Big Band Boulevard
Program #25 (November 24, 2019 at 6 p.m.)
Big Band and swing tunes with featured drummer and bandleader Gene Krupa. Also selections from Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Jimmie Lunceford.
Gene Krupa (born January 15, 1909, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.—died October 16, 1973, Yonkers, New York), American jazz drummer who was perhaps the most popular percussionist of the swing era.
Krupa worked for several bands during the early 1930s and was a drummer in the pit orchestras for two Broadway musicals by George Gershwin. By 1934 Krupa was the most sought-after drummer in the business. He was persuaded by the record producer John Hammond to join Goodman’s band, with the assurance that the band would prominently showcase his drumming talents. Krupa stayed with Goodman until 1938 and played on many of the band’s best-known recordings (such as the classic drum workout “Sing, Sing, Sing”); he was also a fixture in the Benny Goodman Trio (featuring Goodman and pianist Teddy Wilson) and subsequent Quartet (adding vibraphonist Lionel Hampton). With his movie-star good looks and tousle-haired, gum-chewing “hot jazzman” persona, Krupa attracted many female fans and provided the Goodman band with much of its visual appeal, elevating the role of the drummer from mere timekeeper to front-line performer. To many swing fans, Krupa epitomized jazz drumming; he went on to become perhaps the most famous drummer in jazz history.
Krupa had a tendency to grandstand during his tenure with Goodman, yet his infectious energy propelled the band. His flamboyance and popularity led to personality clashes with Goodman, who thought that Krupa’s showmanship often overshadowed the music. Less than two months after the Goodman band’s historic performance at Carnegie Hall in January 1938, Krupa left to form his own band.
Initially Krupa’s band followed in the style of Goodman’s. Many of its early recordings are fine examples of swing and commercial pop, and many feature well-performed drum solos. The band’s jazz credentials were significantly enhanced in 1941 with the addition of trumpeter Roy Eldridge and singer Anita O’Day. One of jazz’s most influential players, Eldridge was the stylistic link between the traditional jazz of Louis Armstrong and the wailing bebop of Dizzy Gillespie. O’Day, whose style was cool and detached, was one of the most renowned band vocalists. The Krupa-Eldridge-O’Day triumvirate combined to produce some of the band’s best-known recordings, including “Boogie Blues,” “Just a Little Bit South of North Carolina,” and, especially, “Let Me Off Uptown,” the Krupa band’s biggest hit.
In 1943 Krupa served a three-month jail term for marijuana possession; for a time after his release, he drummed with the Goodman and Tommy Dorsey orchestras before re-forming his own band in 1944. His new band, which incorporated a string section, played in a more modern style and featured several talented young players who were influenced by the bebop movement. Hits such as “Leave Us Leap,” “Disc Jockey Jump,” and “Lemon Drop” showcased the new sound in arrangements by George Williams and Gerry Mulligan. By embracing modern jazz, Krupa was able to keep his band going during the late 1940s, but by 1951 he too had succumbed to the decline in popularity of big bands.