The Swan Song of the Supersonic
As the world moved into the R & B explosion of the early 1950s, there was one more night of fantastic music left in the style called Supersonic. On this night in the spring of 1952, the masters of percussion of the 30s (Gene Krupa) and the 40s (Buddy Rich) met in what was billed as "The Drum Battle". One great performance began with a trio version of Krupa's great swing classic "Drum Boogie", which segued into the afore mentioned 'battle' and jumped seamlessly into a rousing version of "Perdido". It was Supersonic's last blast and it had prepared the world for the rock and roll explosion just ahead on the horizon.
Drum Boogie - The trio version features the alto sax of the ever present Willie Smith, and the piano stylings of another long time veteran Hank Jones. "Wonderful" Willie states the theme behind some snapping rim shots from the master. Smith gives the tune a thorough ride without bass support, but with Krupa's superb tempo keeping and the always inventive sound of the piano of Hank Jones. Krupa gives out with a few bars of percussive persuasion and leads into a final stating of the melody theme. Suddenly the bass chords on the piano announce Gene Krupa in earnest. A few well placed rimshots on the snare announces an extended tour-de-force by the original drummer man. Krupa does not deal in too much poly-rhythmic exercises like many of the modern drummers, but instead concentrates on a blinding display of heavy tempo attacks and shadings that are up front and identifiable, which was the basis for his long tenure in the public eye as one of the foremost percussionists. A final exclamation point and a finish with a cascade of sound on the cymbals accompanied by one last elongated note on the alto by Smith, and the latter day version of "Drum Boogie" was concluded. As the waves of applause wash over the participants, the on stage emcee intones the name of Gene Krupa, and then introduces the young gun of the late 30s, Buddy Rich. The reaction of the crowd tells you all you need to know about the anticipation of the "combatants" about to go toe to toe.
The Drum Battle - The stage has been set and the two drummers start out by a feeling out process much like heavyweight fighters in the early moments of a championship fight. Thinking about that analogy you realize that these are heavyweights in every sense of that expression. They trade opening rimshots and then progress into extended examples of each drummer's stylings and special techniques. The vast audience has its particular favorites and they are not shy in expressing themselves to their preferences. Buddy Rich seems to have a slight advantage in this regard but it does not affect the musicianship of either man. They thrust and parry and both make serious efforts to carry the day, and in the end it seems justified to call the exhibition a draw and the "battle" reaches a frenzied climax. The final explosion comes with a simultaneous "shave and a haircut" finish which leads into the blasting opening bars of . . . . . . .
Perdido - Joe "Flip" Phillips storms right into a reprise of Supersonic's greatest moment from five years before. He didn't seem to lose a thing over those years as he took up right where he left off that night at Carnegie Hall in 1947. The blasting choruses of the JATP "theme" roll back the years to the heights of the sound and the audience seems to want to relive those past glories as well. The backing musicians are propelled by the twin percussion machines of Krupa and Rich, and they seemed to know that this was a singular moment that may not come their way again and certainly play accordingly. After listening to this track many times over the years I have always felt that this was the perfect swan song for this music, and the perfect sendoff into the uncharted territory of urban Rhythm & Blues of which this was a logical progression. Rock and Roll lay straight ahead and the world would never be the same again, and this little piece of musical history would be there if any of us wished to look back.
Epilogue - At the end of 1998, there came the release of a ten CD boxed set called "The Complete JATP Sessions 1944 - 1949" which contain all the Clef and Verve label recordings. It is an end all for the interested listener looking for the complete story of Supersonic and its impact. For about $175, you will own this piece of recorded history the likes of which can never be re-created. Enjoy ! ! !
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