Thursday, February 7, 2008

Michael Berkowitz: Thinking of Gene

Sea Breeze Jazz
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.7.08
Buy CD: Thinking of Gene

The Gene in this release is Gene Krupa, who brought the big band drummers into the musical spotlight during the 1930s ... and who kept them there for decades, leading the way for Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson and others. 

Krupa was one of the featured artists with Benny Goodman and (later) Tommy Dorsey. He was both an artist on his instrument, and the first drummer who became a showman. Fans came not only to hear and dance to the great Goodman band, but to see and cheer Krupa, just as they did much later for rock stars. 

I'm not sure why people react the way they do when a drummer takes a solo; maybe it's a carry-over from the days when, as infants, we'd all beat on pots and pans. Kids love to make noise; if it's got rhythm, so much the better. 

Krupa has been gone for 35 years, but his fame remains legion. 

Michael Berkowitz is one of his avid fans. He met Krupa in 1964, after a concert in Indianapolis. That meeting changed Berkowitz's life. Not only did he take up the drums, but he began to accumulate every bit of information issued on Krupa, his sidemen and vocalists, and all their careers. After Krupa's death, Berkowitz increased this activity. 

Every arrangement on this album came from Krupa's orchestra "book." The ensemble work is exactly the way the band originally played; even the length of each tune is identical to that recorded on the old 78 rpm records. 

That said, the "new" solo work is contemporary ... and this band swings every bit as much Krupa's original groups. Berkowitz is the drummer, of course, and he naturally sounds just like Krupa. 

Most of the sidemen are (or were) members of the US Army Blues, one of the country's best armed services ensembles. 

Krupa always worked with a top female vocalist; Anita O'Day comes to mind. Annette Sanders fills that role on this album; she's not O'Day, but she does an admirable job of filling her shoes on several tunes the veteran singer made famous, such as "Massachusetts," "Opus One" and "That's What You Think." 

This album, originally recorded for XM Radio, brings back some great memories. If you're a Krupa fan, or want to hear what it was like during the big band years, grab this CD.

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