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From Blakey to Brown, Como to Costa, Eckstine to Eldridge, Galbraith to Garner, Harris to Hines, Horne to Hyman, Jamal to Jefferson, Kelly to Klook; Mancini to Marmarosa, May to Mitchell, Negri to Nestico, Parlan to Ponder, Reed to Ruther, Strayhorn to Sullivan, Turk to Turrentine, Wade to Williams… the forthcoming publication Treasury of Pittsburgh Jazz Connections by Dr. Nelson Harrison and Dr. Ralph Proctor, Jr. will document the legacy of one of the world’s greatest jazz capitals.

 

Do you want to know who Dizzy Gillespie  idolized? Did you ever wonder who inspired Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey? Who was the pianist that mentored Monk, Bud Powell, Tad Dameron, Elmo Hope, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme? Who was Art Tatum’s idol and Nat Cole’s mentor? What musical quartet pioneered the concept adopted later by the Modern Jazz Quartet? Were you ever curious to know who taught saxophone to Stanley Turrentine or who taught piano to Ahmad Jamal? What community music school trained Robert McFerrin, Sr. for his history-making debut with the Metropolitan Opera? What virtually unknown pianist was a significant influence on young John Coltrane, Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Timmons and Ray Bryant when he moved to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh in the 1940s?  Would you be surprised to know that Erroll Garner attended classes at the Julliard School of Music in New York and was at the top of his class in writing and arranging proficiency?

 

Some answers  can be gleaned from the postings on the Pittsburgh Jazz Network.

 

For almost 100 years the Pittsburgh region has been a metacenter of jazz originality that is second to no other in the history of jazz.  One of the best kept secrets in jazz folklore, the Pittsburgh Jazz Legacy has heretofore remained mythical.  We have dubbed it “the greatest story never told” since it has not been represented in writing before now in such a way as to be accessible to anyone seeking to know more about it.  When it was happening, little did we know how priceless the memories would become when the times were gone.

 

Today jazz is still king in Pittsburgh, with events, performances and activities happening all the time. The Pittsburgh Jazz Network is dedicated to celebrating and showcasing the places, artists and fans that carry on the legacy of Pittsburgh's jazz heritage.

 

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Duke Ellington is first African-American and the first musician to solo on U.S. circulating coin

    MARY LOU WILLIAMS     

            INTERVIEW

       In Her Own Words

Gene Krupa in Japan

Almost 70 years ago, three musicians had the honor of being the first American jazz group to play in Japan

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Gene Krupa in the mid-’40s, with the “Let’s Go! U.S.A.” bass drum head he used during wartime. (Courtesy of Hudson Music)hGene Krupa in the mid-’40s, with the “Let’s Go! U.S.A.” bass drum head he used during wartime (courtesy of Hudson Music)

On April 19, 1952, the Gene Krupa Jazz Trio—Krupa at the traps, Charlie Ventura on tenor and bass saxophones, and Teddy Napoleon on piano—became the first American jazz group ever to perform in Japan. After their arduous two-week tour, the jazz world was forever changed, as were the lives of the three musicians. 

Although it may be regarded as a mere footnote today, the reality is that this was history-making stuff. Think of it: An entire country was opened to jazz. Krupa’s career was revived after economics had forced him to shut down his big band the year before. Ventura became an international name. And Napoleon, reunited with Krupa after a six-year layoff, continued to perform with the drummer for another six years.

Make no mistake, this was definitely not a State Department-sponsored goodwill tour. All involved in the enterprise—artists, promoters, theater and club owners, and especially booking agent Joe Glaser—were in it principally to make money, and all were compensated nicely. Glaser’s records show that for the two weeks in Japan, the group received $5,000 per week, plus first-class round-trip airfare, food and lodging, and additional compensation for interviews, record dates, promo appearances, etc. The $10K base rate they earned would equal about $100K in today’s funds. In retrospect, though, when taking into account the ridiculous amount of work Glaser booked for the band during those two weeks, one could argue that they should have been paid 10 times that.  

