Reflections on Gene Krupa
Gene Krupa sent me to my first drum teacher and in 1940, we played opposite each other. Like the best of them, he was able to concentrate on his music and he meant what he played. Though his performances were visually dramatic, the sound of his music was dramatic as well. Gene was larger than life — a charismatic figure that made the public fully conscious of drummers. He was so important, it’s almost difficult to talk about him.
Gene Krupa was always my idol when I was growing up and I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet him while working for the Zildjian Company. I knew him personally for 19 years. There are a few things that especially come to mind when I think of Gene. First of all was his love for young kids and drummers and how he would do anything for them. The other thing was the fact that he was extremely critical about the tuning of his drums and would not begin playing until they were perfect. This was, of course, one of the reasons why Gene had his own unique individual sound. He was a perfectionist in every sense of the word.
“I knew Gene since I was 19. We were very good friends. Gene had continuity to everything that he played. He was a very musical drummer. He played everything that fit into what was happening. He was the most friendly and polite person I’ve ever met.”
I have to call Gene a miracle drummer boy. I compare him with the drummer playing the Spirit of ’76. I put Gene in the category of not only a great musician and one of the world’s greatest performing artists, but he was also a great patriot. All the kids used to hear him play and he had a rapport with them that no other drummer had. The people responded to him and saw him in a different light. They never compared him to other drummers. There was always a special, honorable place for Gene. Other drummers came before him, but when Gene appeared on the scene, he mapped out a place for himself and became well respected. People acclaimed him as the miracle drummer boy. We met in August 1936 at the Paradise Nightclub in Los Angeles. I was playing there with my band. Tyree Glen used to double on trombone and drums and this one night I said to myself, ‘Wow, Tyree is really swinging on those drums tonight.’ I turned around and there was Gene Krupa on the drums. Benny Goodman played the clarinet and Teddy Wilson, the piano. We played for two straight hours. It was a great thrill playing with Gene. He was always my favorite.
There is not a professional drummer, percussionist or other instrumentalist who does not in some way owe something and should be grateful to Gene Krupa for his imaginative and creative contributions in the modern drum techniques and styles in performance that we are using today.
True, Gene was a disciple in his playing and teaching of the fundamentals in the
Standard Rudimental School as a foundation in his success as a performer and teacher.
He invented and gave to the world a “new look” into the progressive studies in the modern rythmic patterns for the drums, hi-hat, cymbals, wire brushes, tom toms, tympani, mallet played instruments and accessories. With Gene’s unusual talent and the magnitude of his influence, the reaction became monumental internationally.
Before Gene’s entrance into the music profession, the drummer was not respected as a musician on the same level as other instrumentalists in the band or orchestra but rather as a “necessary evil.” Then a miracle took place. With Gene’s influence, the drummer, for the first time, was enjoying the respect, dignity and recognition that all drummers are enjoying today.
In my lifetime I have never known a more friendly, talented, dedicated man with the superb integrity Gene possessed. Most important, he gave and received the respect of everyone who had the privilege of his acquaintance.
Gene will always be a legend for his contributions to the music world and his loyal friendship to all mankind. We will try to live up to your philosophy on life, Gene. We will all play “SING, SING, SING” and miss you deeply.
ROY C. KNAPP
I loved working with Gene. He was a true showman. We had a lot of fun, playing the Paramount seven shows a day. He was a nice guy. One day no one knew my name and the next day everyone did. He got me out of Chicago.
I was passing the Metropole one night, I was around 18 years old and Gene Krupa was there. He was my idol. I was in awe. I got to talk to him and he really liked me. He gave me lessons for about 6 months. He was great to take the time out to teach me. He once said to me, “You got it kid, you really got it. I’ve never seen anyone who wants it so bad, so I’ll take the time out to teach you.” My solo on my album I dedicated to him. Today when I do a solo I have that drum boogie sound and nobody uses it. The kids go wild but it’s not original. I’m doing something that was done in 1935.
PETER CRISS KISS
Gene Krupa was responsible for making the drums a solo instrument. He was a dear friend and a beautiful human being.
“I have the highest regard for Gene Krupa as a man and as a musician. Despite our occasional differences — which I feel are unavoidable between people of artistic temperament who work closely together for long hours, over many years — I’m proud to say that we were always friends. He played an important role in my success, and his contribution to worldwide acceptance of jazz is matched by very few.”
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