add that Victor’s vibes solo on The Man I Love is one for the ages – an absolute marvel of building tension and release brought about by a musician with an incredible sense of syncopated rhythm, a well-developed feeling for melody and an ever deepening knowledge of harmony.

“Victor opens on piano with ‘For Dancers Only,” a happy, swinging interpretation of the Sy Oliver tune immortalized by the old Jimmie Lunceford band. His chording seems to show a Red Garland influence. Sam Jones has a strong solo and the integration of the trio is perfect: they literally dance. ‘Lisa’ is a collaboration between Feldman and Torrie Zito; its minor changes cast a reflective but Victor’s touch here on vibes still swings. …

‘Bloke’s Blues’ is a rolling line that I find somewhat reminiscent of Hampton Hawes. There is an easy natural swing and much rhythmic variety in Feldman’s single line. His feeling is never forced.”

“In this album, his first for ‘Riverside’ as a leader, the spotlight is really on Victor. His piano and vibes are both given wide exposure, and there is a substantial taste of his talents as a composer (of blues and ballads in particular). He proves more than equal to the task of filling a large amount of space with music that consistently sustains interest.”

On ‘The Man I Love’ (the only no-piano vibes number), Feldman starts out with a light touch similar to his work on ‘Lisa.’ Then he intensifies into a more percussive attack that wails along Jacksonian lines, in a spirit that may put you in mind of Milt’s solo on Miles Davis’ famous version of the tune, but without copying Jackson. He builds and builds into highly-charged exchanges with Hayes before sliding into a lyrical tag.


As to the song itself, here’s some background about its evolution and information about notable recorded versions by Ted Gioia from his The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire [New York: Oxford University Press, 2012].

“This song had a long, troubled history before becoming a hit. "The Man I Love" initially appeared in the 1924 musical Lady Be Good, where it served as a feature for Adele Astaire — but only lasted a week before getting yanked from the show. The tune was recycled in 1927 for Strike Up the Band, but that production never made it to New York, and when the musical was retooled and revived in 1930 the song was no longer part of it. "The Man I Love" was next assigned to the 1928 Flo Ziegfeld show Rosalie but was cut before opening night (and, if Ira Gershwin can be believed, wasn't even heard in rehearsals before getting axed). At this point, the Gershwins' publisher Max Dreyfus, in a desperate gesture, convinced the composers to take a one-third reduction in their royalty rate as an incentive for bandleaders to release "The Man I Love" on record.

This last-gasp strategy worked, and four different recordings of "The Man I Love" — by Marion Harris, Sophie Tucker, Fred Rich, and Paul Whiteman — were top 20 hits in 1928. The latter version features a dramatic arrangement by Ferde Grofe and includes a sax interlude by Frankie Trumbauer, best known for his collaborations with Bix Beiderbecke but here delivering one of his better solos from his stint with the Whiteman orchestra. The composition also became closely associated with torch singer Helen Morgan, and Gershwin himself gave her much of the credit for its eventual popularity; but, strange to say, she made no commercial recording of this signature song.

Benny Goodman brought the piece back into the limelight almost a decade later, enjoying a hit with his 1937 quartet recording of "The Man I Love." Goodman continued to feature the work in a variety of settings — with a combo at Carnegie Hall in 1938, in an Eddie Sauter big band arrangement from 1940, with his bop-oriented band from the late 1940’s, with symphony orchestra in the 1950’s, with various pick-up bands in later decades — for the rest of his career. But equally influential in jazz circles was Coleman Hawkins's 1943 recording, which finds the tenorist constructing a harmonically expansive solo that ranks among the finest sax improvisations of the era. Over the next 18 months, more than two dozen cover versions of "The Man I Love" were recorded — more than in the entire decade leading up to Hawk's session.

This song's popularity has never waned in later years. The hand-me-down that couldn't find a home in a Broadway show eventually became one of Gershwin's most beloved and recorded compositions. British composer and musicologist Wilfrid Mellers would extol "The Man I Love" as the "most moving pop song of our time." Others have been equally lavish in their praise. "This is the music of America," proclaimed Gershwin's friend and patron Otto Kahn. "It will live as long as a Schubert lieder."

