Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman in Chicago

Following up the post I did last week about Joe Morello which proved very popular, here is another about a drummer whose name came up in the discussion following that item, Gene Krupa.

Gene Krupa didn’t exactly invent the image of the drummer as a madman who sat at the back of the band, but he certainly cultivated it. He may sometimes have lacked subtlety in his playing, but he always injected a huge amount of energy into a performance whether in a small group (as here) or behind a big band.

His extrovert personality proved an excellent complement to the rather introverted bandleader Benny Goodman which, together with his undoubted technical ability, led to them having a very long working relationship. That said, Gene Krupa did leave the Goodman Orchestra in 1938 reportedly because Benny Goodman didn’t his drummer’s tendency to hog the limelight, insisting on taking a drum solo in just about every number. They did continue to work together for many years afterwards, however, as this clip demonstrates.

Many people credit Gene Krupa for basically inventing the modern drum kit and was certainly one of the first drummers in Jazz to be well known as a soloist and, indeed, the first to become a nationwide celebrity. He also inspired subsequent generations of drummers: Keith Moon of The Who was an admirer of Gene Krupa and I was told some years ago that Krupa also provided the inspiration for `Animal’, the drummer in the Muppet Show band.

People don’t generally realize what a smash hit Benny Goodman’s band was in the pre-War years – their fame was exactly on the scale of the `Beatlemania’ of a few decades later.

My Dad taught himself to play the drums using a book called The Gene Krupa Drum Method. I found his (very old and battered) copy of it among his personal effects after he died almost a decade ago and gave it – along with his drums, sticks, brushes, etc – to a local school. One thing that came from learning from a book was that he learnt to read drum music very well, which helped him get jobs with various dance bands. Few Jazz drummers of his generation could read music.

This performance, dating from the 1960s, represents a kind of reunion the three members of Benny Goodman’s famous trio of the 1930s (Goodman, Krupa and Teddy Wilson), along with bassist George Duvivier. I never really understood how that original trio managed to get away without having a bass player, but it was hugely popular and made a number of terrific records.

There’s a (somewhat rambling) verbal introduction by Benny Goodman, so I’ll restrict myself to a couple of observations. One is that Gene Krupa (who is clearly enjoying himself in this clip – watch him at about 3:07!) shows off the `trad’ grip very effectively. The other is that if you look closely at Teddy Wilson’s right hand you can see that he doesn’t have the use of his index finger, which he was unable to unbend. I believe that came about as the aftermath of a stroke and it caused him a lot of problems in later life although he carried on playing well into the 1980s. Anyway, he still plays very nicely, as do they all. Enjoy!

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12 Responses to “Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman in Chicago”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    So who DID invent the image of the drummer as a madman who sat at the back of the band? I’d love to know!

    • telescoper Says:

      Gene Krupa was clearly inspired by both Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton. The former was definitely a wild man off the stage – he was notorious for drinking and getting into fights. I’m not sure what his stage demeanour was, however. Zutty Singleton was definitely a showman, but by all accounts had a very sunny disposition both on and off stage.

      A rough contemporary of Krupa was Chick Webb. He suffered from a pronounced curvature of the spine, and was quite short of stature. People say you could just see his arms and head over the drumkit. He died in 1939. I think he was the first drummer to be an actual bandleader.

      The answer to your question is therefore that I don’t know, but it may not have been one influence.

      The contrast with other great big band drummers (e.g. Jo Jones and Sonny Greer of the Basie and Ellington bands respectively ) was very great, however. Both of these were very reserved on stage.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Thanks – great information that I’d never have teased out myself.

      • telescoper Says:

        Here’s a find. I believe that this is the only piece of footage of Chick Webb, along with some other examples of the young Gene Krupa in full swing. Note the contrast in the kits: Webb used an old-fashioned variety…

  2. Shantanu Says:

    Peter, sorry for the OT comment. But would be interested in your take on https://undark.org/2017/05/09/a-debate-over-cosmic-inflation-and-editing-at-scientific-american-gets-heated/

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