Gene Krupa Day

January 15, 1909 – October 16, 1973

The popular and influential drummer gets a birthday tribute

Drummer, composer and bandleader Gene Krupa was born on January 15, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois.

Classically trained on the drums, Krupa was a professional by 1925, working in Chicago with many bands including Thelma Terry’s Playboys, the Benson Orchestra of Chicago, and the Seattle Harmony Kings.

He made his recording debut in 1927 with the McKenzie-Condon Chicagoans, becoming the first to utilize a full drum set on records.

Moving to New York in 1929, Krupa worked with Red Nichols’ Five Pennies and became a busy studio musician, appearing anonymously on many commercial dates and on occasional jazz sessions.

In December 1934 he joined the Benny Goodman Orchestra, becoming famous with the band due to his exciting style; he could make the simplest drum roll look like a death-defying feat.

The first superstar drummer, Krupa’s work with Goodman (including on his feature “Sing Sing Sing”) made him a household name before he left to form his own big band in 1938.

Krupa’s most successful period as a big band leader was during 1941-42 when he featured Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge but, due to a trumped-up drug charge, he was forced to disband in 1943.

After being cleared, Krupa worked with Goodman and Tommy Dorsey before forming his second big band (1945-51) which had some successes and found him stretching himself to play some bebop charts without altering his style.

Still the most famous drummer in the world, in the 1950s Krupa led a tenor-piano-drums trio, toured with Jazz At The Philharmonic, and had occasional reunions with Benny Goodman.

Ill health slowed him down in the 1960s but Krupa was always capable of playing exciting solos and he remained a major attraction up until his death in 1973.

Gene Krupa is featured on his trademark “Sing Sing Sing” during a 1971 performance with the Lionel Hampton Big Band.

-Scott Yanow


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