In truth, the melodic material employed here is quite simple — many of the phrases merely move up and down a half or full step before concluding up a minor third. Gershwin employs this device no fewer than 15 times during the course of a 32-bar song. Yet the repetition of this motif contrasts most markedly with the constant movement in the song's harmonies. The contrast gives added emphasis to Gershwin's repeated use of the flat seven in the vocal line, an intrinsically bluesy choice that transforms what might otherwise sound like a folkish 19th-century melody into a consummate Jazz Age lament.”

RECOMMENDED VERSIONS

Paul Whiteman (with Frank Trumbauer), New York, May 16,1928

Benny Goodman (with Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa), live at Carnegie Hall, New York, January 16,1938

Billie Holiday (with Lester Young), New York, December 13,1939

Coleman Hawkins, New York, December 23,1943

Lester Young (with Nat King Cole and Buddy Rich), Los Angeles, March-April 1946

Art Tatum, live at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, April 2,1949

Miles Davis (with Thelonious Monk and Milt Jackson), from Miles Davis and the
Modern Jazz Giants, Hackensack, New Jersey, December 24,1954
Art Pepper (with Red Garland), from Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, Los Angeles, January 19,1957

Mary Lou Williams, from Live at the Cookery, live at the Cookery, New York, November 1975

Fred Hersch, from Heartsongs, New York, December 4-5,1989

Herbie Hancock (with Joni Mitchell and Wayne Shorter), from Gershwin's World, New York (March-April 1998) and Los Angeles (June 1998)


Monday, February 20, 2017

Sonny and Jim [From the Archives]

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.



“When I went to the bridge, I wanted to learn how to arrange and improve my musicianship …. That kind of self-initiative was very important to me.”
- Sonny Rollins as told to David Yaffe in 1995 and quoted in Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz [p. 416]

“... no matter the context - hard bop or free jazz - and however much he adjusted his timbre, he never abandoned a few enduring principles: a style of improvisation that combines thematic development with melodic paraphrase; a large and ever-changing book of standard songs complemented by distinctive originals; and a dedication to stout rhythms verging on dance.
Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz [p. 418]

“Like Sarah Vaughan, … [Sonny] established a loyal concert following apart from the record-buying public.”
Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz [p. 419]

“Rollins …  went into seclusion for over two years, practicing, refining his craft, reading, thinking. His return was eagerly anticipated by jazz fans—especially given the superheated atmosphere of the jazz world circa 1960. New sounds were in the air. At no time in the history of jazz music had the mandate to progress been felt so pervasively by the leading players. At times it seemed as if progressivism were the only aesthetic measure that really counted, for many critics and some fans, at this juncture in the music's evolution.”
Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz, [p. 312]

When I listen to the music of tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, I sense a brooding melancholy but also a broad humor. He is a fearless improvisor.  But for a  player with so much assurance, he also exhibits so much doubt when away from the music; so much energy yet so much turmoil when involved with the music.

Throughout his distinguished career, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins has periodically taken time away from it.

When he first started doing this, the Jazz media would issue broadsides asking - “Where’s Sonny?”

Being the New York neighborhood cat that he was, it wouldn’t take long for a Sonny Sighting to occur usually involving some quixotic behavior on his part like practicing under the Williamsburg Bridge.

Back in the day, if you were not working the club scene and recording on a regular basis, especially if you were such a large talent like Sonny, people questioned your sanity.

These days with concert performances more the norm than club dates, when Sonny takes a few weeks or months off it’s not quite as big a deal.

However, as an example of Sonny’s tendencies to wander off the scene,  prior to the 1962 issuing of one of my favorite Rollins recordings, “the saxophonist disappeared for two years, before returning to the studio with a new contract from RCA. The Bridge [LP 2527; CD 0902 668518-2] started him off. [Guitarist Jim] Hall is an unexpectedly fine partner throughout, moving between rhythm and front line duties with great aplomb and actually finding ways to communicate with the most lofty of soloists. It is an often compelling record as a result.” [Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. p. 1266]  

“Unexpectedly” is a nice way to characterize the pairing of Sonny Rollins with guitarist Jim Hall, but the result is an excellent example of the ‘sound of surprise” a phrase created by the late, writer Whitney Balliett to describe one of the remarkable qualities of Jazz.

[I’ve yet to find an observation in the Jazz literature linking the title of Sonny’s album - The Bridge - with his two year hiatus from the music prior to its recording, some of which found him practicing under the Williamsburg Bridge [!]. Too obvious, perhaps?

