On The Road

Compiled by Tracy Borst

The best way for a musician to really get to know another musician is to work on the same band together. The following four musicians all worked on the Gene Krupa band for various periods between 1938 and 1942. They are still active players in the Los Angeles area.

Their comments follow:

Graham Young played in the Krupa trumpet section for most of 1941-42. He is a leading Hollywood studio player and had toured the world as featured artist with Henry Mancini.

“Gene experimented early with odd time signatures. We were doing Nacio Herb Brown’s 5/4 number, “American Bolero” in 1941. Gene was really the first to have a black musician play right in the section. Goodman had Hamp and Teddy Wilson in a feature unit but Gene wanted Roy Eldridge to play with the band. We were excited about Roy coming in but we heard that the agency was dragging its heels and that Gene was arguing with them. One night we played opposite Jimmie Lunceford and they swung so beautifully. Gene got Roy on the band the next day.

“Gene had a practice pad and sticks rigged at his seat in the front of the band bus and worked out constantly. He had a dime imbedded in the pad and he could carry on a conversation and keep those single strokes going with an even, metallic tap. He didn’t want to hear the sticks slipping onto the rubber pad.

“Gene was a good musician and listened to classical records, particularly works of Delius. He had also studied the recordings brought back by the Denis-Roosevelt African expedition in 1935. He simplified those beats and used them with the entire band.

‘We all had small toms built into the music stand and we had a definite part to play in those jungle numbers. Remo Biondi, the guitarist, would start off with eighth notes on a big tom. The trombones or saxes would follow with quarter notes, the other section with a Charleston beat and the trumpets followed on 2 and 4. It was easy to memorize my part.

“That band was a lot of fun. Those were historical times.”

Musky Ruffo joined the Krupa reed section in 1938; three months after the band was formed and stayed until 1942. He is currently rehearsing a new, small group of his own.

“Shortly after I joined the band we went out to the Coast to do the first version of Some Like It Hot with Bob Hope.

“The College Inn of the Sherman Hotel in Chicago booked all the great swing bands and they wanted us. Since Gene was a Chicago boy, they revamped the whole room for our opening and called it the Panther Room of the College Inn, to go along with our jungle numbers. The bandstand was bamboo and the waiters wore turbans and jungle outfits.

“Gene played all the rehearsals and had the arrangers present. Elton Hill and Chappie Willett wrote for us — and Jimmy Mundy came over from the Goodman band. Gene knew what he wanted.”

Shorty Sherock played trumpet with the 1940-41 Krupa band. He has always been one of the jazz world’s great players.

“We usually did rehearsals in New York on location jobs — theater or hotels. We rehearsed the 5/4 “American Bolero” at 6:00 a.m. at the Paramount Theater, where we were playing seven shows a day. We all played on our drums — and Gene had a bunch of kettle drums — and even had the theater organist in on it. We put it in the act the same day.

“We were on the bus once for two weeks straight, never checked in anywhere. Just played the job, used the men’s room, and got back on the bus. Gene got me off the dixie kick and more into swing. There were a lot of great players on that band.”

Clint Neagley was in the Krupa reed section from 1939 to 1941. A veteran of many bands, he is now Chairman of the Trial Board of Local 47, AFM.

“Gene had a good sense of humor. My first broadcast with the band was a network thing that somebody tossed at us out of the sky. I had just come from a smaller band, where broadcasts were rather nervous affairs. But this was a relaxed band. Gene was still calling out numbers while the broadcast was going on. He made it easy to do.

“Gene really practiced on the pad a great deal. We used the toms on our stands on “Jungle Madness” and “Blue Rhythm Fantasy” and the part had to be played right and still swing. Those numbers were lots of fun.”