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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Gene Krupa
Boogie, Ballads and Be-Bop: The Best of the Columbia Years

Collectables (CD-7490)

 

No doubt about it, Gene Krupa led the coolest big band of the 1940s. After his huge hits of the early 40s with Anita O'Day and Roy Eldridge, his stock plummeted when he was busted for marijuana possession in 1943. After a short jail term and some public groveling, Krupa reformed the band the following year with a massive string section and the forward-looking honking tenor sax of Charlie Ventura. The lingering scent of pot inadvertently lent a mantle of smoky hipness to this new venture.

Unlike his contemporaries, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, Gene was now determined not to let any new musical trend go by. He kept his ear to the ground for new sounds and talent.

Krupa brought back Anita O'Day, signed the bop vocal duo of Dave Lambert and Buddy Stewart and uncovered a hip young arranger named Gerry Mulligan. By the late forties, the band had fallen under the spell of Dizzy Gillespie, both musically and sartorially. They posed for an Esquire photo shoot in Gillespian splendor, done up in the berets, goatees and shades that he popularized.

The new Collectables CD assembles 25 of the best sides from these years. Hipness prevails - in the first recorded be-bop vocal, What's This? by Lambert & Stewart; Frankie Rosolino's wild scat and trombone on Lemon Drop; Anita and Buddy duetting on Didja Ever Get That Feeling in the Moonlight? and the instrumental Dizzy homages, Calling Dr. Gillespie and To Be Or Not to Be-Bop.Carolyn Grey, Anita's replacement, sings coolly on It's a Good Day" and There Is No Breeze To Cool the Flame of Love. And the Krupa Jazz Trio with Charlie Ventura gets some welcome space on three tracks.

Only a few commercial duds creep in - Harriet (A Western Novelty)and Chiquita Banana aren't worthy of Anita and Carolyn Grey. Fortunately the compilers resisted the temptation to include THE worst Krupa side - The Story of the Slow Mosquito.

A creepy aside about this Krupa band - several of its vocalists met untimely demises. Buddy Stewart got out of his car to help a motorist in distress in 1950 and was promptly run over; Dave Lambert (who later formed Lambert, Hendricks and Ross) died suddenly in 1966; and Frankie Rosolino went berserk in 1975, murdering his wife and kids before taking his own life. "What's This?" indeed!

-David J. Weiner

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