Gary Giddins offers these views of The Bridge and the pairing of Sonny and Jim on The Bridge in these excerpts from his always insightful Visions of Jazz:

“He exhibited a more rugged, direct timbre when he returned, with a lucrative RCA contract and The Bridge. (In the '50s, he had recorded exclusively for small independent labels, including Prestige, Contemporary, Blue Note, MGM, and Riverside.) Rollins sloughed off comparisons to his earlier work and upset critical preconceptions by constantly tinkering with his sound, while sampling in his uniquely jocular (many said sardonic) way the avant-garde and the new Latin wave. Some people were offended by his humor, some by his implacable authority. Others presumed a rivalry between Rollins and Coltrane that must have been galling to both men. Of the six controversial albums that emerged from his association with RCA, The Bridge was initially the most widely admired, probably because it was the most conventional—the most like his '50s LPs. Although the album presents his quartet, with Jim Hall on guitar, Rollins's solos are usually backed by bass and drums, so there is a connection to the trio albums. Yet the jazz world had changed in his absence: the new music surfaced and Rollins was intrigued.” [p. 416]

And writing in his seminal The History of Jazz, Ted Gioia put The Bridge in the following context:

“Rollins …  went into seclusion for over two years, practicing, refining his craft, reading, thinking. His return was eagerly anticipated by jazz fans—especially given the superheated atmosphere of the jazz world circa 1960. New sounds were in the air. At no time in the history of jazz music had the mandate to progress been felt so pervasively by the leading players. At times it seemed as if progressivism were the only aesthetic measure that really counted, for many critics and some fans, at this juncture in the music's evolution. Rollins felt these pressures yet he ultimately reacted with ambivalence. When he returned, Rollins may have been a changed man — during his sabbatical he had become a Rosicrucian, studied philosophy, exercised, practiced — but his music was strikingly unchanged, disappointing those who felt that Rollins, like Coltrane and Coleman, would create a totally different sound. His comeback album, The Bridge, was a solid effort, but found Rollins again playing jazz standards with a fairly traditional combo. The main change here was the addition of guitarist Jim Hall, a subtle accompanist and inspired soloist, but hardly the "new thing" in jazz.

Post-1960, Rollins's career tended to display tentative forays into the latest trend, followed inevitably by a return to more familiar ground….

Rollins's various retirements, reclusions, and reconsiderations could stand as symbolic of the whole era. Jazz was in a period of transition, of fragmentation into different schools, of reassessment. The music's modernist tradition, which Rollins epitomized, could no longer simply be taken for granted. Its assumptions—about harmony, melody, rhythm, song structure, instrumentation, and perhaps even more about the social role of jazz music — were constantly being questioned and increasingly found wanting by the more revolutionary musicians of the younger generation. Rollins's self-doubts were in many ways the same anxieties felt by his whole generation as it struggled to clear a path through this seeming pandemonium. Some looked for even more, for a transfiguring movement, the next new thing, that would draw these fragments back together into a new coherence. Others, less sanguine, felt that there would be no more towering figures, titans of the caliber of Armstrong, Ellington, Goodman, or Parker, who could define a whole age, give impetus to an entire generation. Instead jazz, it seemed, was condemned to — or was it blessed by? — a pluralism, in which "next new things" would come and go with amazing alacrity.” [pp. 312-313]

You can checkout Sonny and Jim together with Bob Cranshaw on bass and Ben Riley on drums as they perform Without A Song on the following video.

Whatever its limitations or representations, the pairing of Sonny and Jim was - to these ears - sublime.








Saturday, February 18, 2017

Gene Krupa: 1909-1973 - A Tribute with Testimonials [From the Archives]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.



“Gene Krupa -Premier Virtuose et première “Star” de la Batterie.”
- Georges Paczynski

"Gene Krupa was so full of life. And he sure loved to swing."
Roy Eldridge

"Gene was the epitome of what you expect in a drummer. The guy was beautiful-looking. . . . And when he played solos in his own particular, easily identifiable style, people would come out of the woodwork. He had something. I guess you call it charisma….

As far as I'm concerned, Gene had more talent than anyone including Buddy Rich. He was fantastic but frustrated. He had so much to say but couldn't get it out. I don't think he used his muscles properly. I didn't like the way he moved. Too much unnecessary motion.

Let me explain something. You have guys like Buddy, Louie
Bellson. These guys are like good wine. The older they become, the better they play. If a drummer moves correctly, he keeps improving. If your machine works right, you keep playing well. Simple as that.

