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Purdue jazz concert spotlights drums in “The Big Beat”
Monday, November 13, 2006
In the early days of jazz, drummers were just time keepers; they rarely stepped into the limelight. But one musician - drummer and big band leader Gene Krupa – changed all that.
On Friday, Nov. 17, the Purdue Jazz Band, American Music Repertory Ensemble and the Lab Jazz Band salute the efforts of Krupa, Buddy Rich and others in “The Big Beat,” a free concert at 8 p.m. in Loeb Playhouse of the Purdue Stewart Center.
Krupa, whose bands were hot in the 30s and 40’s, “changed the whole way drums were approached,” says M.T. “Mo” Trout, director of all three of Purdue’s jazz ensembles. Instead of a background role, “drummers were given interactive solos. The drums were used to set up big kicks and accentuate important parts of the music.”
“The Big Beat” concert features many songs that represent “firsts” for drummers – Neal Hefti’s “Cute,” the first drum solo using brushes; Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” the first extended drum solo, and more.
Taking a page out of jazz history, Trout plans to highlight a pivotal era in the development of jazz using the tunes that made Krupa, the first drummer to lead a big band, and Buddy Rich, a child prodigy who followed Krupa’s lead, legendary. “Krupa was not a schooled drummer, he played primarily by ear,” says Trout, but his talent brought him into contact with Glenn Miller, Bix Biederbeck, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman among others. “They all met up in the 1920s when jazz, as an art form, was very young and they were all trying to make something out of it. They were inspired by New Orleans musicians and dreamed of having hot jazz bands.”
Krupa’s charisma, his movie-star looks and his flair for drama as he twirled his drumsticks in performance coupled with his talent to make him a superstar of the era. “Krupa represents a turning point for drums. He developed the hi-hat cymbal and the drum set, as we know it today, is credited to Gene Krupa.” Trout says. “He influenced a whole generation of drummers.”
The energetic drummer also started schools and camps for jazz drumming and among the drummers who feed off his energy was Buddy Rich. “He helped Buddy Rich along and by the 1940s, Rich was ‘out-Krupaing’ Krupa,” says Trout. “Rich had incredible technique and quickly became known as one of the greatest drummers in the world.”
Between them, the two drummers – who had very different styles – laid the groundwork for everything that’s happened with drums in jazz since that time. “The Big Beat” concert gives audiences the chance to hear the differences between the Krupa and Rich styles in one concert.
The Lab Jazz Band opens the concert with a variety of jazz standards, that offer important roles to drums, including Tito Puente’s “Ran Kan Kan,” Neal Hefti’s “Cute” and “Splanky,” Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” and Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.”
American Music Repertory Ensemble explores the Gene Krupa tradition including the boogie rhythms - in “Boogie Blues” – that he was famous for. Purdue singers Jasper sophomore Darby Brignac and Carmel freshman Erica Bourdage, will add the vocals originally performed by Anita O’Day with the Gene Krupa Orchestra in “Opus One” and “Stop the Red Light’s On.” A tune Ella Fitzgerald performed with the Chick Webb Orchestra (another important early jazz band led by a drummer), “A Tisket A Tasket,” will be sung by Rachel Kirkpatrick, a sophomore from West Lafayette.
When the Purdue Jazz Band takes the stage, it’s Buddy Rich time. Among the tunes on that portion of the concert are Joseph Zawinul’s 1968 hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” along with Bill Potts’ “Big Swing Face,” John LaBarbera’s “Pipe Dreams,” and “Dancing Men” and the Duke Ellington hit “Cottontail.” “Channel One Suite” offers a slight change of pace as the Purdue Jazz Band tackles a Buddy Rich Orchestra concert type piece with changing tempos, melodies and styles. It features some of the band’s top soloists, Houston, TX, graduate student Alex Chiaghana on tenor saxophone, Columbus junior Ken Yasui on drums and Columbus senior Michael Herkamp on trumpet.
“The Big Beat” concert is sponsored by Purdue Bands & Orchestra. The next jazz concert, “Holiday Cheer & All That Jazz” is set for 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, in Loeb Playhouse. It will feature jazz arrangements of familiar holiday tunes along with familiar Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters and Glenn Miller numbers. Admission is free.
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