Eugene Bertram ‘Gene’ Krupa (15 January 1909 – 16 October 1973) was an American jazz and big band drummer, actor and composer, known for his highly energetic and flamboyant style.
Krupa has often been considered the first drum soloist and father of the modern drum set, convincing Slingerland Drums to make tuneable tom-toms in the 1930s and collaborating with the Avedis Zildjian Company to develop the modern hi-hat cymbals.
Krupa studied drums with Sanford A. Moeller and began playing professionally in the mid-1920s with bands in Wisconsin.
He broke into the Chicago scene in 1927 and made his first recordings that year with a band under the leadership of Eddie Condon and Red McKenzie, notable as being early examples of the use of a full drum kit on recordings.
Gene moved to New York in 1929 and was recruited by Red Nichols. He played in pit bands and on jazz recordings with various musicians before joining Benny Goodman’s band in 1934. His featured drum work in the big band and the Goodman Trio and Quartet made him a national celebrity and his classic performance on ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ has been heralded as the first extended drum solo in jazz.
Krupa left Goodman in 1938 and formed his own orchestra featuring reed player Gerry Mulligan and trumpeter Red Rodney. As the popularity of big bands faded, Krupa gradually cut down the size of the band in the late 1940s, and from 1951 led a trio or quartet, often featuring the multi-instrumentalist Eddie Shu on tenor sax, clarinet and harmonica.
The Gene Krupa Trio was one of the first acts recruited by Norman Granz for his Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts. These dates introduced the famous Drum Battles with Buddy Rich in October 1952 and the pair subsequently recorded two studio albums together on Verve – Krupa and Rich (1955) and Burnin’ Beat (1962).
Gene was also a popular actor and appeared in over 20 films including Some Like it Hot and Beat the Band. The movie biography The Gene Krupa Story was released in 1959, with Sal Mineo portraying Krupa, and Krupa himself recording the soundtrack.
Krupa retired in the late 1960s for health reasons but came out of retirement in 1970s and reformed his quartet. His last commercial recording was in November 1972 with Eddie Condon and Wild Bill Davison, titled Jazz at the New School, and his final public performance was with a reunion of the old Goodman Quartet in 1973.
Krupa won many awards and accolades throughout his career and in 1978 he became the first drummer inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.
In 1982, the 1937 recording Louis Prima’s ‘Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)’ by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Here’s the clip from Hollywood Hotel in which it was featured.