Make no mistake, Gene was no slouch. But his talent required more than he had. Sure, his solos were phenomenal; his taste and the things he did were great. But he was capable of more. He just didn't have the chops to do them.”
Henry Adler

“The nights and years of playing in cellars and saloons and ballrooms, of practicing separately and together, of listening to Louis and Joe Oliver and Jimmy Noone and Leon Rappolo, of losing sleep and breathing bad air and drinking licorice gin, paid off. We were together and apart at the same time, tying up a package with six different strings. Krupa's drums went through us like a triple bourbon.”
- Eddie Condon

Everything that Gene played he meant. He was committed to what he played. The acting, the motion, were a part of him. Even when he played the simplest thing, it was dramatic and had a particular sound. The man was a theatrical player. Emotion and theatricality were linked in his case. Without showmanship, it didn't have the same intensity. Even with your eyes closed you could tell if he was performing with feeling or if the whole thing was done deadpan.
- Jim Chapin

"He had a sense of the dramatic that was absolutely unprecedented
in jazz. … He was a showman"
John Hammond

"Krupa the drummer is difficult to isolate from Krupa the showman."
Whitney Balliett

“But it went beyond showmanship and even chemistry. Simply, Krupa was the right man for the job. He had developed a style that was consonant with the Goodman style. Both were focused on pulsation, swing. Having smoothed out the pulse to a fluid four, tapped out vigorously on the bass drum, he used that as a basis and addressed the arrangements—by Deane Kincaide, Jimmy Mundy, Fletcher Henderson, etc.—in a manner that strikingly merged drum rudiments and jazz syncopation, and academic and more informal techniques. He made a strong case for swinging and intensive, continuing study.

Krupa struck a balance between instinct, the roots of jazz, and a scientific approach to drumming. The language came directly from Chick Webb. But Krupa formalized, simplified, and clarified it. Krupa thrust the drum set into the foreground, making it not only a source of rhythm but of musicality and color as well. Before Krupa, only the great black drummers had so powerfully mingled these key elements.

And yes, Krupa knew how to sell. He looked terrific as he moved around the set, twirling sticks and acting out his solos with bodily and facial expressions. He built his playing on a musical foundation, but made sure that he and the music made an impression. He became an undeniable glamour figure in a sweat-drenched formal suit, the handsome "deb's delight"—as Life once tabbed him—who often transcended his leader in popularity. To a nation coming out of a Depression, Gene Krupa was new and exciting. To the musical community, he was a flamboyant figure, perhaps not as subtle as he might have been, but a musician, indeed….”

“Krupa’s Influence even extended to equipment. He established a basic drum and cymbal set-up that many drummers adopted:

snare drum, bass drum, tom-tom mounted on the left side of the bass drum, and a larger tom-tom on the floor, at the drummer's right; ten-to twelve-inch high hats, thirteen-inch crash cymbal on the left on a stand, an eight-inch splash and fourteen-inch time/crash cymbal (both mounted on the bass drum), and a sixteen-inch crash on a stand, at the drummer's right. Krupa had a lot to do with the development and popularization of tom-toms tuneable on both sides. He also was responsible for the introduction of pearl finishes on drums (most sets had been painted black or white duco).

Still another innovation was a heraldic shield on the front of the bass drum (on the left) with his initials inside; the band leader's initials were used on the right side of the bass drum in bold, large lettering. The trend to initials and lettering rapidly displaced funny painted scenes on the front of bass drums….”
- Burt Korall



“Gene ... so conscientious and so concerned. He got mad at me if the band didn't play well. Whatever we played, and I didn't care what it was he did, sounded pretty good to me, then (and still sounds good) now. I still listen to those records, and if you can find fault with them you're a better man than I am. Not me, I love them. Gene had excitement. If he gained a little speed, so what? Better than sitting on your ass just getting by.”
- Benny Goodman

Krupa's snare drum sound was central to the character of his work. Crisp, clean, with a suggestion of echo, it enhanced the excitement of his performances. While playing "time" or patterns across the set, Krupa also established engaging relationships between the bass drum and the other drums, and between the cymbals and the drums. He used rudiments in a natural, swinging, often original way.”
- Burt Korall

Krupa's was a very special sound and it didn't occur by chance. He would strike the drum head and rim in such a way that the stick carried the impact from the rim down to the tip of the stick and transmitted it to the head, which then acted like an amplifier. Then—and this is the key—he would get the stick away from the head immediately so that it didn't kill the vibrations. Leave the stick on the drum an instant too long, he used to say, and you lose that echo that lingers after that shot and gives it its musical quality.
- John McDonough

“Krupa viewed drums differently than his younger colleagues. Drummers of the bop generation were endeavoring to free the instrument, make it more contributory, the equal of the melody instruments in the small and big band. They focused on the beat and color values; they played more, filling openings during a performance with "bombs" or comments. Krupa didn't feel natural doing these things.

