Eugene Bertram "Gene" Krupa (January 15, 1909 – October 16, 1973) was an American jazz and big band drummer, actor and composer, known for his highly energetic and flamboyant style.
Krupa was born in Chicago, the youngest of Anna (née Oslowski) and Bartłomiej Krupa's nine children. Krupa's father, Bartłomiej, was an immigrant from Poland, and his mother, Anna, was born in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, also of Polish descent. His parents were very religious Roman Catholics and had groomed Gene for the priesthood. He spent his grammar school days at various parochial schools and upon graduation, attended Saint Joseph's College for a year, but later decided it was not his vocation. He studied with Sanford A. Moeller and began playing drums professionally in the mid-1920s with bands in Wisconsin. He broke into the Chicago scene in 1927, when he was picked by MCA to become a member of "Thelma Terry and Her Playboys," the first notable American Jazz band (except all-girl bands) to be led by a female musician. The Playboys were the house band at The Golden Pumpkin nightclub in Chicago and also toured extensively throughout the eastern and central United States.
He made his first recordings in 1927, with a band under the leadership of banjoist Eddie Condon and Red McKenzie: along with other recordings beginning in 1927 by musicians known in the "Chicago" scene such as Bix Beiderbecke, these sides are examples of "Chicago Style" jazz. The numbers recorded at that session were: "China Boy", "Sugar", "Nobody's Sweetheart" and "Liza". The McKenzie-Condon sides are also notable for being some early examples of the use of a full drum kit on recordings. 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 Baby Dodds, whose use of press rolls was highly reflected in Gene's playing.
Krupa also appeared on six recordings made by the Thelma Terry band in 1928 In 1934 he joined Benny Goodman's band, where his featured drum work made him a national celebrity. His tom-tom interludes on their hit "Sing, Sing, Sing" were the first extended drum solos to be recorded commercially. He made a cameo appearance in the 1941 film, Ball of Fire, in which he and his band performed an extended version of the hit "Drum Boogie", sung by Barbara Stanwyck, which he had composed with trumpeter Roy Eldridge.
As the 1940s ended, large orchestras fell by the wayside: Count Basie closed his large band and Woody Herman reduced his to an octet. Krupa gradually cut down the size of the band in the late 1940s, and from 1951 on led a trio or quartet, often featuring the multi-instrumentalist Eddie Shu on tenor sax, clarinet and harmonica. He appeared regularly with the Jazz At the Philharmonic shows. Along with Ball of Fire, he made a cameo appearance in the 1946 screen classic The Best Years Of Our Lives. His athletic drumming style, timing methods and cymbal technique evolved during this decade to fit in with changed fashions and tastes, but he never quite adjusted to the Be-Bop period.
In 1954, Krupa returned to Hollywood to appear in such films as The Glenn Miller Story and The Benny Goodman Story. In 1959, the movie biography, The Gene Krupa Story, was released; Sal Mineo portrayed Krupa, and the film had a cameo appearance by Red Nichols. Dave Frishberg, a pianist who played with Krupa, was particularly struck by the accuracy of one key moment in the film. "The scene where the Krupa character drops his sticks during the big solo, and the audience realizes that he's "back on the stuff." I remember at least a couple of occasions in real life when Gene dropped a stick, and people in the audience began whispering among themselves and pointing at Gene."
During the 1950s he often appeared at the Metropole, near Times Square in Manhattan. He continued to perform in famous clubs in the 1960s including the legendary Show Boat Lounge in NW Washington DC (which burned to the ground in the DC/Adams-Morgan race riots following the assassination of MLK in 1968, shortly after Krupa's last appearance there). Increasingly troubled by back pain, he retired in the late 1960s and opened a music school. One of his pupils was KISS drummer Peter Criss, whilst Jerry Nolan from The New York Dolls was another, as evidenced by the drumming similarities between KISS's "100,000 years" and The New York Dolls' "Jet Boy".
He occasionally played in public in the early 1970s until shortly before his death. One such late appearance occurred in 1972 at a jazz concert series sponsored by the New School in New York. Krupa appeared onstage with other well-known musicians including trumpeter Harry James and the younger jazz star-saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. A presumption was that the 500 or so audience members were drawn by Mulligan’s contemporary appeal. Nevertheless, when, during the second tune, Krupa took a 16 bar break, the room essentially exploded, the crowd leaping to its feet creating a deafening roar of unanimous affection; in effect, he remained a seminal performer up to his death, even while playing for a huge audience perhaps half his age.
The Krupa-Rich 'drum battles'
Norman Granz recruited Krupa and fellow drummer Buddy Rich for his Jazz at The Philharmonic concerts. It was suggested that the two perform a 'drum battle' at the Carnegie Hall concert in September 1952, which was recorded and later issued on vinyl (a CD edition called The Drum Battle at JATP appeared courtesy of Verve in 1999).
Further drum battles took place at subsequent JATP concerts; the two drummers also faced off in a number of television broadcasts and other venues. During the 1950s he often appeared at the Metropole in these drum battles with Rich, near Times Square in Manhattan, and often played similar duets with drummer Cozy Cole.
Krupa and Rich recorded two studio albums together: Krupa and Rich (Verve, 1955) and Burnin' Beat (Verve, 1962).
Krupa married Ethel Maguire twice: the first marriage lasted from 1934–1942; the second one dates from 1946 to her death in 1955. Their relationship was dramatized in the biopic about him. Krupa remarried in 1959 to Patty Bowler.
In 1943, Krupa was arrested for possession of two marijuana cigarettes and was given a three-month jail sentence.
Krupa died of leukemia and heart failure in Yonkers, New York, aged 64. He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Calumet City, Illinois.
In the 1930s, Krupa prominently featured Slingerland drums. At Krupa's urging, Slingerland developed tom-toms with tuneable top and bottom heads, which immediately became important elements of virtually every drummer's setup. Krupa developed and popularized many of the cymbal techniques that became standards. His collaboration with Armand Zildjian of the Avedis Zildjian Company developed the modern hi-hat cymbals and standardized the names and uses of the ride cymbal, the crash cymbal, the splash cymbal, the pang cymbal and the swish cymbal. One of his drum sets, a Slingerland inscribed with Benny Goodman's and Krupa's initials, is preserved at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C.
The 1937 recording of Louis Prima's "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)" by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra featuring Gene Krupa on drums was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1982.
In 1959, The Gene Krupa Story was released theatrically in America.
In 1978, Krupa became the first drummer inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.
Rhythm, the UK's best selling drum magazine voted Gene Krupa the third most influential drummer ever, in a poll conducted for its February 2009 issue. Voters included over 50 top-name drummers.
Gene Krupa is tributed during a drum solo by Neil Peart on Rush's "Snakes and Arrows" live DVD. "Malignant Narcissism" segues to a Peart solo titled "De Slagwerker" (Dutch for "The Drummer") during which videos play on the stage screen behind him. Near the end, short clips of Gene Krupa performances are shown.
Gene Krupa Drumstick Collection
Current Drumstick Count in Collection: 2.