Best Gene Krupa Songs: 20 Jazz Essentials



Jazz drumming was never the same after the arrival of Krupa gene, the hurricane-handed stick man they dubbed “The Chicago Flash.” With his combination of movie star good looks, swashbuckling virtuosity and flamboyant showmanship, he transformed not only the role of drummers in bands, but also the way they were perceived.

Before Krupa lit up the 1930s jazz scene like a supernova, drummers were virtually invisible; perceived as the least skilled of the musicians, their positioning in the background seemed to indicate that they were less important than the other members of the group. Their role was seen as purely supporting, one that involved keeping time and maintaining the rhythmic flow of the music. It was an important task, but one that was often taken for granted by other musicians as well as the public. Gene Krupa changed all that. By helping to popularize the drum solo – a vehicle intended to show off his skill and virtuosity – he quickly became a celebrity.

The drum solo was a radical innovation that depended on how Krupa made key adjustments to his drum kit setup. His kit relied on the snare-kick-hi-hat configuration that innovative New Orleans drummer Baby Dodds had established as the norm in the early 1920s. Krupa added resonant tom-tom drums, which he has finely tuned to blend with its snare sound, plus additional cymbals to give more tonal color.

Krupa first made waves as a teenage drumming prodigy whose pulsating polyrhythms lit up Chicago’s already vibrant jazz scene in the late 1920s. His rise to the top of his profession was meteoric; As a sideman, he played with legendary horn blower Bix Beiderbecke, then made his mark with Benny Goodman’s swing-era band, before embarking on a solo career. By 1973, when Krupa died, he had amassed a huge catalog, which included many notable guest appearances as well as a plethora of solo projects.

For those new to Krupa’s music, finding a starting point from which to approach his work can be a daunting task. So we’ve compiled a list of 20 essential tracks that serve as an introduction to one of jazz’s most explosive and charismatic drummers.

Listen to Gene Krupa’s best songs on Apple Music and Spotify.

The formative years of Gene Krupa

Eugene Bertram Krupa was born in the poor South Side neighborhood of Chicago in 1909 to a Polish immigrant family. The youngest of nine children, he was first drawn to jazz while helping out in his brother’s music store when he was about ten years old. He briefly flirted with alto sax, but felt a greater affinity for drums. By the age of 13, Krupa was obsessed with jazz and practiced incessantly. Soon he was kind enough to start playing with local Windy City jazz and dance groups, but at the insistence of his mother, who was a devout Catholic, he went to study to become a priest at a seminary in Indiana. He quit after a year and returned to music, quickly rising through the ranks of Chicago’s vibrant jazz scene.

Krupa made his first recording with the McKenzie-Condon Chicagoans at age 18 in 1927, a group led by vocalist/comb player Red McKenzie and guitarist Eddie Condon. They cut the single “Nobody’s Sweetheart”, which had the distinction of being one of the first 78s to feature full drums, although its sound was dampened with mats to avoid overloading recording equipment. Krupa’s drums – and especially his cymbals – were most audible on the upbeat “Mama’s Gone, Goodbye”, a single he recorded with bassist Thelma Terry And Her Playboys in 1928.

Benny Bonman

These first two performances showed that Gene Krupa was in a restrained mood, but as recording techniques improved he could play with more volume and intensity. His big breakthrough was joining the Benny Goodman band in 1934. By then Krupa’s style had evolved considerably; it swung more aggressively and flowed in 4/4 time rather than the flippant 2/4 meter that had distinguished the New Orleans-influenced sound of Chicago jazz.

Krupa injected Goodman’s band with a propulsive, turbo rhythmic energy that took the whole thing to another level. Using a high arm action that accentuated his hand movements, he brought stunning visual drama to his performances. The peak of Krupa’s tenure with Goodman came in January 1938, when the clarinetist’s band performed at Carnegie Hall, an august venue usually reserved for classical music. Recorded for posterity, the concert became legendary and crowned Goodman the “King of Swing”. But it was Krupa who received most of the applause, particularly for his dynamic drumming over an epic 13-minute version of Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing.”

Krupa’s dynamism is also evident on “Don’t Be That Way” from the Carnegie Hall album; his performance starts out subtly but then he drops explosive bass drum accents and adds short machine gun-like snare breaks, kicking the song into multiple gears. Another facet of Krupa’s skill set can be heard on the concert’s fast and furious “China Boy”, which he propels using wire brushes.

