Claus Ogerman, an achingly beautiful jazz-pop orchestral arranger whose signature sound behind singers and instrumentalists featured violins scored in a high register with the violas, cellos and bass playing sensually voiced chords below, died in Germany on March 8. He was 85.
News of Ogerman’s passing more than seven moths ago seems to have escaped traditional media in the States and other countries largely because his family was unavailable by phone to officially confirm his death. His family also decided to keep the news private.
During a conversation last week with producer Tommy LiPuma about Ogerman's legacy, I mentioned I had heard that Ogerman was seriously ill. Tommy, who produced 12 albums with Ogerman as an artist and arranger, said he had, in fact, died earlier this year. Tommy said Ogerman's nephew, Spencer Matheson, had called him a few days after Ogerman's death with the sad news, asking Tommy to let singer-pianist Diana Krall know.
Tommy said Spencer had asked him to keep it confidential, since the family didn’t want Ogerman's passing to be made public yet. When it was leaked by a few of Ogerman's German musician friends, Spencer convinced his family to make it public.
As an arranger, Ogerman had few peers. His delicate string orchestrations still sound like sheer, luxurious curtains blowing in a gentle breeze, and there remains a dramatic, autumnal quality about his scores that slowly envelope singers and instrumentalists.
Ogerman began his recording career in Germany in 1952, as the pianist in a sextet led by Max Gregor. The following year, he was a member of Greger's big band and recorded with other German pop-jazz artists during the early '50s. His first recording with an American jazz artist was a Chet Baker jam session in Baden-Baden, Germany, in 1955.
Discovered by Stan Getz, Ogerman moved to the States in 1959 and quickly found work as a fast, diligent arranger. His earliest charts in American studios were for Solomon Burke and Lesley Gore, including her 1963 hit It's My Party. But by 1962, Ogerman had already come to the attention of producer Creed Taylor, who was named head of Verve after founding Impulse Records.
At Verve with Creed, Ogerman first arranged the song Where Are You? by Jack Teagarden on his Think Well of Me album in 1962. In May 1963, just three days apart, Ogerman arranged one of his worst and one of his best albums. The best was Antonio Carlos Jobim's The Composer of Desafinado Plays. The worst was Bill Evans Plays the Theme From the V.I.P.'s and Other Great Songs. As Creed told me during an interview several years ago, the album was indeed miserable but his hands were tied, since MGM had acquired Verve and wanted a fast pop album tied to the movie studio's recent films.
Throughout the 1960s, Ogerman arranged steadily for Creed at Verve (upward of 70 albums, by Ogerman's count) and then with Creed at A&M and CTI. Shorly after CTI folded in 1978, Ogerman moved to Warner Bros., where he was produced by Tommy LiPuma. Tommy and Ogerman recorded Dr. John’s City Lights; George Benson’s Breezin’,In Flight and Living Inside Your Love; Michael Franks’ Sleeping Gypsy; Joao Gilberto’s Amoroso; Ogerman’s Gate Of Dreams,Cityscape (featuring Michael Brecker) and Claus Ogerman, featuring Michael Brecher; Diana Krall's The Look Of Love and Quiet Nights; and Ogerman's Across The Crystal Sea, featuring Danilo Perez.
Over the course of five decades, Ogerman recorded several hundred albums in the U.S. and Germany, where he typically spent half the year.
Here are 16 of my favorite Claus Ogerman arrangements...
Antonio Carlos Jobim—Road to the Sun, from he Composer of Desafinado Plays...
Claus Ogerman—Another Autumn from Across the Crystal Sea, with Danilo Perez on piano...
JazzWax tracks: In 2002, Tommy LiPuma produced a four-CD set of Claus Ogerman's recordings entitled The Man Behind the Music. It's out of print now in the States and expensive at most online retailers, but something to look out for if you see it sold for a reasonable price.
A special thanks to Tommy LiPuma and Spencer Matheson.
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