April 30, 2013
Rich Halley 4 Crossing The Passes (Pine Eagle 005)
On his latest release, Rich Halley and his regular quartet play an excellent selection of original compositions. Interestingly, these eleven pieces have been built upon the composer’s memories of a recent north-south trek he made across Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains. The music created forms metaphorical images of the mountain range, the musical language being Rich’s always effective styling that reflects the way in which jazz has developed through the post-bop era towards the frontiers of free jazz. Among the snapshots of rugged landscape are Traversing The Maze, The Spring Rains, Basin And Range and Rain, Wind And Hail. The other fine musicians are trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley. (The last named is Rich’s son, who joined him on the trek, as did nephew Tim Binford.) Together for several years, the four musicians play with an enviable single-mindedness. This quality extends to four of the tracks that are joint compositions by the quartet: Looking West From West, Crossing The Passes, Acute Angles and Journey Across The Land. As always, Rich’s playing is commanding, hinting subtly at the great tradition of the more rugged jazz tenor saxophonists, such as Don Byas and David S. Ware, while retaining his individuality. Indeed, all four men display an enviable personal style that nevertheless conveys how much they have absorbed and uphold the great traditions of their respective traditions in jazz.
Rich Halley’s previous release, Back From Beyond, is featured on an earlier page (flick back to October 6, 2012 for details).
Laszlo Gardony Clarity (Sunnyside SSC 4014)
A leading figure in jazz education, Laszlo Gardony here develops an exceptional train of thought as he improvises a moving tribute to his parents whose deaths had only recently occurred. Born in Hungary, Laszlo started his musical journey with classical music, moved into rock and blues-based forms before taking the jazz path. This brought him to Berklee in 1983 as a student, following which he became a member of the faculty there. He began his recording career in 1989 and since then has made many live and recorded appearances, usually with a trio. (The other two members of his recent trio are most often bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel.) On this new release, however, in keeping with the highly personal nature of Laszlo’s thoughts at the time, this is a solo album. The music presented is in ten pieces, yet it forms a cohesive whole that while deeply personal to its creator draws in the listener who can then share in its beauty. As might be expected, Laszlo’s playing is flawless, at once delicate and strong, and filled throughout with skill and effortless charm.
Ana Alcaide La Cantiga Del Fuego (ARC Music EUCD 2417)
It is tempting for an outsider to speak of ‘Italian music’ or ‘Norwegian music’ or ‘Indian music’, yet it takes only a moment’s thought to realize how impossibly limiting this is. The foregoing remark is prompted by listening to the lovely music contained on this release. Ana Alcaide is Spanish and so is the music she performs, most of which she has also composed. Yet there is little that the ‘outsider’ might think of as typically Spanish. In part this is because Ana has drawn upon the musical tradition of Spain’s Sephardic Jews, music that in its turn was built upon the exile of these people and their endless journey to find a home. (This musical tradition has also attracted singer Kat Parra; for details of her album, Las Aventuras de ¡Pasión!, look back to August 1, 2012.) Another untypical aspect of this music is that to perform it Ana plays on a most unusual instrument, the nyckelharpa. This is a Swedish keyed fiddle played with a bow that originated perhaps as early as the 14th century. Ana came across this instrument while studying biology in Sweden and was captivated by its potential; it even looks daunting. The music is reflective, haunting, and evokes impressions of restless longing.
All these CDs can be found at many established sales points, among which is Amazon.
April 2, 2013
October 2013 will bring the 40th anniversary of the death of Gene Krupa, a jazz musician whose name remains known today not only to fans of the music of the Swing Era but also to admirers among the Now generation, many of them aspiring musicians who were not yet born when he died in 1973. One of the most popular musicians of his time, Gene Krupa was the drummer with Benny Goodman’s ground-breaking band during the Swing Era through which he gained international fame. This was a time when many musicians were idolized by screaming, adoring fans in a way that had no precedent – although, heaven knows, it has had more than enough antecedents. Even so, the treatment of pop artists from the late 1950s onwards, all the way down to the present day, only rarely reaches the heights attending Gene Krupa in his heyday.