Nor did he favor moving the center of pulsation from the snare drum, bass drum, and high-hat to the ride cymbals, using the bass drum in a sparing manner. Krupa didn't quite know when and how to play accents or bombs on the bass drum. He had difficulty bringing a sense of the melodic to his playing, which was just one of the things modernists such as Kenny Clarke, Max Roach, Stan Levey, Art Blakey, and Shelly Manne, among others, were doing. For Krupa, drums were strictly a rhythm instrument, and making changes in the character of drums was not easy for him. In short, he and his performances revealed an ambivalence concerning the modern style.

A swing drummer essentially wedded to the snare drum, Krupa was most comfortable in a swing groove, playing as many a swing drummer would, using the snare and bass drums and the high-hat as his basic tools….

Krupa did try to move ahead. Records he cut over the next few years, extending into the 1950s, make a case for his awareness and use of contemporary ideas. They also strongly suggest that he could not get away from his roots as a musician and completely alter his drumming style to fit in with the younger players; too much of his musical development and musical life occurred before bop.”
-Burt Korall

“ I watched him change in 1945 and '46 when he was trying to play bebop. At first he didn't seem to really know what to do. But he soon caught on. His bass drumming became lighter—not a hell of a lot, but a little. He started playing time on ride cymbals and dropping bombs, usually on the beat. But on the right beats. On "4" and "3"; not on "1" so much. He'd listen. That was the important thing.

He reached a midpoint between swing and bebop and made what he did work. When you think about how good he sounded playing light press rolls over 4/4 rhythm behind a bebopper like Charlie Kennedy, you realize that, my God, he brought two worlds together at a point where it wasn't obnoxious. It didn't sound dumb; it still was okay. And the guys in the band loved him for it; they forgave him for some of the old-time tricks he was laying on them and accepted him.

Gene met the young guys more than half way. He had the band's book written modern. He went out to listen to young drummers. Gene was not one of those guys who said only what he did was right. Sure he believed in himself, but the man wasn't an egomaniac.

Musically, Gene was open. He always was trying to learn. As far as I'm concerned, that's wonderful. He didn't sit around talking about the old days all the time. He wanted to go out and play and see what was happening, now.
- Mel Lewis

“He had a unique feel, a groove, a hell of a groove when he played.”
- Steve Gadd

“Things wouldn’t be the way they are if he hadn’t been around.”
–  Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich’s comment says so much about Gene Krupa’s contributions to the development of Jazz, in particular, what Burt Korall refers to as “the heartbeat of Jazz.”

For many years, I thought that Gene Krupa was what Jazz drumming was all about. Period. He was the be-all, end-all; the best; my hero.

I’m sure I’m not alone in holding this impression and making this assessment.

For a lot of us who grew up banging the kitchen pots and pans to death, he was the quintessential Jazz drummer.

In writing a tribute feature about Gene Krupa it is difficult to know where to stop. The accolades and kudos come from everywhere and everyone. One gets the feeling that there isn’t a Jazz musician, let alone, a Jazz drummer, who doesn’t have some degree of appreciation for what Gene contributed to this music.

Some of these testimonials to Gene and his significance to Jazz form the introduction to this piece.

As drawn from a variety of sources including Burt’s Drummin’ Men: The Swing Years and Volume 1 of Georges Paczynski’s Une Histoire de la Batterie de Jazz: Des Origines dux Annes Swing,  here is a basic overview of the highlights of Gene’s career as a way of remembering how it was for one of the earlier makers of the music while also recalling his many contributions to Jazz during the first half century or so of its existence.
Gene Krupa was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 15, 1909 and was the the youngest of Bartley and Ann Krupa's nine children. His father died when Gene was very young and his mother worked as a milliner to support the family. All of the children had to start working while young, Gene at age eleven. His brother Pete worked at "Brown Music Company", and got Gene a job as chore boy. Gene started out playing sax in grade school but took up drums at age 11 since they were the cheapest item in the music store where he and his brother worked. "I used to look in their wholesale catalog for a musical instrument - piano, trombone, cornet - I didn't care what it was as long as it was an instrument. The cheapest item was the drums, 16 beans, I think, for a set of Japanese drums; a great high, wide bass drum, with a brass cymbal on it, a wood block and a snare drum."

