Krupa In Solo

Transcription and Analysis by Ron Spagnardi

A special tribute to the late Gene Krupa would certainly be incomplete without a full transcription of a classic Krupa solo. Gene’s style was unique. Though the transcription below was recorded late in Krupa’s career, it reflects his rhythmic approach, an approach which basically did not change very much throughout a career which spanned nearly 50 years.

The solo is from Krupa and Rich (Clef: MGC-684), recorded in the mid-fifties, a period during which Gene (and Buddy) were touring the country with Norman Granz and his very successful Jazz At The Philharmonic. The tune is Gene’s Blues. The solo is a 64 bar excursion ingeniously woven together by master Krupa’s magnificent sense of rhythmic simplicity and swing. The solo reflects Krupa’s uncanny ability to maintain at all costs, a highly musical flow of ideas.

Though Gene rose to great heights in the public eye for his dramatic displays of showmanship, his most memorable solos contain some marvelous examples of uncluttered rhythmic thinking and admirable execution. Solos which were for the most part based on subtle yet extremely effective syncopated figures, careful use of accent placement and dynamics, and basic rudimental stickings. His style — always recognizable — never failed to generate a drive and an exciting swing feel.

Some points of interest: Note the masterful maneuvering between a jazz eighth note concept and a straight eighth and sixteenth feel in the very first 24 bars. An interesting mixture of jazz and military influences prevail. And Gene’s great concern for dynamics and spacing is clearly evident in the last eight bars of that statement (17-24) where a straight eighth note pattern gradually diminishes to a pianissimo, concluding with three beats of unexpected silence.

Bars 28 on, are a virtual lesson in the art of swinging simple syncopations, quarter notes, and triplets through the meticulous use of space, accents and rudimental embellishments. The solo also demonstrates Krupa’s effective use of rim shots. Practically all the accented notes are played as rim shots. Also, his delicate and even humorous use of splash cymbal and cowbell, and the ever present hi-hat on every beat between bars 29-42 and 48-62. The hi-hat adds sufficient momentum, thereby allowing the bass drum to be preserved for accents and color.

Outside of a brief 16th note flurry in bars 9-11 (the last of which suggests a three on four feel), the solo is no more rhythmically complex than the last 5 bars which contain drag triplet patterns flavored with accents. And yet, in the hands of a master craftsman, that simplicity is precisely what binds and weaves the solo together, keeps it musical and swinging. One can also delight in the fact that Gene used only a basic 4 piece set, 2 cymbals and hi-hat on the solo.

In studying the style of Gene Krupa one learns a great lesson in musical drumming. To learn from Krupa is to learn that rhythmic inventiveness has little to do with multiple drum set-ups. To learn from Krupa is to learn what swinging is all about. Perhaps in his own musically concise, subtle and swinging way, Gene Krupa actually said it all.

Gene's Blues 1

Gene's Blues 2