Gene Krupa - drums; Ronnie Ball - piano; Eddie Wasserman - tenor sax, clarinet; Jim Gannon - bass
The first superstar drummer, Gene Krupa became a household name in the 1930s with the Benny Goodman Orchestra (his solo on "Sing, Sing Siing" from Goodman's famous Carnegie Hall concert of 1938 remains a textbook example of show-stopping excellence on the kit). A flamboyant, energetic figure on the bandstand, Krupa gained fame with Goodman through the '30s and became a bandleader in his own right in 1939, scoring hits during the '40s with his Gene Krupa Orchestra, which featured singer Anita O'Day and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. By the 1950s, he scaled back to a small group and continued to tour and record regularly through the decade. Krupa's appearance at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival came just a few months before the release of his life story, portrayed on the silver screen by actor Sal Mineo.
Fronting a quartet featuring pianist Ronnie Ball, reedman Eddie Wasserman and bassist Jim Gannon, Krupa engaged the July 2nd crowd with a set of swingers that featured the drummer holding back on his signature drum flurries until the very end. After all, he was 50 at this point in his career. The relentless athleticism that he displayed at the famous Carnegie Hall concert in '38 was by now a thing of the past. But the man could still swing and like an old school showman he knew how to pace himself for a big finish.
Krupa and his crew lead off with spirited take on "Sweet Georgia Brown," which feature solos by Wasserman on tenor sax, Ball on piano and Gannon on bass. Krupa demonstrates an intricate touch on the hi hat while tapping out straight 4/4 quarter note pattern on the bass drum, occasionally letting up to "drop some bombs" in the tradition of the beboppers who followed in the wake of Swing Era drummers like Krupa, Chick Webb and Cozy Cole. Krupa does offer a brief flurry around the kit toward the end of the song, but he's saving the best for last.He switches to brushes for a relaxed reading of "I've Got the World on a String," a Harold Arlen tune written in 1932 and introduced by Cab Calloway and Bing Crosby. Wasserman's clarinet is spotlighted here along with Ball's tinkling piano and Gannon's blues-drenched bass solo. Krupa stays with brushes for a tender rendition of "Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)," a melancholy torch song written in 1941 which is closely associated with Billie Holiday.
For a rousing finale they tackle "Stompin' at the Savoy," a signature tune of both the Benny Goodman and Chick Webb orchestras during the height of the big band era. Krupa comes out swinging lightly and politely at first, supplying tightly-executed snare hits and crisp, swinging ride cymbal work behind solos by Wasserman, Ball and Gannon. Midway through the 12-minute piece you can hear some mug in the audience yell, "Hey! Lay into it, willya Gene baby?" And yet, Krupa still holds back, briefly turning to Swing Era staple into a tongue-in-cheek waltz at the 7:30 mark. The crowd must be wondering if, at age 50, the old man still has it. And the answer comes at the 8-minute mark with a series of deliberate press rolls on the snare that build to a furious crescendo of drumming that lasts for the next three-and-a-half minutes.
The Gene Krupa Story would premiere in movie theaters around the country in December of 1959. Krupa continued playing into the early '60s and finally retired by the end of the decade, eventually opening a music school (one of his pupils was Peter Criss, who would later become a charter member of the rock band Kiss). He occasionally played in public in the early 1970s until shortly before his death on from leukemia and heart failure at age 64 on October 16, 1973. In 1978, he became the first drummer inducted into Modern Drummer magazine's Hall of Fame. In 2009, the U.K.'s best-selling drum magazine, Rhythm, voted Krupa the third most influential drummer ever. (Milkowski)
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