“It was the most tremendous thing I’ve ever experienced, even greater than any of the big days with Goodman….Every time you turned around a dozen bulbs would go off.” —Gene Krupa

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Jazz in Japan

The young people of Japan had fully embraced jazz by the early 1920s, and it’s been reported that the city of Osaka had some 20 dance halls in operation by 1924. Banned in 1927 by Osaka’s conservative municipal government—the music seems to have gotten a bum rap all over the world, even then—the jazz community moved to Tokyo, where it gained in health. The scene, such as it was, continued until World War II, when jazz was banned nationally, with the party line being that it was “enemy music.” However, it never really stopped; it simply went underground.

During the war, American troops stationed in Japan listened to jazz and records kept circulating. But the Japanese government’s official prohibition of the music continued well after hostilities were over. By the time the Treaty of San Francisco was signed in September 1951, ending the legal state of war between Japan and the Allied Powers, a tremendous hunger for American jazz had developed. Through this whole period, the ever-resourceful Japanese fans and players still managed to pay close attention to American recordings, as the Gene Krupa Jazz Trio would discover for themselves in 1952.

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BRUCE KLAUBER

Bruce Klauber is the biographer of Gene Krupa, writer/producer of the DCI Music Video and Hudson Music Jazz Legends DVD series, and a working drummer since childhood. A Philadelphian, Klauber was 16 when he landed his first big-name job in jazz—with Charlie Ventura’s trio. 



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Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on October 18, 2021 at 10:20pm

Gene Krupa in Japan

Almost 70 years ago, three musicians had the honor of being the first American jazz group to play in Japan

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

A commemorative spread in DownBeat. (Courtesy of Joe Plumeri) A spread in DownBeat commemorating the Gene Krupa Jazz Trio’s 1952 Japanese tour (courtesy of Joe Plumeri)

The Tour

By 1952, Dominic Plumeri—a.k.a. Don Palmer—was already a veteran jazz promo guy turned personal manager who’d worked first for Ben Bart’s Universal Attractions and then for Joe Glaser’s Associated Booking Corporation. He was only 26 in 1941 when he was managing the hard-to-handle Bunny Berigan, according to Palmer’s son Joe. When Palmer first heard Ventura in the mid-’40s, he was reportedly mesmerized by the man and his music, and he would dedicate himself to the saxophonist’s personal management until the early ’60s. Palmer, the record shows, was energetic, hard-working, creative, and devoted to his client; the credit for the idea of a Japanese tour should go to him. That said, it took the approval of his boss—the high-powered and controversial Glaser, who walked away impressed after hearing the trio in person at Ventura’s club—to make the whole thing happen.  

“Glaser was the major player in getting them to go,” Joe Plumeri explains. “He said in a letter to Gene that he thought it would be a good idea.” Glaser and Tom Foley, a promoter who lived in Japan, prepared the trio’s travel arrangements from Honolulu, the U.S. departure point for Japan. But before any visit was finalized, Glaser, the consummate hard bargainer, wanted a $5,000 deposit wired from Foley; he also demanded that Krupa, Ventura, and Napoleon would be paid extra for any recordings, interviews, or appearances on radio programs. After some complications with international currency transfers, the deal was set. Glaser, notorious for overworking many of his clients, wanted more. He enlisted the assistance of Bob Phillips from his West Coast office to book two additional weeks of jobs for the trio in Honolulu—for a total of $5,000 plus all expenses—before they left for Japan.   

Gene Krupa Jazz Trio Banner in Japan
A banner used on the Krupa Jazz Trio’s 1952 Japanese tour (courtesy of Joe Plumeri)

The itinerary was backbreaking. The trio left for Honolulu on April 3 after playing a date in Los Angeles for promoter Gene Norman. In Hawaii, they played two weeks of concerts for the Army and doubled at the Brown Derby at night. Arrival in Tokyo was on April 19. Krupa, Ventura, and Napoleon played as many as five shows per day, in different theaters and clubs each day, for the entire tour, and did a recording session for Japanese Victor to boot. “The only day off was at the end of the tour on May 1,” DownBeat’s Jack Tracy wrote, “when a huge party was planned for them. But they found themselves restricted to their hotel, as the Communist May Day demonstrations were on and it wasn’t adjudged safe to be out in the streets.”

