Jazz drummer Gene Krupa was born as Eugene Bertram Krupa on January 15, 1909, in Chicago, Illinois. He began playing the drums at the tender age of eleven, and in 1923 started playing with a group called the Austin High Gang, which included banjoist Eddie Condon, saxophonist Bud Freeman, and drummer Dave Tough. Tough was to be a great influence on Krupa during the mid-twenties, and the two became close friends.
Because of his mother's disappointment with Krupa's results in school, in 1924 he enrolled in St. Joseph's College, a seminary prep school in Rensselaer, Indiana. Krupa's mother, Ann, was very religious and had always wanted him to become a priest. At St. Joseph's, Krupa studied under a classically trained professor of music, Father Ildefonse Rapp. But classical drumming was never what Krupa had desired to excel in. After a year at St. Joseph's he once again left studies behind to pursue a career in drumming.
In December of 1927, Krupa participated in a recording session on the Okeh label issued as "Mckenzie's and Condon's Chicagoans". Not only did these recordings showcase Krupa's early talent, but they also were among the earliest to use a full drum set. Recording engineers at that time usually believed that the bass drum and tom-toms would not record well, and these were therefore absent from many recordings from the 1920s. The Okeh session also gave testimony to another of Krupa's great influences: black jazz drummer "Baby" Dodds. Dave Tough had taken Krupa to see Dodds soon after they had gotten to know each other, and Krupa adapted several of Dodds' techniques as his own, including extensive use of press rolls.
The 1930s saw Krupa playing with such artists as Bix Beiderbecke and Hoagy Carmichael, and he played what is probably the first extended jazz drum solo in Benny Goodman's 1936 hit "Sing, sing, sing". In 1938, after playing with Benny Goodman's Orchestra on Carnegie Hall, a split with Goodman meant Krupa had to form his own orchestra, and he did that in only 2 months. The Gene Krupa Orchestra featured trumpeter Roy Eldridge and singer Anita O'Day, and continued to be very popular up until 1943 when Krupa was arrested in San Francisco for possession of marijuana. Although he managed to get away with only 80 days in prison, this incident forced Krupa to disband(pun intended) his orchestra for two years. Krupa rejoined Benny Goodman's Orchestra for a while, then played with Tommy Dorsey, and then in 1945 he re-formed his own Orchestra, with which he had continued success until 1951.
Krupa authored a book, "The Gene Krupa Drum Method", started a national drum contest, and participated in several movies, including "Some Like it Hot" and "Ball of Fire". His life and music was made into a feature film in 1959, called "The Gene Krupa Story", with Sal Mineo in the lead. Krupa's syncopated style of drumming has influenced generations of drummers, and Apollo 440's 1996 album "Electro Glide in Blue" featured his drumming in the aptly named "Krupa".
Gene Krupa died on October 16, 1973 from a heart failure possibly related to the leukemia he suffered from his last years.
The Gene Krupa Drum Method