"I used to look in their wholesale catalog for a musical instrument - piano, trombone, cornet - I didn't care what it was as long as it was an instrument. The cheapest item was the drums, 16 beans, I think, for a set of Japanese drums; a great high, wide bass drum, with a brass cymbal on it, a wood block and a snare drum."Gene's drive to drum was too strong and he gave up the idea of becoming a priest. Taken with the idea of playing the drums, Krupa searched his South Side neighborhood for the company of young musicians. The musician recalled in Drummin' Men:
"There were a few little bands in school that I got to hear at socials and tea dances. I'd watch the drummers and pick up what I could. After a bit, I got to make music with some of these fellows and substitute at the dances and socials."Soon Krupa's musical activities began to take precedence over his school work. As a result of his late-night musical activities, Krupa often fell asleep during classes. In 1924, in an effort to placate his mother' disappointment over his failing school studies, Krupa enrolled in St. Joseph's College, a seminary prep school in Rensselaer, Indiana. At St. Joseph's, Krupa studied under a classically trained professor of music, Father Ildefonse Rapp.
"Baby was the band's central strength, the way he used the drums, the rims, the cymbals was just marvelous. I kept coming back to dig Baby, always showing my appreciation for the extremely musical things he was doing. He was one of my main inspirations."Krupa was so impressed by Dodds that he began to immerse himself in the study of black jazz. Austin High Gang member Milton "Mess" Mezzrow recalled in his autobiography, Really the Blues, how he and Krupa analyzed the rhythmic patterns of New Orleans drummers:
"More than anything, it was the Negroes' time and rhythm that fascinated us. I would sit there with Gene for hours, just beating out rhythms of Zutty Singleton and Johnny Wells until my hands swole double."By 1927 Krupa was attending a regular jazz jam Session held at the Three Deuces, located across from the Chicago Theater - legendary sessions that included Austin High Gang clarinetist Frank Teschmaker, trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke, and Krupa's future employer Benny Goodman.
"So they let Gene play the drums, and he beat the heck out of them all the way through the set. It gave us a good solid beat."Assessing the impact of the session, Condon wrote "Krupa's drums went through us like triple bourbon."
"Gershwin was crazy about his playing because Gene was the first white drummer who could swing the beat so that the chorus girls could kick, in time."While working with commercial groups in the early 1930s, Krupa, determined to become a "legit" drummer, began formal music instruction with "Gus" Moeller. Practicing eight hours a day, he worked on inventing his own rhythmic variations and patterns. Krupa related in Drummin' Men:
"My work with Moeller made possible more graceful playing, better control and freedom to be myself no matter what kind of music I had to interpret."In 1934 record producer John Hammond traveled to Chicago to recruit Krupa for Benny Goodman's big band. Although Krupa had reservations about joining, Hammond convinced him that he would be a featured performer of the Goodman band, a noncommercial swing group featuring the arrangements of Fletcher Henderson. Goodman explained in Eddie Condon's Treasury of Jazz:
"Our drummer was merely adequate. The man we wanted, Gene Krupa, was in Chicago playing with Buddy Rogers."Through Hammond, Goodman hoped to draw Krupa to New York City, for as he stated in Kingdom of Swing:
"Gene had some not too favorable recollections of our previous jobs together, but he had the same feeling about real jazz that I did, and the chance to play music the way we felt it was as important in his life as it was mine."Joining Goodman in New York in December of 1934, Krupa performed on the NBC Saturday broadcast Let's Dance, a national radio spot that bolstered the popularity of Goodman's orchestra and brought great attention to Krupa's drumming talent. The Goodman group featured Gene prominently in the full orchestra and with the groundbreaking Goodman Trio and Quartet. The Trio is possibly the first working small group which featured black and white musicians.
"They had different ideas about how to play music. Benny didn't like all the crazy antics and sensationalism that he felt were overshadowing the real music. Gene thought the craziness was just basic showmanship. Although I tended to agree with Gene, I stayed out of it."Gene departed on March 3, 1938 and less than 2 months later formed his own orchestra. On April 16, 1938, a crowd of 4,000 listeners gathered in the Marine Ballroom on Atlantic City's Union Pier to hear the newly formed Gene Krupa Orchestra.
"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."Along with Cozy Cole, Gene formed the Krupa-Cole Drum School in March of 1954. He also began studying tympani with the New York Philharmonic's Saul Goodman(1951).
"He was a wonderful, kind man and a great player. He brought drums to the foreground. He is still a household name."
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