Gene Krupa (January 15, 1909 - October 16, 1973)

The name Gene Krupa is synonymous with a driving drum style and a dynamic sense of showmanship that made the Chicago-born drummer one of the musical giants of the Swing Era. Behind his public image--the gum-chewing hipster with the uncontrollable shock of black hair--Krupa was a devoutly serious and self-disciplined musician. As Benny Goodman would recall in his autobiography Kingdom of Swing, "No matter how much playing [Krupa] did, he was always working, developing his hands, and getting new ideas." Krupa's technique and explosive attack earned him praise from all quarters of the jazz world, from traditional swing stylists like Buddy Rich to modernist drummer Max Roach.

The youngest of nine children, Eugene Bertram Krupa was born on January 15, 1909, in Chicago, Illinois. After the untimely death of his father when Krupa was young, his mother went to work as a milliner to support her family. At around the age of 11, Krupa got a job running errands and cleaning windows at Brown Music Company, a music store on Chicago's South Side. With the money he earned, Krupa decided to purchase a musical instrument, and he ultimately chose the drums, the "cheapest item" listed in the wholesale catalog. In 1934 Krupa joined VIP Benny Goodman’s band and performed on "Let's Dance", a national radio broadcast that bolstered the popularity of Goodman's orchestra and brought great attention to Krupa's drumming talent. By the late 1930s Krupa emerged as a national phenomenon. His work on Goodman's 1936 hit "Sing, Sing, Sing" produced the classic drum anthem of the Swing Era, and his appearance on stage and film catapulted him to superstar status.

In 1938 he performed on Goodman's classic live recording Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert, which emanates with the intensity of Krupa's drum work. This amazing event is well described in Ken Burns’s Jazz series for PBS, which reveals that this performance made Krupa the target of an investigation by Harry Anslinger of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. In 1943 Krupa was arrested in San Francisco for the possession of marijuana. Goodman visited him in jail, pronouncing, “He’s a wonderful guy and a wonderful drummer. Anytime, anyplace, anywhere he wants hs old job back, it’s his.” Although the case was finally dropped, it caused the break-up of the orchestra he had formed in his own name. In 1944 he joined Tommy Dorsey’s band, and, despite his condemnation by the media concerning his drug charge, was voted best drummer in the Down Beat Readers' Poll.

Trumpeter Red Rodney, describing Krupa's artistic commitment to the new styles of jazz, explained in From Swing to Bop, "Gene was a modern, progressive-type person who, unlike most of the big-name bandleaders of the era, decided change was important, necessary, and right."

VIP Sal Mineo played Krupa in a 1959 biopic.


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