Today, Gene’s astonishingly undiminished popularity is revealed through Internet websites that feature him, some dedicated solely to him, and by the numerous reissues of his records along with videos and magazine articles. In the USA, the UK and continental Europe there are Gene Krupa tribute bands that perform live to sell-out audiences.
Why – and what was so special about him?
Gene was as magnetic as a movie star, filled with wild exuberance as his raven-colored hair, flashing brown eyes and black suit contrasted with the snow-white marine pearl drums that surrounded him.
Anita O’Day (in her autobiography)
Certainly the movie star looks helped, but it was much more than that. Gene’s dynamic, frequently spectacular, playing style attracted the attention of people who had neither knowledge of nor liking for jazz. Part of the attraction lay in his personal charisma; and there was also the manner in which his boundless enthusiasm for and unending delight in his music transmitted itself to others. Musicians were lifted by his presence in a band and audiences inevitably responded gleefully even if, at times, their enthusiasm was for the showbiz glitz rather than underlying musical qualities. At times he acted like the superstar he was, earning mild disapproval from some musicians (comments by pianist Bob Kitsis reveal him to be one of this minority). If Gene did act this way, his behavior in this respect might be explained, if not excused, by his awareness of what the mass audience wanted; and there might also have been an underlying fear that his fame could vanish overnight, plunging him back into the the borderline poverty in which he had been raised.
Eugene Bertram Krupa was born in Chicago on 15 January 1909, the last of a large family of Polish Catholics. (The age span of the Krupa kids was huge – 23 years between Gene and his eldest sibling.) Death was always a grim factor in the poorer districts of Chicago, and Gene’s family did not escape. His father, Bartley (Bartlomiej) Krupa, died in 1916, a brother in 1918, a sister in 1923, and in 1928, when he was just starting to make his way in the world, his mother died. Anna Krupa had wanted her youngest son to enter the church, but he had other ideas. Even so, he briefly studied in a seminary before the lure of the city’s speakeasies proved too strong. That was was about as far away from the church as it was possible to go, because the world of jazz, which beckoned the youngster, was deemed by many to be the Devil’s domain.
Gene had begun playing drums (a brother helping him buy his first kit) and by the mid-1920s he was being recognized in Chicago’s South Side clubs. Among other rising jazz musicians with whom he played were Bix Beiderbecke and Eddie Condon. However, he was itching for the big time and that meant New York, which is where he went in 1929. It was a decision he never regretted. Gene’s early record dates had already attracted worldwide attention; on his first, in 1927, he broke new ground, reputedly being the first jazz drummer to be allowed to use a full drum kit in a recording studio (the old-fashioned recording equipment couldn’t take the reverberation of the bass drum but Gene and the sound engineers figured out a way to do it). Subsequently, he played on recordings that turned out to be masterpieces or milestones. While they were doubtless thought of at the time as just another job, he was on Coleman Hawkins’ classic 1929 recording of One Hour, and in 1933 he backed Billie Holiday on her first-ever recording session. But it was in 1934 that he took the step that was to make him a national figure. It was at the end of that year when he joined Benny Goodman and helped boost the band to its place as the country’s top popular music attraction. There was also the band within the band, the Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet, that illuminated Gene’s name in even brighter lights. For many – perhaps the majority – of its thousands of fans, Goodman’s band was the epitome of Swing. And Gene Krupa was the heartbeat of the band that reached its peak at its 16 January 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall.
For just about the three most important years of my life Gene plugged along with me, taking the breaks as they came, working as hard as any man could.
Benny Goodman (in his autobiography)
Among many records made by Gene with Benny were exceptional small group tracks such as Who? and, Gene’s own declared favorite, Runnin’ Wild. As for the big band recordings, whatever might have been thought at the time, it is probably Sing, Sing, Sing that most evokes this point in their time together (and it is being used in films and on television through to the present day).
