Gene Krupa

Gene Krupa

Gene Krupa in 1944
Background information
Birth name Eugene Bertram Krupa
Born (1909-01-15)January 15, 1909
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died October 16, 1973(1973-10-16) (aged 64)
Yonkers, New York, U.S.
Genres Jazz, swing, dixieland
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, bandleader
Instruments Drums
Years active 1920s–1973
Associated acts Eddie Condon, Benny Goodman, Louie Bellson, Anita O'Day

Eugene Bertram "Gene" Krupa (January 15, 1909 – October 16, 1973) was an American jazz and big band drummer, band leader, actor, and composer. Known for his highly energetic, flamboyant style and for his showmanship,[1] Krupa is considered one of the most influential drummers in jazz history and one of the first major percussive soloists.

Early life

Gene Krupa was born in Chicago, the youngest of Anna (née Oslowski) and Bartłomiej Krupa's nine children. Bartłomiej was an immigrant from Poland. 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. Upon graduation he attended Saint Joseph's College for a year, but later decided it was not his vocation.

Krupa 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—all-girl bands excepted—to be led by a female musician. The Playboys were the house band at The Golden Pumpkin nightclub in Chicago, and toured extensively throughout the eastern and central United States. Krupa was also affiliated with Glenn Miller's swing band in the 1940s.


Krupa made his first recordings in 1927, with a band under the leadership of Red McKenzie and guitarist Eddie Condon. Along with other recordings by musicians from the Chicago jazz scene such as Bix Beiderbecke, these recordings are examples of Chicago style jazz. The numbers recorded at that session were "China Boy", "Sugar", "Nobody's Sweetheart", and "Liza". The McKenzie-Condon recordings are notable for being early examples of the use of a bass drum AND snare drum/cymbals on recordings, at least for the studio where these recordings were made. Some of Krupa's big influences during this time were Father Ildefonse Rapp, Roy Knapp (both teachers of Gene). Later, there were cylinder recordings of African drumming that Gene intensely studied. Drummers such as Tubby Hall, Zutty Singleton and Baby Dodds contributed to Gene's developing his own sound. Press rolls were a fairly common technique in the early stages of Gene's development and, stylistically, this technique was, to some degree, evident in Krupa's playing well into the late 1940s and early 1950s. Gene absorbed every bit of what he heard and formulated his own 'style' very early in his career, pulling from hundreds of different sources. There were many other drummers (Ray Bauduc, Chick Webb, George Wettling, Dave Tough) whose work influenced Gene's approach to drumming and other instrumentalists and composers (Frederick Delius, for one) who strongly influenced Gene's entire approach to music.[2]

Krupa also appeared on six recordings made by the Thelma Terry band in 1928.[3] In December 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.[4] However, "artistic and personal disputes" with Goodman prompted Krupa to leave the group and form his own orchestra, shortly after the famous Carnegie Hall concert in January 1938.[5] He appeared in the 1941 film Ball of Fire, in which he and his band perform an extended version of the hit "Drum Boogie", sung by Barbara Stanwyck (whose singing was dubbed by Martha Tilton), which he had composed with trumpeter Roy Eldridge. As an encore to this piece, he plays a tamer version of the same song using matchsticks as drumsticks and a matchbox as a drum, while Stanwyck and the audience sing along. In 1943, his arrest for possession of marijuana (see below) forced the breakup of his own orchestra and he rejoined Goodman's band for a year.[5]

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 his own band in the late 1940s, and from 1951 on he led a trio or quartet, often featuring the multi-instrumentalist Eddie Shu on tenor sax, clarinet and harmonica. He appeared regularly in the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts. He made a cameo appearance in the 1946 film 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 bebop style of jazz.[2]

Krupa performing in New York, 1946

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 featured a cameo appearance by Red Nichols.[2]

During the 1950s Krupa often appeared at the Metropole, near Times Square in Manhattan. He continued to perform in famous clubs in the 1960s, including the Showboat Lounge in NW Washington DC. 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,[6] 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's "Jet Boy".