The reception, Krupa and Ventura said, was worth it. “It was the most tremendous thing I’ve ever experienced, even greater than any of the big days with Goodman,” Krupa said after returning to the States. “Man, we saw nothing but cameras. Every time you turned around a dozen bulbs would go off. I’d like to go back, but the bookings would have to be better. It was great but awfully rough.”  

Ventura said the experience “was just too much. There was nothing the people wouldn’t do for us. And they’d wait for hours just to get an autograph or take your picture or shake your hand. We’d get off the stand and waiting for us in the dressing room would be three little baskets of cold towels, three big bottles of beer, three stacks of sandwiches—everything in threes. Lines of people would file in with gifts for us. We still haven’t had the time to open most of them.”

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Nearly as memorable were the Japanese musicians who demonstrated the country’s craze for jazz. Krupa remembered meeting a singer during the tour who sounded exactly like Billy Eckstine and sang Mr. B’s songs phonetically, as he didn’t speak a word of English. He also recalled a young Japanese drummer who copied his (that is, Krupa’s) recorded drum breaks note for note, including a passage that an overworked Krupa had accidentally flubbed. Ventura encountered “a girl pianist who plays like Bud Powell”—she turned out to be a young Toshiko Akiyoshi—as well as saxophonist Hidehiko “Sleepy” Matsumoto, “who sounds just like Getz.” Ultimately, Ventura concluded, “They’re still at the stage of copying rather than creating, but they sure can swing.” 

Gene Krupa in Japan
Gene Krupa at Club Hato in Tokyo (courtesy of Joe Plumeri)

Postscript

At Krupa’s urging, Norman Granz took a Jazz at the Philharmonic show to Japan in November of 1953. The cast included Ella Fitzgerald, Ben Webster, Herb Ellis, J.C. Heard, and a Krupa trio with Oscar Peterson on piano and Benny Carter on alto saxophone. (The bookings must have been better.) Highlights were issued nearly 20 years later on the Verve recording Norman Granz’ J.A.T.P. in Tokyo: Live at the Nichigeki Theater 1953. After that tour, live American jazz became commonplace in Japan. 

The Krupa/Ventura/Napoleon trio played publicly for the last time—that we know of, anyway—in January 1953 at the Bandbox club in New York City. Recordings of that engagement were recently released on Jasmine Records’ Adventure with Charlie (Expanded Edition), reviewed recently in JazzTimes. Soon afterward, multi-instrumentalist Eddie Shu replaced Ventura. In 1954, at Shu’s strong insistence, Krupa added a bassist to the group, making the trio a quartet for the first time. 

Nine years later, toward the end of 1963, Ventura returned to Krupa, replacing Eddie Wasserman in the quartet; this unit recorded for Verve in January ’64. In July of that same year, shortly after the funeral of Teddy Napoleon, Krupa and Ventura toured Japan once more, with pianist John Bunch and bassist Eddie DeHaas.

The cultural impact of what was set in motion by Krupa’s 1952 tour of Japan, and those that followed, is clear. According to some estimates, the nation where jazz was once banned now has the largest percentage of jazz fans in the world (proportional to the country’s population), and today’s Japanese players are among the most innovative—and swinging—improvisers anywhere. 

Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on October 18, 2021 at 10:19pm

Gene Krupa in Japan

Almost 70 years ago, three musicians had the honor of being the first American jazz group to play in Japan

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Front and back covers of <I srcset= The Gene Krupa Trio Collates” width=”800″ height=”400″> Front and back covers of The Gene Krupa Trio Collates

The Trio

When Krupa formed his first “trio within a band” in 1945, he was clearly looking for something along the lines of what Benny Goodman had been doing with his small groups. Neither Goodman nor Krupa used a bass. Ventura explained: “I was approached with no bass player, so what d’ya do? We had to create some kind of feeling that there wasn’t a bass missing. But once you hear a few things, you overlook the bass part.” Bass or no bass, the trio became a major attraction both on band dates and away from the orchestra, with high points being a Jazz at the Philharmonic date in 1946 and a Timme Rosenkrantz Town Hall concert (with George Walters subbing for Napoleon on piano) a year earlier.  

With two flamboyant showmen—Ventura and Krupa—in tow, the public loved it. The critics didn’t care for it, describing it as “heavy-handed” and “seldom swinging,” among other things. And though Krupa and Ventura had evolved by 1952 (Ventura, particularly, had absorbed at least the surface elements of bop), music writers continued to have little use for the trio. A DownBeat reviewer panned their first Verve singles. “Visually, performances of this type are very exciting,” the review read. “Aurally, they can be pretty terrifying. Ventura digs up every trick in the books.”

Gene Krupa and Charlie Ventura certainly didn’t become international stars by pleasing critics. The trio’s music was highlighted by cute, tricky ensemble passages that were specifically arranged to generate audience excitement, visually, dramatically, and musically. A writer from the showbiz trade journal Variety who popped in to hear the trio at Ventura’s Jersey club sometime in February of 1952 got what the trio was all about, and this write-up, published on February 20, is an apt description of what Japanese audiences might have heard during two weeks in April of 1952.

“Combo is solid and satisfying for the jazz crowd, and showy enough musically to hold more general interest. Three men literally knock themselves out each set, working for 45 minutes to an hour without a letup. Of interest is the resetting of Krupa’s ‘Drum Boogie’ for three instruments. Spot from floor plays on drummer to heighten showiness … The trio uses all head arrangements and their offerings include ‘Sweet Lorraine,’ ‘Dark Eyes,’ ‘Flyin’ Home,’ etc. Numbers all run long, the shortest about six or seven minutes.”

Gene Krupa in 1956, filming The Benny Goodman Story.
Gene Krupa in 1956, filming The Benny Goodman Story (courtesy of Hudson Music)

Why Gene?

How did it come to be that Gene Krupa made the first trip to open up Japan to jazz? Why wasn’t it a jazz “goodwill ambassador” like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, or Benny Goodman? Any answer would be pure speculation, but ultimately it appears that Gene, Charlie, and Teddy were simply the right people in the right place at the right time. Look at the record: Goodman could be problematic about money and other issues, and would never have submitted to the intense schedule that Joe Glaser imposed on Krupa. Ellington had his hands full at that point; the big-band era was over, several of his key men (including Johnny Hodges) had left, and he was in the process of rebuilding and surviving. Further, taking an entourage of at least 20 men just wouldn’t make financial or logistical sense. And Armstrong was in the midst of a lucrative series of one-nighters—including several in Honolulu—booked long in advance by Glaser. Given that Armstrong was his most prized client, Glaser probably thought it best to let Krupa test the waters in Japan, and then proceed accordingly.

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As for the Krupa/Ventura/Napoleon package, it’s important to remember that Krupa was a major star in Japan (more than one drummer there billed himself as “The Japanese Gene Krupa”), and the trio’s records had been widely circulated since the mid-’40s. The drummer had recently been freed from his big-band albatross and was now entertaining trio bookings. Ventura had settled into life as a nightclub owner and was off the one-nighter grid. Napoleon, informally jobbing around New York, could easily get out of any commitment. In short, the men were available. Also remember that the Gene Krupa Jazz Trio was considered a “new act.” For the first time in years, people could hear a freer, looser Gene—much like the Gene on those Jazz at the Philharmonic records that Japanese jazz fans had been playing. 

