Skipper Kripitz. – has developed his own music identity
Samuel David Kripitz, lovingly known as Skipper, grew up in pre-casino Atlantic City, New Jersey during the 50’s and 60’s. His sister was a jazz groupie and inundated him with Billy Holiday, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughn, Count Basie, Miles Davis, et al. Located just 50 miles from Philadelphia and 120 miles from New York, all the big names acts would frequent the mile-long Steel Pier in Atlantic City. New York jazz greats would finish gigs and drive to there to jam and the big bands would also frequent the town. Skipper got to watch Count Basie play piano at close range. He started playing music in high school and attended Livingston College, learning music and playing gigs.
Kripitz lived in Santa Cruz, California in the early 70s and started to commute every six months, to what he describes as an artist colony, in Key West. He came to visit Key West in 1976 and quickly discovered he could make a very good living playing music and performing with theatrical productions.
He returned permanently in the fall of 1978 before tourism had really began. He performed with musical theater productions at the Tennessee Williams Theatre, an Eartha Kitt concert at the San Carlos, and the Green Street Theater (now Red Barn Theater). He would load his drums on his three-wheel bike and go to his gig (which he continues to do today). About the same time that Barry Cuda started pushing his 400-lb piano from gig to gig – what a great photo the two passing would have made.
He lived with Penny Leto in the back of the Coffee Mill dance studio. They were together for four years. In 1984, they purchased a house on Olivia Street that was in foreclosure at a cost he describes as what people pay for cars. Penny and Skipper broke apart but are still great friends and Skipper is godfather to Penny’s daughter Belle Jampol. Skipper had a number of relationships over the years but states he has retired from relationships. Tom Luna calls Skipper “the gayest straight guy in Key West”. He continues to live on Olivia Street.
Kriptiz performed with several bands over the years, one was a jazz oriented group called Hearts of Palm with Din and Woody Allen and Richard Tazewell, before the Survivors era. He played Sloppy Joe’s in the 80s in a band called Fill in the Blanks with Carmen Rodriquez, Woody Allen, and Dan Simpson. Savage Beats was another band with Skipper, Din Allen, and Chris Case. During the early 80s, he would lead the Conch Republic Marching Band and Imprecision Drill Team in the Fantasy Fest Parade.
With regards to the Changing of the Guard theme, Skipper has worked with young people most of his career. He taught third through fifth grade children at Robin Kaplan’s Music Room for over two decades. He often works with new and young Key West musicians.
Skipper describes three groups of musicians in Key West. The first group are very young – in their 20s and 30s. The second group are in their 40s and have gigged in Key West for at least a decade or more. The last group are the older musicians that have been performing in Key West for more than a couple of decades which he now includes himself. Some changes are normal progression and others, like the recent passing of Chris Case, are sudden and surprising.
Currently, the music scene in Key West is much more complex. The gigs are mostly one nighters or very short term. In the late 80s, it wasn’t unusual to schedule a gig at the Reach for five nights a week for two or three weeks. He has had a steady gig on Tuesdays at Virgilio’s for 27 years. He developed the League of Crafty Musicians with a continually changing lineup. Today, Skipper averages 7-9 different gigs a week and vows to continue until he drops. Skipper brags he put 11 miles on his van most of this year until he took off for a California summer vacation tour and drove 9700 miles.
One night at Viva’s, he was looking into the crowd and saw an older guy with a grey braided beard. He looked like he was a musician and a possible drummer. They spoke briefly after the set and he introduced himself as a touring drummer from Miami. He said to Skipper, “I never heard anyone play a drums like you play.” Skipper loved that comment and feels like he has developed his own musical identity.
Skipper Kriptiz feels he has reached a point in his career where it’s not chops and speed anymore. It’s the accumulated experience and digested wisdom that helps him contribute to the music. It’s no longer about how he and his drums sound and more like how the song and the band sounds.