Gene Krupa

Gene Krupa
  • Birth Name
    Eugene Krupa
  • Born
    January 15, 1909
    Chicago, Illinois
  • Died
    October 16, 1973
    Yonkers, New York (age 64)

With his tousled hair, gum chewing, grimaced face and wild drumming style, Gene Krupa was easily one of the most colorful personalities of the big band era. Despite his outrageous stage persona, Krupa was a serious and disciplined musician whose vision changed the role of drummer forever and who helped standardize the jazz drum kit.

Krupa began playing drums at an early age, making his first recording in 1927 and working with a variety of bands before joining Benny Goodman’s orchestra in 1934, where he played a major role in its success. His wild appearance and drum playing made him a star in his own right. As Krupa’s popularity grew, tension mounted between him and Goodman. In 1938, not long after the famous Carnegie Hall Concert, the two had a falling out, and Krupa left to form his own outfit.

With help from Tommy Dorsey’s managers, Krupa put together an exciting group that made its debut in April on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. Female vocalist for that date was Jerry Kruger. Helen Ward joined the band for its first recording session, after which Irene Daye became featured vocalist, until she married trumpeter Corny Cornelius and both jumped ship for the Casa Loma Orchestra. Male vocalist for the first year was the ultra-wild scat singer Leo Watson.

Though the band was a big hit in concert, its recordings, first on Victor and then on Brunswick, proved rather dull. It wasn’t until the arrival of trumpeter/singer Roy Eldridge and groundbreaking jazz vocalist Anita O’Day in 1941 that the group finally came into its own. The duo provided a much needed spark that sent the orchestra to the top of the charts. Popular singer Ray Eberle, who had just been fired by Glenn Miller, joined in mid-1942, providing a big name male vocalist. Bad times hit at the end of 1942 though. Ill feelings between O’Day and Eldridge caused her to leave the group that December, and Eberle departed the next month. Then, in early 1943, Krupa was arrested in San Francisco on trumped-up charges of marijuana possession. Found guilty, he was given a one-to-six-year sentence and released on bail.

Returning to New York, Krupa re-joined Goodman, who was then touring Army bases on the East Coast. Krupa opted to stay behind when the orchestra went on a national tour, fearing the public would react badly toward him. He then joined Tommy Dorsey unannounced for an engagement at New York’s Paramount Theater. As soon as the audience recognized him, he received a tumultuous welcome. That warm reception lifted his spirit, and when his sentence was overturned on appeal he left Dorsey and formed a new orchestra of his own.

Completely different from his first group, the new outfit featured a string section, with Lillian Lane and Ginnie Powell as vocalists. Krupa took the role of conductor and only rarely played drums. After recording some disappointing V-Discs, he realized his mistake and switched back to playing the type of jazz for which he was known. Anita O’Day returned for a while in mid-1945 and the band was back on top.

O’Day’s sudden departure in January 1946 briefly vocalists Carolyn Grey and Liz Tilton to the orchestra. Grey filled O’Day’s spot permanently, remaining with the band into mid-1947. As the swing era ended, Krupa began to experiment with bop. Though he was never comfortable with this new style of jazz, he believed in keeping up with the times and giving young musicians a chance to play the type of music they loved. In 1951, he disbanded his orchestra and focused on performing with small groups and with Jazz at the Philharmonic. For a while, he operated a drum school with fellow drummer William “Cozy” Cole and occasionally reunited with the Goodman Quartet.

Back problems forced him to cut down on playing in the late 1950s, and a heart attack in 1960 sent him into brief retirement. He retired a second time in 1967, only to become active again in 1970. Though diagnosed with leukemia and almost too ill to play, he continued to make occasional appearances with the quartet. He spent most of his time, though, either in the hospital or in his Yonkers, New York, home, despite the fact that it had been almost completely destroyed in a fire. He made his last public appearance in August of 1973. Gene Krupa died two months later of complications from leukemia.

Music

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  • I'm Feeling High and Happy
    Gene Krupa (Helen Ward), Brunswick (1938)
  • Drummin' Man
    Gene Krupa (Irene Daye), Columbia (1939)
  • You Taught Me to Love Again
    Gene Krupa (Irene Daye), Brunswick (1939)
  • Deep in the Blue
    Gene Krupa (Irene Daye), Okeh (1940)
  • Alreet
    Gene Krupa (Anita O'Day), Okeh (1941)
  • Drum Boogie
    Gene Krupa (Irene Daye), Columbia (1941)
  • Just a Little Bit South of North Carolina
    Gene Krupa (Anita O'Day), Okeh (1941)
  • Invitation to the Blues
    Gene Krupa (Lillian Lane), Radio (1944)
  • I Should Care
    Gene Krupa (Lillian Lane), Columbia (1945)
  • Someday Soon
    Gene Krupa (Lillian Lane), Radio (1945)
  • Chiquita Banana (The Banana Song)
    Gene Krupa (Carolyn Grey), Columbia (1946)
  • Just the Other Day
    Gene Krupa (Carolyn Grey), Columbia (1946)
  • Gene's Boogie
    Gene Krupa (Carolyn Grey), Columbia (1947)
  • Old Devil Moon
    Gene Krupa (Carolyn Grey), Columbia (1947)

All recordings are from the Internet Archive's 78rpm collection. Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.

Films

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  • Let Me Off Uptown
    "Let Me Off Uptown"
    Gene Krupa (Anita O'Day, Roy Eldridge)
    Minoco (1942)
  • Thanks for the Boogie Ride
    "Thanks for the Boogie Ride"
    Gene Krupa (Anita O'Day, Roy Eldridge)
    Minoco (1942)

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Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.