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Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on October 18, 2021 at 10:16pm

Gene Krupa in Japan

Almost 70 years ago, three musicians had the honor of being the first American jazz group to play in Japan

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Snapshots of the Gene Krupa Jazz Trio at Victor Studios Japan. (Courtesy of Joe Plumeri) Snapshots of the Gene Krupa Jazz Trio at Victor Studios Japan (courtesy of Joe Plumeri)

The Players

He was “America’s Ace Drummer Man,” the man who made the drums a solo instrument in popular consciousness, and arguably the only matinee idol to come out of the jazz world. But by 1951, Gene Krupa was confronting the same insurmountable challenge that every other big-name bandleader faced: What to do, now that the big-band era was history?

Krupa’s career had been threatened once before, in 1943, when a trumped-up drug bust almost bankrupted him personally and professionally. He managed to bounce back in a big way with a new band that embraced bebop and presented, as a special feature within the ensemble, the Gene Krupa Jazz Trio, featuring Ventura and Napoleon. That group had a hit in 1945 with “Dark Eyes,” a tune that Gene and Charlie would play for the rest of their careers. With considerable difficulty, Krupa kept his large ensemble going until 1951, when he finally decided to disband what was by then a cut-down crew of 12 men. He would never again lead a big band on a full-time basis, but from this time on, he had enormous success recording and touring the world with a trio, quartet, or as a featured member of Jazz at the Philharmonic—and his name continued to be synonymous with the word “drums.”

Charlie Ventura was a star in his own right at the time of the Japanese tour. Like Krupa, he appealed to non-jazz audiences through his flash and crowd-pleasing style. His 1948-49 “Bop for the People” group, the one that introduced the singing duo of Jackie Cain and Roy Kral to the public, had packed them in all over the country, and their 1949 live recording in Pasadena remains influential. When the English magazine Jazzwise asked avant-garde reedman John Surman to nominate the record that changed his life, he named Ventura’s The Complete Pasadena Concert 1949.

Around 1950, Charlie opened a club, Charlie Ventura’s Open House, in Lindenwald, New Jersey, not far from Philadelphia. His daughter Rita Lenderman isn’t exactly sure why her father went into the nightclub business but speculates that “he wanted to spend more time with the family” and fondly remembers watching “the entertainers and guests” from a balcony on her second-floor berth. One of those “entertainers” would be the reconstituted Gene Krupa Jazz Trio, which first appeared at the Open House in February of 1952.

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Teddy Napoleon had quite the jazz pedigree. His uncle was Phil Napoleon, a trumpeter in the original Memphis Five; his brother Marty was a superb pianist who replaced Earl Hines in Louis Armstrong’s All Stars in 1952, and would play on and off with the unit until Pops’ death in 1971. Teddy spent his early years in the bands of Bob Chester and Lee Castle before finding a haven with Krupa around 1944. At the time of the Japanese tour, he was jobbing around New York as a soloist and, according to his son Matthew, worked often with guitarist Tal Farlow on 52nd Street at the Hickory Log Cabin and in a quartet at the Embers. When not working, he’d be hanging with Erroll Garner. “He was very close to Garner,” Matthew recalls. “Erroll would often pick my father up and they would jam sometimes for hours … even once for a couple of days.”

When I talked to Charlie Ventura at length in the early ’80s in conjunction with my first book on Krupa, he told me that the idea to put the trio back together was his. “During the time I had my club in New Jersey, the Open House, I sounded Gene,” Ventura said. “He was at home in Yonkers after his big band broke up. This was about 1952. I set up a deal with him and said we should redo the trio. I got Teddy Napoleon and Gene at my club for an indefinite stay.”

In March, a month after the trio’s residency at the Open House and several weeks before the trio left for Japan, Krupa signed with Norman Granz’s Clef Records, which released the 10-inch LP The Gene Krupa Trio Collates. Although the trio’s reformation may have been Ventura’s idea originally, Gene likely determined his own destiny, along with thoughtful input from Granz, whose business acumen when it came to jazz was unparalleled. 

“Three men literally knock themselves out each set, working for 45 minutes to an hour without a letup.”
Variety, February 20, 1952

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