His parents were very religious and had groomed Gene for the priesthood. He spent his grammar school days at various parochial schools and upon graduation went to St. Joseph's College for a brief year. Gene's drive to drum was too strong and he gave up the idea of becoming a priest. In 1921, while still in grammar school, Gene joined his first band "The Frivolians." He obtained the drumming seat as a fluke when the regular drummer was sick. The band played during summers in Madison, Wisconsin. Upon entering high school in 1923, Gene became buddies with the "Austin High Gang", which included many musicians which would be on Gene's first recording session; Jimmy McPartland, Jimmy Lannigan, Bud Freeman and Frank Teschemacher.



In 1925, Gene began his percussion studies with Roy Knapp, Al Silverman & Ed Straight. Under advice from others, he decided to join the musicians union. "The guy said, 'Make a roll. That's it. Give us 50 bucks. You're In.'" Krupa started his first "legit" playing with Joe Kayser, Thelma Terry and the Benson Orchestra among other commercial bands. A popular hangout for musicians was "The Three Deuces." All of the guys playing in mickey mouse bands would gravitate here after hours and jam till early in the morning. Gene was able to hone and develop his style playing with other jazz players such as Mezz Mezzrow, Tommy Dorsey, Bix Beiderbecke and Benny Goodman in these local dives. Krupa's big influences during this time were Tubby Hall and Zutty Singleton. The drummer who probably had the greatest influence on Gene in this period was the great Baby Dodds. Dodds' use of press rolls was highly reflected in Gene's playing, especially during his tenure with Gene has often been considered to be the first drum "soloist." Drummers usually had been strictly time-keepers or noisemakers, but

Krupa interacted with the other musicians and introduced the extended drum solo into jazz. His goal was to support the other musicians while creating his own role within the group. Gene is also considered the father of the modern drumset since he convinced H.H. Slingerland, of Slingerland Drums, to make tuneable tom-toms. Tom-toms up to that point had "tacked" heads, which left little ability to change the sound. The new drum design was introduced in 1936 and was termed "Seperate Tension Tunable Tom-Toms." Gene was a loyal endorser of Slingerland Drums from 1936 until his death. Krupa was called on by Avedis Zildjian to help with developing the modern hi-hat cymbals. The original hi-hat was called a "low-boy" which was a floor level cymbal setup which was played with the foot. This arrangement made it nearly impossible for stick playing.

Gene's first recording session was a historical one. It occurred in December of 1927 when he is noted to be the first drummer to record with a bass drum. Krupa, along with rest of the McKenzie-Condon Chicagoans were scheduled to record at OKeh Records in Chicago. OKeh's Tommy Rockwell was apprehensive to record Gene's drums but gave in. Rockwell said "All right, but I'm afraid the bass drum and those tom-toms will knock the needle off the wax and into the street."

Gene moved to New York in 1929 and was recruited by Red Nichols. He, along with Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, performed in the pit band of the new George Gershwin play "Strike Up the Band." Gene had never learned to read music and "faked" his parts during rehearsals. Glenn Miller assisted him by humming the drum parts until Gene got them down. After "Strike Up the Band" completed in January 1930, Hoagy Carmichael gathered several great musicians together for many historical sessions. Gene played on some legendary "jazz" recordings with Bix Beiderbecke, Adrian Rollini and Joe Venuti. Krupa played in one more pit band with Red Nichols for Gershwin's "Girl Crazy." He then joined Russ Columbo's band in which indirectly led to his joining Benny Goodman's group.

Benny Goodman urged Gene to join his band with the promise that it would be a real jazz band. After joining, Benny soon became discouraged with the idea of having a successful jazz group. The band was relegated to playing dance music and Benny was considering packing it in. Upon the band's engagement at the Palomar, Benny decided to go for broke and play their own arrangements. The audience went wild and the band took off. The Goodman group featured Gene prominently in the full orchestra and with the groundbreaking Goodman Trio and Quartet. The Trio is possibly the first working small group which featured black and white musicians.



