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VIDEO REVIEW : Drum Roll, Please: A Fitting Jazz Tribute to Gene Krupa

September 25, 1993|LEONARD FEATHER

"Jazz Legend--Gene Krupa" (VHS, 60 minutes, $39.95) is a belated and very welcome tribute to an artist who, although many younger aficionados may not be aware of it, played the first major role in the history of jazz drums.

Born in 1909, Krupa came to prominence as a member of the Benny Goodman orchestra before forming his own band, which he led during most of the 1940s. As is made clear in the earlier clips (almost all in black and white), Krupa was a superb technician, a splendid showman and an attractive personality.

In what is a virtual cross-section of his career from the 1930s until not long before his death in 1973, Krupa is seen with trumpeter Roy Eldridge and singer Anita O'Day (in their famous "Let Me Off Uptown" duet), with the Goodman band and quartet, with his longtime partner Charlie Ventura on sax, and even with Sal Mineo in an intriguing sequence that shows how Krupa trained him to play the role of the drummer in a dismal film, "The Gene Krupa Story." (The phony drug bust, stressed to excess in the movie, is tastefully bypassed with a brief mention in this documentary.)

In addition to narration by Steve Allen, there are numerous fitting comments (filmed in color) by Louie Bellson. A curiosity is the appearance of Eddie Shu playing a harmonica solo with Krupa's small group. Finally, there are glimpses of the Lionel Hampton orchestra and a drum jam involving Buddy Rich, Mel Torme and Hampton all on percussion.

Written by Bruce Kaluber, co-written and directed by Glenn Mangel, this is a valuable chronicle of a singular life in jazz.

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