Gene Krupa: King of Cool

I love spring! It’s a time when I get most of my thoughts together and organized for the remainder of the year. At least I try anyway… I take my workouts outdoors with my golden retriever Lucille and together with her smiling fur face we explore the hiking trails and the neighborhood.

For people that are new to this blog, late last fall I suffered a heart attack. This blog was created over the course of my recovery period. Over the winter it has been my wife’s nutritional strategy and my steady exercise routine together with this blog that has aided in that process. I have lost over 40 pounds and I have set a healthy course for the rest of my life.

Lately I often think of my father who passed away over 22 years ago of heart disease. Like all fathers and sons there were many disagreements. It took me many years to understand some of the stuff my father was trying to say; things about life I didn’t fully understand until only recently.

So during my walk last night with Lucille, I started to reminisce about the music my father listened to when I was growing up. I recall some vivid memories that I had previously shut out for so many years.

As I think back, Gene Krupa is one individual I remember that stood above the rest for my father. When I listen to Krupa’s music and see some of the videos of the era it gives me shivers. The energy is unmatched even in today’s age… So as the sun began to slowly set, Lucille and I made our way down the trail. This was when I realized I had my latest article in motion.


was born January 15th 1909 in Chicago, Illinois. He started by learning the saxophone at age six and then switched to drums five years later because they were the most affordable item in the music store. He played in local dance bands while still in his teens, and in spite of his parent’s wishes that he study for the priesthood, he decided to become a professional musician.

Krupa broke into the Chicago scene in 1927 when he was chosen to become a member of “Thelma Terry and Her Playboys.”. The Playboys were the house band at the The Golden Pumpkin nightclub in Chicago and they also toured extensively throughout the eastern and central United States. Krupa also made his first recording with a band under the leadership of banjoist Eddie Condon. In addition, Krupa appeared on six recordings made by the Thelma Terry band in 1928.

In 1934 he joined Benny Goodman’s band, where his featured drum work made him a huge celebrity. In 1938 tensions began to escalate between Krupa and Benny Goodman. It seems audiences were insisting Gene be featured in every number and Goodman didn’t want to lose the limelight. After a public fight with Goodman, Krupa left his band to launch his own. He would go on to have several hits with singer Anita O’Day and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Krupa also made a memorable cameo appearance in the 1941 film Ball of Fire, in which he and his band performed an extended version of the hit “Drum Boogie.”

In 1943, he was given a three month jail term after his arrest for possession of marijuana. After his release, Krupa reorganized his band putting together a big string section featuring Charlie Ventura on sax. This became known as one of the largest dance bands of the era, sometimes containing up to forty musicians.

Krupa eventually scaled down the size of his band in the late 1940s. From 1951 on he led mostly trios or quartets and often featuring the multi-instrumentalist Eddie Shu on tenor sax, clarinet and harmonica. He continued to perform in the 1960’s until his retirement in the late sixties.

Many consider Krupa to be one of the most inspirational drummers of the 20th century, particularly with regard to the development of the drum kit. He made history in 1927 as the first kit drummer ever to record using a bass drum pedal. He is also credited with inventing the rim shot on the snare drum.

Krupa has been cited as an influence by 1960s rock drummers such as Ian Paice of Deep Purple, Keith Moon of The Who, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, and Neil Peart of Rush. In 1978, Krupa became the first drummer inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.

Gene Krupa was easily one of the most colourful personalities of the big band era. Despite his extreme stage persona, Krupa was a serious and well-organized musician whose vision changed the role of drummer forever and who helped standardize the jazz drum kit

A while back, I wrote an article entitled, The Jewish Influence in Blues and Jazz. In that piece I reflected back to my own early musical memories. In this latest article you just read, I wanted to go back and reflect on what my father was listening to in his day. When I think back, I realize why he loved watching Johnny Carson so much. My father loved that whole big band sound and with Gene Krupa, you had a big band only with bigger balls. When you watch old clips of Krupa you can see how larger than life he was. He had an unmistakable stage presence that radiated. You won’t find many musicians that look like they love playing more than Krupa.

I also discovered that both Krupa and my father passed away at the age of 64 of the same heart difficulty. Of course this hits home for The Blues Blogger as a result of my own diagnosis of heart disease. However, I’m fortunate that through modern day technology and medicine they can detect and treat things so much earlier than they could in those days. I often think how cool of a world it would be if others back then had the same advantages as we have today.

Your thoughts are welcome. Please comment below.

Be well …

The Blues Blogger

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7 Responses to “Gene Krupa: King of Cool”

  1. Sunny April 6, 2008 at 2:31 pm #

    isn’t he the drummer on the “Live at Carnegie Hall” with Goodman? he was definitely a high energy dude !

    keep on rockin’


  2. The Blues Blogger April 6, 2008 at 5:00 pm #

    You’re right Sunny. Krupa was definitely the drummer on that recording. “Live at Carnegie Hall” was a very significant LP. It was one of the first million dollar selling LP’s. It also marked the first time a jazz orchestra would play at Carnegie Hall.

    Very cool stuff! Thanks for your comments.

  3. Fran Carasone April 16, 2008 at 6:50 am #

    I was born when the “Big Bands” were just stepping down from the limelight of entertainment and rock and roll was coming on the scene. Fortunately for me, because of early TV variety shows I was introduced to bands like Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, The Dorseys , Harry James and their ilk. Gene Krupa was the most amazing drummer I’ve ever seen. His drum solos were unparalleled by anyone. Great article! I’m glad to see him still being honored today as a truly great musician.

  4. The Blues Blogger April 16, 2008 at 8:27 am #

    Glad you enjoyed the article Fran. Yes Krupa even today is unparalleled …

  5. 2sweetnsaxy May 3, 2008 at 5:16 pm #

    I’m so glad to hear that you are doing better. I don’t know if I like old jazz because of my father or because it reminds me of so many old movies and movie musicals that I grew up on. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Krupa is a name I haven’t thought of it a while. ?This brought a smile to my face and got my feet to tappin’. 🙂

  6. ARTHOR von BLOMBERG November 5, 2008 at 3:17 am #

    Hello B.B,
    Great blog I think its important to watch and learn from GREATNESS. Gene Krupa achieved SUPREME greatness. I have created a Musical and concert highlight program that celebrates and brings to audiences the power of Genes work. We plan on celebrating with a concert / workshop in Chicago on Jan 15 2009, 100 years !!!!!
    Have a look …YOUTUBE-arthor von blomberg
    Keep Swingin’ ARTHOR

  7. The Blues Blogger November 5, 2008 at 7:45 pm #

    Arthor— Thanks so much for the information… Gene’s work will forever remind me of the wonderful memories I have of my father. He was a HUGE fan as I have mentioned in the post above. When I listen to Krupa today, there are few that come even close to his greatness…. Once again thanks so much for dropping by the site… I’ll be paying close attention to Gene’s truly special 100th Birthday Celebration!!!

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