TRIBUTE: Frank Griffith remembers Claus Ogerman (1930- 2016)

Claus Ogerman Conducting for Diana Krall in 2011

Frank Griffith writes in tribute to CLAUS OGERMAN: 

The passing of German composer/arranger and producer Claus Ogerman has brought about an end to an era of a studio writer and conceptualist which was very much the norm of the 1960s and 70s in the recording business. Ogerman not only arranged to suit the particular needs of the solo artist, he was also a very distinctive composer in his own right.

Although he died in Germany on 8th March 2016, at the age of 85, the news of his passing seems to have escaped the traditional media in the UK and USA largely because his family was unavailable to confirm his death at the time and had also decided to keep the news private. In the past week, jazzwax.com, have received personal confirmation from Tommy LaPuma, and the news is now been released and we can now mourn the loss of this great and innovative figure. There has also been an affectionate tribute in German in the past week in Der Spiegel. The Allaboutjazz piece has extensive YouTube links.

Born in Berlin, he did his early tutelage as a pianist with the Max Gregor Sextet in the early 1950s and moved to NYC and racked up an exhaustive list of artists to to collaborate with. Too numerous to mention of course, but includes the likes of Bill Evans, Mike Brecker, Sinatra, Jobim, Getz, Oscar Peterson, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Michael Franks and Diana Krall as well as popsters, Lesley Gore and Solomon Burke.

To describe what music sounds like is difficult at the best of times. However, in Ogerman's case this could be somewhat of an exception.His sound was very impressionistic not unlike the great Frenchmen, Ravel, Debussy,et al in creating a strong visual sense sonically. Educated in the early 20th Century figures such as Mahler, Berg, Poulenc and even the pastoralism of Delius, Ogerman's orchestral ambience had "cool" warmth about it, often attributed to the German tradition.

In my studies with composer/arranger Bob Brookmeyer (also of German heritage) he often spoke of the cold and angular sound created by serialists like Schoenberg and Berg as well as (possibly) Copland and Milhaud (at a stretch). He explained the simplicity and opaqueness, marked by three and four note voicings (not eight or nine) and less complicated rhythmic activity or amounts of notes bring about a cool simplicity. This results in "warming" the listener to what might have been previously as a less than accessible, or overly heady sounding music.

One might find Ogerman's greatest achievements in the two albums he did with Bill Evans- Bill Evans trio With Symphony Orchestra (recorded in 1965) which included works by Chopin, Scriabin, Granadas, Faure and Evans and Symbiosis from 1974 - the last of these an original work performed by the trio and the London Symphony Orchestra.



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