Karl Kiffe's official certificate of so-called "gold hipster" status lists the following reasons for his receiving this coveted status: Kiffe won a jazz drums contest presided over by none other than Gene Krupa. Kiffe went on to play the film part of "jive club drummer" in a 1944 exploitation epic entitled Youth Aflame. A special silver star is denoted for this film being released under the alternate title of Hoodlum Girls, that being a valued and potentially exciting sign of a desperate low budget. Kiffe ascends to the gilded heights of hipsterdom finally because he doubled on bongos, most notably as backup to Sammy Davis, Jr. As a talented teen in Los Angeles, Kiffe in 1943 led an act known as the Hollywood Canteen Kids. Producer Ken Murray gave him a single number in Blackouts, a vaudeville revue and not the result of troubles with the West Coast power grid.
The drummer had just turned 18 when he grabbed a rhythm seat in Jimmy Dorsey's band, staying until early in 1953. On the New York scene shortly thereafter, Kiffe drummed with an interesting range of players, including tenor saxophonists Stan Getz and Zoot Sims, trumpeter Charlie Shavers, and pianist Jimmy McPartland. The drummer herded with Woody Herman over several tour drives in 1957. For the final year of the '50s he sprinted behind vibraphonist Red Norvo, tempos boiling, then simmered down to set a pace for the fine vocalist June Christy.
In the '60s Kiffe became part of the regular musical crew at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, a good place to meet Sammy Davis, Jr., especially if lugging a set of bongo drums. Jack Cathcart was Kiffe's boss in the gambling mecca, at times arousing suspicion that he demanded bongo solos in order to use the instrument's nifty case to smuggle contraband. Events involving bongos are documented in a rather large Kiffe discography, the results of nearly 100 recording sessions between the mid-'40s and mid-'60s. Leonard Feather recommends the following bongo fury, and he ought to know: Jumpin' Bands by Georgie Auld and several Jimmy Dorsey tracks on The Swingin' Dorseys.