Krupa 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 saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. The presumption was that the 500 or so audience members were drawn by Mulligan's contemporary appeal, but when, during the second tune, Krupa took a 16-bar break, the room erupted, the crowd leaping to its feet and creating a deafening roar of unanimous affection. In effect, Krupa remained a seminal performer up to his death, even while playing for a huge audience perhaps half his age.

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 as The Drum Battle by Verve.

Further drum battles took place at subsequent JATP concerts; the two drummers also faced off in a number of television broadcasts and other venues. 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).

Personal life

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 90-day jail sentence, of which he served 84 days. He was also charged with, but acquitted of, contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was exonerated/acquitted of all charges when it was subsequently proven that the entire episode was a trumped-up "frame", as the prosecution's key witness was paid to falsely testify against Krupa.[7]

In the 1960s his house in Yonkers, New York was almost totally destroyed by fire. He continued to live in the parts of the house that were inhabitable.

In 1973, Krupa died of leukemia and heart failure in Yonkers, New York, aged 64.[8][9] He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Calumet City, Illinois.


Gene Krupa Drive in Yonkers, New York

In the 1930s, Krupa became the first endorser of 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, crash cymbal, splash cymbal, pang cymbal, and swish cymbal. He is also credited with helping to formulate the modern drum set, being one of the first jazz drummers (for that recording studio) to use a bass drum, in a recording session in December 1927.[10] One of his bass drums, a Slingerland 14 X 26, inscribed with Benny Goodman's and Krupa's initials, is preserved at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C.[11]

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.

Book Revue, the 1945 Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes cartoon, included a rendition of "It Had To Be You," featuring caricatures of Harry James, Benny Goodman, and Gene Krupa.

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.

Actor Gary Burghoff, of the TV series M*A*S*H, had been a friend of Krupa. In the episode "Showtime", the finale to Season One recorded in March 1973, Burghoff played a drum solo on the kit using a playing style modeled after Krupa. When Krupa died, he left a drum kit to Burghoff.


Krupa's version of Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay released as a 78 rpm shellac record (Brunswick)


Krupa wrote, or co-wrote, the following songs: "Some Like It Hot" (1939) with Frank Loesser and Remo Biondi, "Disc Jockey Jump" with Gerry Mulligan, "Manhattan Transfer" with Elton Hill, "Drum Boogie" with Roy Eldridge, "Drummin' Man", "Bolero at the Savoy" with Jimmy Mundy, "Feelin' Fancy", "He's Gone", "Wire Brush Stomp", "Jam on Toast", "The Big Do", "Murdy Purdy" with Jimmy Mundy, "Hard, Hard Roxy", pt. 2, "Full Dress Hop", "Swing is Here" with Chu Berry, "To Be or Not to Be-Bop", "Quiet and Roll 'Em" with Sam Donahue, "Sweetheart, Honey, Darlin' Dear", "Boogie Blues", "I Should Have Kept on Dreaming","Apurksody", "The Babe Takes a Bow", "Blues of Israel", "Blues Krieg".[12] "Some Like It Hot" has been recorded by Charlie Barnet, Red Norvo, Nat King Cole, and Judy Ellington.


  1. "Gene Krupa". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-10-20.
  2. 1 2 3 "Gene Krupa profile". Retrieved 2011-10-20.
  3. "Thelma Terry and her Playboys". Retrieved 2011-10-20.
  4. Bruce H. Klauber, World of Gene Krupa: that legendary drummin' man, p. 13
  5. 1 2 J. Pagano Jr. "Gene Krupa Biographies / Gene Krupa". Retrieved 2016-03-13.
  6. KISS – Behind the Mask, David Leaf and Ken Sharp, 2003, Warner Books, ISBN 978-0446695244
  7. "Gene Krupa's Biography". Retrieved 2011-10-20.
  8. Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 255. CN 5585.
  9. United Press International (October 17, 1973). "Gene Krupa". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2012-10-16. Drummer Gene Krupa, whose flying sticks symbolized the swing era, died Tuesday after a lengthy illness.
  10. "Drummer World: Gene Krupa". Retrieved 2015-01-28.
  11. ""Gene Krupa: a Drummer with Star Power" by Owen Edwards". Retrieved 2012-06-25.
  12. "Gene Krupa". Retrieved 2016-03-13.
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