On January 16, 1938, the band was the first "jazz" act to play New York's Carnegie Hall. Gene's classic performance on "Sing Sing Sing" has been heralded as the first extended drum solo in jazz. After the Carnegie Hall performance, tension began to surface between Gene and Benny. Audiences were demanding that Gene be featured in every number and Benny didn't want to lose the spotlight to a sideman.

Gene departed on March 3, 1938 and less than 2 months later formed his own orchestra. His band was an instant success upon its opening at the Marine Ballroom on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City during April of 1938. His band went through several incarnations during it's existence and at one point even featured a string section with 30 to 40 members. During this time Krupa authored his own book titled "The Gene Krupa Drum Method"(1938) and began an annual Drum Contest (1941). The contest attracted thousands of contestants each year and saw drum legend Louie Bellson as the first year's winner. Gene appeared in several motion pictures including "Some Like it Hot" & "Beat the Band", becoming a sort of matinee idol. His noted likeness to Tyrone Power and musical fame was a magical combination in the eyes of Hollywood.

In the summer of 1943, Krupa was arrested in San Francisco in a bogus drug bust. He was charged with possession of marijuana and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Gene was sentenced to 90 days, of which 84 were served. He was later cleared of the latter charges. During this time, Roy Eldridge led Gene's band and eventually had to break up the group. After Gene got out of jail, he briefly joined up with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey before re-forming his own band. Krupa's groups of the early 1940's were often criticized as being too commercial but Gene's big band was one of the first in the mid-forties to introduce Bop arrangements with the help of Gerry Mulligan and the playing of trumpeter Red Rodney. Gene managed to keep the full band together until December of 1950, when most big bands had already fallen apart. He kept a smaller version of the big band together through 1951.

After breaking up his big band, Gene wasn't sure which direction to take. He had led small groups within his big band during the 40's, this was a logical choice with the growing popularity of be-bop. The Gene Krupa Trio was one of the first acts recruited by Norman Granz for his "Jazz At The Philharmonic" concerts(due to contractual reasons, Gene was first billed as "The Chicago Flash."). The JATP dates introduced the famous "Drum Battles" with Buddy Rich in October of 1952 and the subsequent studio recordings on the Lp "Krupa and Rich" in 1955. Some of the greatest jazz recordings of all time were the result of the "All-Star" jams at JATP.



The alumni of these dates included Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Shavers, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich and of course, Gene. Along with Cozy Cole, Gene formed the Krupa-Cole Drum School in March of 1954. He also began studying tympani with the New York Philharmonic's Saul Goodman(1951). In 1959, actor Sal Mineo portrayed Gene in the motion picture "The Gene Krupa Story." The film was very loose in the facts of Gene's career but did feature an excellent soundtrack recorded by Krupa himself. Gene's huge resurgence in popularity eventually led to his departing the teaching role he had at the Drum School.

By the late fifties Krupa was prompted to slow down due to increasing back problems. He had a heart attack in 1960 which forced him into a retirement for many months. After recuperating, the ever-changing Quartet continued to perform, record and regularly appeared at New York's Metropole. The Goodman Quartet reunited and played several live dates. Gene led a hectic schedule with the Quartet through the early and mid-sixties, performing throughout the US and abroad. His health once again became a problem and his second marriage fell apart. He retired in 1967 proclaiming that "I feel too lousy to play and I know I must sound lousy."

During his hiatus, Krupa practiced and coached his baseball team. In 1969, Gene began a series of anti-drug lectures and clinics for Slingerland Drums. He officially came out of retirement in the spring of 1970, re-formed the Quartet and was featured at Hotel Plaza in New York. Gene's last commercial recording was in November of 1972, titled "Jazz At the New School" with Eddie Condon and Wild Bill Davison. Gene's final public performance was with a reunion of the old Goodman Quartet on August 18, 1973.

His soloing ability was greatly diminished but his overall playing had become more modern sounding than ever. Gene died October 16, 1973 of a heart attack. He had also been plagued by leukemia and emphysema. He was laid to rest at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Calumet City, Illinois.

Gene Krupa will forever be known as the man who made drums a solo instrument. He single-handedly made the Slingerland Drum Company a success and inspired millions to become drummers. He also demonstrated a level of showmanship which has not been equaled. Buddy Rich once said that Gene was the "beginning and the end of all jazz drummers." Louie Bellson said of Gene, "He was a wonderful, kind man and a great player. He brought drums to the foreground. He is still a household name."