Friday, January 31, 2014
Thursday, January 30, 2014
© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Peter and Will Anderson are different - and, yes, they are wonderful. But I am fascinated and beguiled by an unprecedented facet of their wonder. You see, I've been teaching at the Jazz conservatories almost since Jazz reached the classroom and most students know precious little about pre-BeBop Jazz. When Peter and Will Anderson stepped into my classroom, I came face-to-face with two fully involved Jazz musicians.”
- Phil Schaap, Professor, “Origins of Jazz,” graduate level course, Juilliard School of Music
Recently a Jazz buddy in southern California, by way of a recommendation from a mutual friend in The Big Apple, gave me a recording by Pete Anderson and Will Anderson entitled Correspondence which was issued on Small’s Records [SRCD-0053] in 2012.
The Anderson Brothers are identical twins which means, I guess, that I was blown away twice at the same time while I was listening to it.
What an encounter - love at first hearing - absolutely brilliant music.
Pete, a tenor saxophonist and Will, an alto saxophonist, had the good sense to surround themselves with a rhythm section made up of Kenny Barron on piano, Ben Wolfe on bass and Kenny Washington on drums, leave everyone with enough room to stretch out and, in the process, create one of the most engrossing and captivating Jazz CDs in recent memory.
The disc is available via www.smallsrecords.com.
Here’s what Robert Levin had to say about the recording on www.allaboutjazz.com
“Peter and Will Anderson / Correspondence / SRCD-0053
“I've been making all the gigs I can by two reed players, Peter and Will Anderson. Identical twins, they're still in their early twenties and I can't say enough about them. They're Juilliard graduates, but there's nothing studied about the way that, as instrumentalists, arrangers and composers, they make music.
They're naturals and while essentially into bebop—which they play with a passion, unpredictability and sense of discovery that can make you feel like you're back at the beginning of it at Minton's or Monroe's Uptown House—they can claim an astonishing affinity for the full range of jazz forms and styles, at least up to the 'new thing.’
I've listened to them play all kinds of jazz now and have yet to hear an inauthentic note. They easily hold their own with the best of the Dixieland players. They interpret Thelonious Monk compositions in a way that I'm sure Monk would have appreciated. They have a solid grip not only on what Miles Davis and Gil Evans were after in the Birth of the Cool period but on the work of a John Kirby as well.
Along with the depth of knowledge they demonstrate about saxophone players as diverse as Johnny Hodges, Stan Getz, Hank Mobley and Gigi Gryce, to name just a few, they understand Ellington and—they play ballads with an emotional sophistication that's way beyond their years—they know what to do with a Billy Strayhorn song. Have I mentioned that they also command their principal instruments, the clarinet and alto and tenor saxophones, with a stunning authority?
I could go on and on about the Andersons. Right now the distinctions between them as musicians are as subtle as the differences in their appearances. It will be fascinating to see how they progress, if and to what degree they diverge from one another and what they make of their prodigious talents once they've become fully centered in their individual identities. But what they're presenting at this point in their development is already, I think, substantial and compelling enough to be worthy of preservation on a CD or two."
You can sample the Anderson Brothers in action along with Kenny B., Ben Wolfe, and Kenny W. on the following video which offers the Get Out of Town track from the Correspondence CD as its soundtrack.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Ira Gitler’s informative and insightful insert notes to the recording gave me all the missing information.
McLean and Redd solo, urged on by the rhythm section which features Larry Ritchie's dynamic drumming.
"A quintessential bebopper who was incessantly inventive with his melodic lines, Gordon played with authority at all tempos and maintained a commanding presence on the bandstand. His enormous sound, swaggering approach and innate sensitivity would profoundly influence generations of bebop, hard-bop and post-bop saxophonists—Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane among them."
- Ed Enright
The above quotation is excerpted from Ed Enright's essay Everybody Loves 'Dex' which appears in the January 2014 edition of Downbeat magazine along with other tributes to the "Sophisticated Giant" [Dexter was 6'6" tall] by Dan Quellette, from his new book about record producer Bruce Lundvall, who was responsible for helping to return Dex to the US after a 15 year tenure in Denmark and reviving his career with a new recording contract for Columbia, and two pieces by the esteemed Jazz writer and critic, Ira Gitler.
All of which reminded the editorial staff at JazzProfiles that it was time to repost this earlier blog feature about Dexter, Ira and some wonderful memories from when the World was young.
