Krupa: A Musical Perspective

by Rupert Kettle

The work of the late Gene Krupa should be obligatory study for today’s serious drum student and, indeed, may offer some refresher lessons for a few old pros. For initial study of Gene’s drumming, I recommend the album, The Best of Gene Krupa (Verve #V/V6-8594), as it presents a summary of his music.

Throughout the record, one is struck both by Krupa’s sense of nuance and of phrasing. The subtle shades of tone obtainable by utilizing different areas of a drumhead, struck from various angles with different parts of a drumstick are all there, as they were long before Colgras and company thought to put them on paper. The phrases that twist and turn, beginning and/or ending at the least expected places are there too, and really warrant careful scrutiny. The latter aspect of swing drumming in general was what made it. to me, more rhythmically sophisticated than bop drumming. In bop, the measure, even the beat tends to split in more intricate ways, but phrasing reverts to very obvious fours, or even twos. Some interesting solo transcripts taken from the recording follow:

SING, SING, SING: A modern remake of the 1930’s Goodman hit finds Gene with an unidentified trio. Checking out the tone colors here, obtained with snare, bass and two tom-toms, the young listener may wish to trade in his Duo-dectaplus outfit and get back to taking lessons. Also, phrasing devices, which must be regarded as shifting meters to be best understood, abound. The second long drum solo is fascinating in that it begins on count “3” of its preceding measure, creating a feeling of downbeat that momentarily shifts the whole work. One almost feels that Gene has made a mistake, until he rounds it all off very neatly with an extension of the old “What Makes Your Big Head So Hard” cue. Note: the slur marks here indicate articulated press rolls; that is, a definite rhythm is played but each note is “pressed,” or “buzzed,” creating a more legato effect.

Krupa Musical Perspective 1


BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA: Notice how Krupa activity that made Krupa great, and also makes his work harder to takes the figure we’ll call “a,” coupled with two or three quarter transcribe than that of some later drummers. Snare drum accents, notes right on the beat, labeled “b,” and juggles them around in a both here and in subsequent examples, are usually rim-shots. Also, veritable maze of metric shifts. To me, it’s this kind of rhythmic the first two bars of this example belong to the preceding chorus.

Krupa Musical Perspective 2


DISC JOCKEY JUMP: Written by Gerry Mulligan, this the last one he led. A good, solid sixteen-bar solo occurs in the tune is from the most modern of Gene’s big bands and I believe, middle of the chart.

Krupa Musical Perspective 3


While this album will serve as an excellent introduction to Krupa’s playing, it is hoped that the interested reader will listen further. Krupa was one of the most musically important drummers in jazz. What isn’t seen or heard — and something we too often tend to forget — is that Gene was the most socially important drummer we have had. Without him there never would, never could have been a Buddy, or a Louie, a Sonny Payne, or a host of others. One more lesson from Gene, this time in his own words: “If others. One more lesson from Gene, this time in his own words: “If I beat out my wildest drum solo and the people couldn’t dance to it, I’d really be shocked; for I learned years go that you just can’t break time . . .”