For all their commercial popularity together, like many other professionally successful relationships the Gene and Benny pairing had problems. Sharing the spotlight was never something that came readily to the bandleader; after all, he was widely declared to be the King of Swing (although there is evidence that the title was first bestowed on Gene as part of an instrument makers’ publicity campaign). Whatever the root cause, in 1938, Benny and Gene had an on-stage disagreement during a performance at Philadelphia’s Earle Theatre. The outcome was that Gene quit the band. It was headline news, and fans were distraught. But within weeks Gene had his own band and was soon chasing his old boss for the number one spot. The next few years saw tours and recording sessions, that produced successes for the new band such as Drummin’ Man, Wire Brush Stomp, and Blue Rhythm Fantasy. As time passed, the band gradually shifted from being a supporting group for an always soloing drummer, to being one of the best jazz big bands of the era, with key figures apart from the leader – among them trumpeter Roy Eldridge (one of the first black musicians to be a regular member of an otherwise all-white band) and singer Anita O’Day.
Among popular recordings by this band were Let Me Off Uptown, After You’ve Gone, Rockin’ Chair and Massachusetts.
For a while, it might be that those nagging thoughts arose; was this too good to last? It was.
Headline news of a different kind came in 1943 when Gene was busted by San Francisco police officers on charges linked to the possession of marijuana and involving a young man, allegedly underage, deemed to be handling the drug. The media, ever fickle, turned on the man they had helped make into a national idol. Imprisoned and thoroughly dejected by what had happened, Gene thought of retiring. Enough of the truth about what really happened – in and out of court – seeped out for Gene to be granted an early release from prison (although the absolute details would not become public knowledge until many years after Krupa’s death). Surprisingly, because the popular press had attacked him mercilessly, the newly-freed man’s popularity was undimmed. At the time, enough of the unsavory reality and political motivation behind the police action was revealed for Gene to consider himself to have been exonerated. After brief spells with Benny Goodman, who had quickly stepped in with a helpful offer of work, and with Tommy Dorsey, Gene decided to reform a band. Following this resumption of his career, he became more popular than ever before and, simultaneously, the quality of his playing and that of his band reached new heights. Although his own playing style remained largely unaltered, he eagerly embraced new concepts entering jazz at this time and gave career-boosting jobs to young beboppers, including Don Fagerquist, Dodo Marmarosa, Red Rodney and Gerry Mulligan (the latter taken on as an arranger).
Popular recordings around this time included Lover, Opus 1 and Leave Us Leap, with its pulse-prodding freeze beat. At the time of this new peak in his career, the mid-1940s, Gene Krupa was still only 34 years old and he was already a legend.
The first thing that marijuana does is distort time and time is the essence to a drummer.
But what effect had all this adulation, the attendant riches, and the high – and low – times had on the man behind the public persona? He had married Ethel McGuire, the switchboard girl at the Dixie Hotel in New York where musicians stayed when in town, but life on the road and its tempting pleasures of wine, women and song threatened their relationship. In Gene’s case the wine (drugs were not his thing, but he liked a taste) and the women (who included movie stars, such as Lana Turner) at times threatened to overwhelm the song. He and Ethel had divorced but were drawn together again at the time of the San Francisco drug bust. They remarried but Ethel’s early death, she was only 46, marred what might have been a fairy-tale ending. As he grew older, Gene retained his good looks and his attractiveness to women was undiminished. The result was a succession of on-the-road affairs until he married again, this time to Patricia, 25 years his junior, with whom he continued to raise Mary Grace and Michael, two adopted handicapped children; sadly, this marriage also foundered.
Although Gene’s career as leader of a big band was over by the 1950s, he continued to lead small groups, usually a quartet, playing prestigious venues in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago, Tokyo, and he toured internationally as a member of Jazz At The Philharmonic.
He also taught drum skills, studied classical music, and explored the complexities of ethnic percussion. He had appeared in several films in the 1930s and 40s, then appeared as himself in 1950s biopics about Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. In 1959 he played on the soundtrack of his own biopic, Drum Crazy: the Gene Krupa Story, but even Sal Mineo, the actor playing Gene on screen, admitted that the film was a travesty – however, it seemed not to harm either Gene’s reputation or his late career.