It seems that you couldn’t walk a block in the
of my “Ute” [apologies to Joe Pesci, that should be “youth”] without literally passing a movie house, a theater or a night club. Hollywood
Walking a few blocks down
Vine Street from , across Franklin Hollywood Blvd. and then turning left on to Sunset Blvd. would bring you past the TV production facilities of ABC, CBS and NBC. This short walk would have also brought you by Capitol Records, the Huntington Hartford Theater, Wallich’s and a half-dozen watering holes all of which featured some type of Jazz. Music City
A quick stroll west would bring you to
Cahuenga Blvd and Shelly’s Manne Hole and on your way over on Selma Street from Vine you’d pass the Ivar Theater.
Although I had both walked and driven by it a number of times, I had never been inside the Ivar. I had heard from friends that it was a small, intimate theater and a great place to watch stage plays.
That was about to change when I noticed tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon’s name on the marquis announcing his appearance in the West Coast version of Jack Gelber’s The Connection, a play that had premiered in New York City in July, 1959.
Dexter’s name was legendary in some West Coast Jazz circles, particularly those associated with
Central Avenue [ ’s contemporaneous counterpart to the early bebop scene on NYC’s Hollywood 52nd Street].
I stopped at the Ivar’s box office to pick up some tickets, although I must confess to knowing absolutely nothing at the time about Jack Gelber’s play.
This was going to be my first opportunity to hear “long tall Dexter” in person which was reason enough for me to check out Jack’s play.
Shades to come of his role in the movie ‘Round Midnight, Dexter “acted” in the play along with performing the music he composed for the play with Gildo Mahonnes on piano, Bob West on bass and Lawrence Marable on drums.
Shortly thereafter I picked up the Blue Note LP The Music from the Connection: Freddie Redd Quartet with Jackie McLean [[B2-89392] with Jackie on alto sax, Freddie on piano, Michael Mattos on bass and Larry Ritchie on drums. It was different than what Dexter had written for the West Coast version although I seem to remember Dexter performing Freddie's Theme for Sister Salvation as the curtain rose and fell at the Ivar.
I had been a fan of Jackie McLean’s music for some time, but I knew hardly anything at all about Freddie Redd’s music or the details about Jack Gelber’s play and how he came to write it.
We recently wrote to Ira and asked his permission to present on these pages his original liner notes to The Music from the Connection: Freddie Redd Quartet with Jackie McLean.
He graciously agreed to allow them to be posted to the JazzProfiles blog with the proviso that anyone also wishing to publish them in any form or fashion seek his consent before doing so.
Like Leonard Bernstein, I came away from the play whistling the Theme for Sister Salvation and I haven’t forgotten it since.
Ira Gitler, copyright protected; all rights reserved. Used with the author’s permission
THE CONNECTION by Jack Gelber is a play about junkies but its implications do not stop in that particular circle. As Lionel Abel has stated in what is perhaps the most perceptive critique yet written about the play (Not Everyone Is In The Fix, Partisan Review, Winter 1960), "What adds to the play's power is that the characters are so like other people, though in such a different situation from most people."
The situation in which the four main protagonists find themselves is waiting for Cowboy (Carl Lee), the connection, to return with the heroin. These four, Solly (Jerome Raphel), Sam (John McCurry), Ernie (Garry Goodrow), and Leach (Warren Finnerty) are in attendance at the latter's pad with the bass player. One by one, the three other musicians drift in. They are also anxiously awaiting Cowboy's appearance. Also present, from time to time, in this play-within-a-play, are a fictitious playwright Jaybird (Ira Lewis), producer Jim Dunn (Leonard Hicks) and two photographers (Jamil Zakkai, Louis McKenzie), who are shooting an avant garde film of the play.
The musicians not only play their instruments during the course of the play but, as implied before, they also appear as actors. Some people have raised the question, "If they are actors, why are they using their real names?" Pianist-actor Freddie Redd, composer of the music heard in The Connection answers this simply by saying that he and the other musicians want recognition (and subsequent playing engagements) for what they are doing and that there would be no effective publicity if they were to appear as John Smith, Bill Brown, etc. Author Gelber concurs and says that having the musicians play themselves adds another element of stage reality.