Gene Krupa’s band

As Gene Krupa’s fame began to eclipse Goodman’s, the clarinetist, who apparently didn’t like sharing the limelight with his drummer, tried to tone down his stickman’s flamboyance and limit his crowd-pleasing solos. the crowd. Eventually, a frustrated Krupa left to form his own band. His first significant recording was 1938’s ‘Jungle Madness’, an explosive showcase for Krupa’s pounding drums; the reverse of the record, “Apurksody”, considered the drummer’s first signature track, was less dramatic; a mid-tempo instrument that showcased his work as an ensemble player and proved that not all of his tunes were vehicles for ostentatious virtuosity.

A year later, Krupa’s orchestra released a series of 78 rpm singles, scoring its first hit with “Drummin’ Man”, an infectious slice of brassy big band swing driven by Krupa’s drums that featured the singer Irene Day. After that, the drummer’s band released a smash hit, rocking the US charts with the stomping quiet “Quiet And Roll ‘Em,” featuring lively brass playing, and another percussion-themed opus, rhythm and self-written blues. Flavored “Drum Boogie,” also spotlighting Day.

In 1941, Krupa hit it hard again with the heady swinger “Let Me Off Uptown”; at that time, his band included a sassy young singer called Anita O’Day and virtuoso trumpeter Roy Eldridge, whose talent also shone on two Krupa classics of the same era – the frenetic ‘After You’ve Gone’ and the sweet horn ballad ‘Rockin’ Chair’.

But when Krupa’s career was at its peak, in 1943 he was arrested for possession of marijuana – a charge the drummer has always denied – which resulted in a 90-day jail sentence that tarnished his reputation and derailed his career.

Gene Krupa in the 40s and 50s

Although struggling to shed the “junkie” image given to him by the American tabloid press, Gene Krupa has put his career back on track thanks to the jazz impresario Norman Granz, which featured the drummer at his groundbreaking Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts, which began in 1944. Later, in the 1950s, Krupa’s career blossomed at Granz’s Clef and Verve labels, where the record The newly developed 33 1⁄3 rpm recorder allowed the drummer to deliver extended performances that mirrored the way he played in a live setting.

The highlight of Krupa’s tenure with Verve was the 1956 big band album Drummer Man – Gene Krupa in Highest FI, which reunited him with O’Day and Eldridge. Together they cut new versions of the three previously mentioned classic tracks they had taken from the charts in 1941. Other highlights were “Boogie Blues”, topped with O’Day’s smoky vocals, and “Leave Us Leap”, a crackling Count Basie– Influenced number that highlighted Krupa’s ability to drive a band with high-octane rhythmic fluidity.

Krupa’s fame was such in the 1950s that he appeared in several Hollywood films, including two biopics, Glenn Miller’s Story and Benny Goodman’s Story, where he played himself. He even saw himself portrayed on the big screen by actor Sal Mineo in the 1959 film Gene Krupa’s Story, whose memorable catchphrase was “He hammered the wild tempo of the jazz age!”

Epic Drum Battles

No introduction to Gene Krupa’s best songs would be complete without mentioning some sensational tracks resulting from his collaborations with fellow drumming maven, Buddy Rich. Krupa’s first album to feature the New York bathtub drummer was The Battle of the Drum, his first LP for music magnate Norman Granz’s Clef label in 1952. It was recorded live at Carnegie Hall as part of Granz’s Jazz At The Philharmonic events and features Rich on the title track. The air is a furious barrage of percussive exchanges between the two drummers, where their thunderous press rolls, seismic tom-tom bangs and explosive cymbal crashes elicit cheers and shouts from the watching crowd. .

The next recording made by Krupa and Rich dates back to 1956 Krupa and rich, their first studio tryout together, which culminated in an electrifying duel on “Bernie’s Tune.” After a tense six-minute hail of percussive crossfire defined by paradiddle ricochets, a swing-focused song emerges, featuring the Oscar Peterson trio augmented with horn blowers Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge. On the same album, Krupa performed without Rich on “Gene’s Blues”, demonstrating his ability to lead the band with his powerful swing rhythms.

The duo’s last studio collaboration was arguably their most satisfying together: a heartbreaking 1962 big band album titled Burning rhythm, which contained incendiary versions of “Jumpin’ At The Woodside” by Count Basie and Duke Ellington“It doesn’t mean a thing (if it doesn’t have that swing.”

After Burning rhythm, Krupa, who suffered from health problems in the last decade of his life, recorded only three more albums, his last in 1972, the year before his death at the age of 64. At that time, he was even a real legend. though the swing music he helped popularize was a distant memory. But the concept of the flamboyant drum solo he patented in the 1930s was taken up by a new generation of virtuoso, hard-hitting rock drummers like John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and The Who’s. Keith Moon.

A key contributor in establishing the composition of drumming, Gene Krupa, with his blend of speed, skill, energy and endurance, etched the pattern of the modern drummer. Although he is long gone, his influence lives on.

Think we missed one of Gene Krupa’s best songs? Let us know in the comments below.

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