"THE FIRST time I saw Gene Krupa was at the Mardi Gras Club in Baltimore when I was about 12. Krupa always recognized my father because he had been going to see Krupa since his teens and always got him to autograph his Gene Krupa scrapbook," reminisces 29-year-old Bruce Tegler. "The story that I always remember about that evening is that I got up enough courage to walk over between sets and ask him for his autograph after sitting right in front of his bass drum. I went back to our table after getting the autograph and my father nudged me and I turned around and here was this line of autograph hounds from Krupa's table all the way to the door. My grandfather was there, too, and Krupa yelled to his bass player how great it was that there was three generations of Teglers coming to see Gene Krupa. He was a real warm guy."
The history of music is replete with accounts of parental influence on offspring, but such stories are rare in today's "popular" performing arts. All the more reason to marvel at the younger Tegler's choice of career. Not only has he earned his living for the past decade in the Washington area as a drummer, as his father did in the 1950s and 1960s in the Philadelphia-Baltimore area, he has chosen to concentrate on the idiom of music his father played.
Even more incongruous in these times of overnight shifts in taste has been Tegler's early adoption of his father's cultural hero as his own idol. "He could kick the hell out of a big band," Tegler says about Krupa. "I've always liked his technique because he used a lot of rim work and his phrasing was very musical. He was a cooperative player."
Tegler's Hot Jazz Club, the group he put together a year and a half ago, will perform tonight and tomorrow at the Country Squire Restaurant in Falls Church at Seven Corners. Usually a six- or seven-member combo, it will become a 13-piece big band for this two-nighter. The principal soloists, besides the leader on drums, will be trumpeter Clyde Hunt, trombonist John Wolfe, saxophonists Easy Smith and Peter Fraize, and the band's principal vocalist, bassist Terry Benton.
"I've never gone in for the jazz bands that play 18 choruses of solos and everybody's snoring in the audience," says Tegler. "I want to play to people who want to have a good time. I've always wanted to make sure that the band generates excitement and fun and we've always had great crowds." The band presents a combination of dance music and entertainment, says Tegler, with a book of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Jordan and others from the swing era. Vocals abound, with every member of the band taking a turn.
Tegler got it into his head that he wanted to play the drums when he was 5 or 6 years old. Whenever his father's set was available he would climb up and try a few licks, making up his own technique based on what he observed at the gigs he attended with his father. He was also listening to his father's records, and he became an avid viewer of Hollywood versions of the big band era on TV. "Believe it or not I think I've seen 'The Gene Krupa Story' about 50 times. I found out early on that a lot of the things actor Sal Mineo was doing were imitations of what Krupa looked like when he played."
When he was 10 or 11 Tegler was playing in neighborhood blues and rock 'n' roll bands in Philadelphia, where he grew up, and sitting in occasionally at his father's jobs. He played his first professional engagement during his freshman year in high school. "I was playing in a rock 'n' roll band called the Sound Zone at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds for the servicemen. The high point was afterwards when the show band drummer and myself were set up next to each other and they whipped the curtains open and all the guys came running back in. That was my kickoff into the professional biz."
Not one to claim intuitive knowledge about "what the next trend is going to be," Tegler won't commit himself to any predictions about the future of swing era-style combos and big bands. "But I did notice that the rock 'n' roll industry was getting extremely tired--there was just nothing new coming out. And knowing how much good, honest music there was during this period, say from the late '20s to the mid-'40s, and everybody up there was having fun, I wanted to generate that. Our audience is split right down the middle--both the ones that can remember and the ones it's new to. And they all love it."