When The Connection opened at The Living Theatre on
July 15, 1959, it was immediately assaulted by the slings and arrows of outrageous reviewers, a group consisting, for the most part, of the summer-replacement critics on the local dailies. Although several of them had kind words to say about the jazz, none were explicit and one carper stated that the "cool jazz was cold" which showed his knowledge of jazz styles matched his perception as a drama critic. New York
A week later, the first favorable review appeared in The Village Voice. It was one of many that followed which helped save The Connection and cement its run. In it, Jerry Tallmer didn't merely praise the jazz but in lauding Gelber as the first playwright to use modern jazz "organically and dynamically", also pointed out that the music "puts a highly charged contrapuntal beat under and against all the misery and stasis and permanent crisis."
This the music does. It electrically charges both actors and audience and while it is not programmatic in a graphic sense (it undoubtedly would have failed it if had tried to be) it does represent and heighten the emotional climates from which it springs at various times during the action.
The idea to incorporate sections of jazz into The Connection was not an afterthought by Jack Gelber. It was an integral part of his entire conception before he even began the actual writing of the play. If Gelber did not know which specific musicians he wanted onstage, his original script (copyright in September 1957) shows that he knew what kind of music he wanted. In a note at the bottom of the first page it is stated, “The jazz played is in the tradition of Charlie Parker." (The Connection is published by Grove Press Inc. as an Evergreen paperback book.)
Originally Gelber had felt the musicians could improvise on standards, blues, etc., just as they would in any informal session. When the play was being cast however, he met Freddie Redd through a mutual friend. Freddie, 31 years young, is a pianist who previously has been described by this writer as "one of the most promising talents of the '50s" and "one of the warmer disciples of the Bud Powell school". During the Fifties he played with a variety of groups including Oscar Pettiford, Art Blakey, Joe Roland and Art Farmer-Gigi Gryce, all of whom recognized his talent.
After he had gotten a quartet together at Gelber's request, auditioned for him and was given the acting-playing role in The Connection, Freddie told Jack of his long frustrated wish to write the music for a theater presentation. Armed with a script and the author's sanction, he went to work. In conjunction with Gelber, he decided exactly where the music was to occur. By familiarizing himself with the play's action, he was able to accurately fashion the character and tempo of each number. What he achieved shows that his talent, both the obvious and the latent of the '50s, has come to fruition. He has supplied Gelber with a parallel of the deep, dramatic impact that Kurt Weill gave to Brecht. His playing, too, has grown into a more personal, organic whole. Powell and Monk, to a lesser degree, are still present but Freddie is expressing himself in his own terms.
The hornman he chose to blow in front of the rhythm section and act in the drama, has done a remarkable job in both assignments. Jackie McLean is an altoman certainly within the Parker tradition but by 1959 one who had matured into a strongly individual player. His full, singing, confident sound and complete control of his instrument enable him to transmit his innermost musical self with an expansive ease that is joyous to hear. It is as obvious in his last Blue Note album (Swing, Swang, Swingin' — BLP 4024) as it is here or on stage in The Connection. As an actor, Jackie was so impressive that his part has grown in size and importance since the play opened.
During the early part of the run, Redd's mates in the rhythm section were in a state of flux until Michael Mattos and Larry Ritchie arrived on the scene. Mattos has worked with Thelonious Monk, Randy Weston, Max Roach and Lester Young among others. Ritchie came out of B. B. King's band to play with Phineas Newborn and later, Sonny Rollins. Together they have given the group on stage a permanence; the fusion of many performances' playing as a unit is evident here.
The first music heard in the play is introduced by a mute character named Harry (Henry Roach) who comes into Leach's pad early in the first act with a small portable phonograph on which he plays Charlie Parker's record of Buzzy. Everyone listens religiously. When the record is over, Harry closes the case, and leaves. With this, the musicians commence to play Buzzy (not heard here) but are interrupted by Jaybird who rushes up on stage exclaiming that his play is being ruined by the junkies' lack of co-operation. After some argument, he leaves and the quartet begins to play again. This is Who Killed Cock Robin? The title was suggested by Warren Finnerty because the rhythmic figure of the melody sounds like that phrase which he, as Leach, screams in his delirium when he is close to death from an overdose later in the play. It is an up tempo number, yet extremely melodic as most of Freddie's compositions are. In the composer's words, "It is intended to plunge the music into the action of the play and to relieve the tension of the confusion which had begun to take place."
One of the devices employed by Gelber is having his main characters get up and solo like jazz musicians. Sam, a Negro vagabond junky goes on at length, promising to come out into the audience at intermission and tell some of his colorful stories if they will give him some money so that he can get high until he goes to work on a promised job. As he finishes, he lies down and asks the musicians to play. They respond with Wigglin', a medium-tempo, minor-major blues which Redd explains, "accentuates Sam's soulful plea to the audience. It is humorous and sad because we suspect that they know better."
