To truly understand the big band era, you have to think of orchestra leaders as inventors. Instead of building better mousetraps, they assembled bands. And reassembled them. And reassembled them again. Three factors drove the tinkering: First were the commercial pressures to create music that large numbers of people would pay to hear. Second was the need to replace band members who departed or defected to other bands. And third was a personal and competitive search for the sound they heard in their heads. In the inventor's lab, this is called vision. Gene Krupa was one of those visionaries, the results of which can be found on the CD Hop, Skip and Jump—1946 (Vol. 3) from Hep Records.
In 1946 and early 1947, the economics of running a big band were growing increasingly difficult. Tastes were shifting, live music was being replaced by records on the radio and jukeboxes, and many Americans psychologically were exhausted by the war and preferred more mellow, home-bound diversions.
But the big band era didn't come to a resounding end the moment the war ended. In fact, no one knew that the swing era was finished until writers made the observation several years later. Swing bands still dominated the airwaves and record sales in 1946 and 1947, though they clearly weren't enjoying pre-war levels of box-office success or the frenzied popularity of earlier years.
By late 1948, bebop influences were seeping into bands' song books as better musicians and arrangers mastered the new music found on records by 52nd Street artists. A recording strike in 1948 also forced most prominent big bands to sound hipper and fresher, since radio remotes were the only way for them to deliver new music to listeners.
So 1946 and 1947 were limbo years for swing bands, with most people in the music business assuming that the big band era would continue on. When you listen to the band music of this two-year period, you immediately sense that most bandleaders were taking a wait and see approach stylistically. Or they were experimenting gingerly with their personnel and arrangements to update the sound of their books. Ballads and romantic treatments also were favored to slake the public's demand for softer stuff.
Krupa was no exception. This CD of music from the two-year period illustrates this trend neatly. The discography begins around the time Anita O'Day famously walked off the stage in Hollywood in January 1946 and never returned to the band. Throughout 1946, changes to the Krupa band came as the orchestra embarked on national tours. Soon, soloists like Charlie Ventura and Red Rodney left the band to start bebop careers while others like vocalist Buddy Stewart simply tired of bi-coastal road trips.
By January 1947, Krupa had many new players with an emphasis on trumpet section. In March, the band's horn section shifted for a trip to New York with Ed Badgley, Al Porcino, Ray Triscari and Don Fagerquist [pictured] in place. In July, most of the trumpets were swapped out when the band arrived back in Hollywood (Johnny Bello, Ray Triscari, Gordon Boswell and Dick Dale).
The music throughout is evenly paced, clinging to past band models but updating the band's sound. King Porter Stomp is a perfect example of this retooling, as is Out of Nowhere, with a fabulously studied tenor sax solo by Ventura. There are plenty of vocal tracks, another sign that the past was still very much part of the present. Featured singers were Anita O'Day (one track), Carolyn Grey, Buddy Stewart, Buddy Hughes and Dolores Hawkins. And Charlie Kennedy's alto saxophone can be heard throughout.
What is particularly delightful about this CD are the arrangements. Nearly all were by George Williams, who had a knack for keeping sections hopping and interacting with a big sound. Williams take on KIng Porter Stomp is a rich detailing of a swing era hit. In the Moon Mist perfectly exemplifies the new harmonic approach. There's even a ballad trumpet solo by Red Rodney [pictured] and an outro series of chords that will knock you out. Williams' soft touch is found on How Deep Is the Ocean with vocalist Buddy Stewart and He's Funny That Way with Carolyn Grey.
By late 1947, Krupa was leading a band that was already influenced by bebop and bebop musicians. In his book were songs like Ed Finckel's Calling Dr. Gillespie and Up an Atom as well as Gerry Mulligan's Disc Jockey Jump. This CD provides us with a last look at Krupa's attempts to hold onto the swing era even as it slipped slowly into the rear-view mirror.
JazzWax tracks: You will find Gene Krupa and His Orchestra: Hop, Skip and Jump—1946 (Vol. 3) (Hep) at iTunes or here. The CD was released in 2005.
JazzWax clip: Here's Gene Krupa in 1947—or at least according to the person who posted the clip. Dig Krupa's signature syncopated head toss...