Despite a heart condition, in the 1960s Gene played on, sometimes leading his own quartet, or even a big band (if only on record).
He also appeared on stage and on television with a reunited Benny Goodman Quartet. Although not generally known to audiences, Gene suffered from recurring spinal problems that meant he was frequently in great pain. Not all public appearances were planned in detail. Dave Frishberg played piano in Gene’s quartet at New York’s Metropole in the early 1960s and recalled that one evening just as they ended a one-hour set, Benny Goodman walked in with his clarinet. The audience went wild, management were practically dragging people in to swell the crowd and the club’s photographer went into overdrive promising autographed pictures to everyone. An hour later, Benny packed up his clarinet and left without signing a single photo. Dave noted that Gene, drenched in sweat, sat on the stage, patiently signing pictures, asking each customer who he should inscribe it to. Later, in the dressing room, Gene and Dave studied one of the shots; it was of Benny on the bandstand, clarinet in mouth, legs astride, and his flies open. ‘Buttons!’ Gene said. ‘Buttons! That suit’s probably from about 1940.’ Other sessions included a Chicago date with a local band that included Marcus Belgrave, fortuitously recorded and later released on CD; a quartet date at the New School; and a Chicagoans in New York date at the same venue that reunited Gene with old pals Wild Bill Davison and Eddie Condon. By the early 1970s, though, his health had deteriorated with the onset of a form of leukemia, but he never gave up although concerts were sometimes preceded by blood transfusions and he had to carefully pace his playing to allow him to recover strength between numbers.
Gene’s decision to hide his problems from fans proved successful and audiences at the time were unaware of his condition. Today, listeners to recordings of those performances, or viewers of videos, can neither hear nor see any hint of the truth.
It wasn’t only audiences who admired Gene. Just as he had respected, revered almost, Baby Dodds and Chick Webb, significant predecessors in jazz drumming, he was in turn respected by contemporaries, like Buddy Rich, and successors, like Louie Bellson, whose early career was boosted when he won a Gene Krupa contest.
I think Gene Krupa was the influence that started a lot of youngsters playing. He made me start digging drums . . . I liked the way he was playing solos . . . he made the public aware of drum solos.
Roy Porter to Mark Gardner in Jazz and Blues
When I was back in high school, I used to do an impression of him.
Butch Miles to Eddie Cook in Jazz Journal
He was a wonderful, kind man and a great player. He brought drums to the foreground. He is still a household name.
Although Gene Krupa has been the subject of many magazine and newspaper articles and numerous passages in books, there was never a book about him until mine appeared in 1987. Written to conform to a series format, at only 40,000 words Gene Krupa: his Life and Times, could not deal fully with this extraordinary man’s life and career. Nevertheless, it sold out as did a 1992 reprint; today copies can be bought from Internet secondhand bookstores. As far as I am aware, only one other book on Krupa has appeared, Bruce H. Klauber’s The World of Gene Krupa.
In the years since publication of my book, new material has emerged, including the full story of the drug bust. This came in 1999 when T. Dennis Brown, Ph.D., of the Department of Music and Dance at the University of Massachusetts, located and interviewed at length John Pateakos, the young man at the heart of the fraudulent case. Additionally, fascinating new information about Gene’s private life has surfaced, adding texture to an already brimful story.
As a glance at print and on-line work reveals, there is a remarkably sustained level of interest in Gene Krupa. Numerous CDs and some videos are available at Amazon and other online stores. In addition to this, available from Bruce Klauber’s website are rare CDs and DVDs of Gene Krupa, not only playing, but also talking about his life and career.
Also on Bruce Klauber’s site are details of performances by Bruce’s own Krupa-inspired bands. Additionally, anyone wanting to learn more about this fine musician should visit Joe Pagano’s invaluable site.
All of Gene’s old enthusiasm and musical vitality remained intact until he suffered a final heart attack on 16 October 1973, just a couple of months after an engagement with the Benny Goodman Quartet. That so much interest should exist all these years after his death is testimony to a remarkable individual, man and musician, who lives on not only in print and on screen, but most importantly through the many hundreds of fine records he made and which are bequeathed to us all.