This is effective "funk" that is not self-conscious or contrived. Jackie and Freddie are heard in moving solos; Michael Mattos has a short but effective spot before the theme returns.
The last piece in Act I is detonated by Ernie's psychopathic out-burst. Ernie is a frustrated saxophonist whose horn is in pawn. He sits around bugging everyone by blowing on his mouthpiece from time to time. In his "confession" he digs at Leach. In turn, Leach ridicules his ability and laughs at him for deluding himself into thinking he is a musician. Music Forever calms the scene and in Freddie's words, "expresses the fact that despite his delusions, Ernie is still dedicated to music."
The attractive theme is stated in 2/4 by
McLean while the rhythm section plays in 4/4. Jackie's exhilarating solo at up tempo shows off his fine sense of time. He is as swift as the wind but never superficial. Freddie, whose comping is a strong spur, comes in Monkishly and then uses a fuller chordal attack to generate great excitement before going into some effective single line. The rhythm section drives with demonic fervor. This track captures all the urgency and immediacy that is communicated when you hear the group on stage. In fact, throughout the entire album the quartet has managed to capture the same intense feeling they display when they are playing the music as an integrated part of The Connection.
The mood of Act II is galvanized immediately by the presence of Cowboy who has returned with the heroin. Jackie comes out of the bathroom after having had his "fix" and the musicians play as everyone, in their turn, is ushered in the bathroom by Cowboy. The group keeps playing even when they are temporarily a trio. In this
album they are always a quartet. Since this is the happiest of moments for an addict, the name of the tune is appropriately Time To Smile. Freddie explains, "The relaxed tempo and simplicity of the melody were designed to have the audience share in the relaxing of tensions."
The solos are in the same groove; unhurried, reflective and lyrical.
In order to escape from a couple of inquisitive policemen, Cowboy had allied himself with an unwitting, aged Salvation Sister on the way back to Leach's pad. While everyone is getting high, she is pacing around, wide-eyed and bird-like. Sister Salvation, (Barbara Winchester), believes Cowboy has brought her there to save souls. She sees some of them staggering and "nodding", and upon discovering empty wine bottles in the bathroom thinks this is the reason. She launches into a sermon and Solly makes fun of her by going into a miniature history of her uniform. The music behind this is a march, heard here in Theme For Sister Salvation. When she tells them of her personal troubles, the junkies feel very bad about mocking her. This is underscored by Redd's exposition of a sadly beautiful melody in ballad tempo. Here, in the recorded version,
McLean plays this theme before Freddie's solo. Then the march section is restated. The thematic material of this composition is particularly haunting. I'm told Leonard Bernstein left the theater humming it.
Jim Dunn is in a quandary. Jaybird and one of the photographers have rendered themselves useless by getting high. The chicks that Leach supposedly has invited have not appeared. Leach asks Freddie to play and the group responds with Jim Dunn's Dilemma, a swiftly-paced, minor-key theme. Redd especially captures the feeling of the disquietude in his two-handed solo.
From the time of the first fix, Leach has been intermittently griping that he is not high. Finally Cowboy gives him another packet as the quartet starts to play again. He doesn't go into the bathroom but makes all the preparations at a table right onstage. The tune O.D., or overdose, is so named because this is what Leach self-administers. Where in the play the music stops abruptly as he keels over, here the song is played to completion.
McLean is again sharp, clear and declarative. Redd has another well developed solo with some fine single line improvisation.
I first saw the play the week it opened. My second viewing was in March 1960. To my amazement, I found myself injected into The Connection. As the musicians left the pad of the supposedly dying Leach, they reminded one another that "
Ira Gitler is coming down to interview us for the notes."
The above is just a small part of why The Connection helps The Living Theatre justify its name. Gelber's dialogue, which still had the fresh feeling of improvisation on second hearing, is one of the big reasons. Another large one is Freddie Redd's score. Effective as it is in the play, it is still powerful when heard out of context because primarily it is good music fully capable of standing on its own.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
© -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.”
“ 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."
The following video features Gene on the studio version of Sing, Sing, Sing about which Milt Gabler, the long-time proprietor of Commodore Records was to observe:
“Sing, Sing, Sing changed things. After Gene’s great success with that recording, drums became an important part of every Jazz presentation. The drummer got more attention and worked harder, particularly at concerts and sessions.”