Claus Ogerman on RCA

The German arranger and bandleader Claus Ogerman (1930-2016) first worked with producer Andy Wiswell (1905-94) at Capitol Records on zither player Ruth Welcome’s Carnival album and on The Manhattans’ single “Sing All the Day” (which Ogerman co-wrote) – both in 1962. When Wiswell moved over to RCA the following year, the two also worked together on records by Ed Ames, Carol Channing, Allan Sherman, Gale Garnett and Kate Smith.

Surely, the producer and arranger’s most significant work together during this period was on Brazilian pianist and composer João Donato’s American recording debut, The New Sound of Brazil (1965). It is as much an achievement for Ogerman as it is for Donato. Wiswell’s production is as sharp and sublime here as anything Creed Taylor ever produced and Ogerman’s work is as subtle and elegant as anything he did for Antonio Carlos Jobim.

But Wiswell, who was an executive at the Muzak Corporation during the forties, was mostly a producer of “pop” material. In 1964, the New York-based producer recruited Ogerman to offer up a series of pop albums, similar in nature to those that Henry Mancini was delivering for fellow RCA producer Joe Reisman at the time.

From the back cover of “Watusi Trumpets” (1965)

Ogerman “and his orchestra” of studio musicians were meant to craft “easy listening” versions of pop favorites of the day. (To be fair, though, Ogerman was never the prodigious composer or hit-making machine that Mancini was.1) But Ogerman’s RCA records would never be mistaken for the snoozy efforts so often associated with the genre.

The Ogerman records on RCA positively jumped off the turntable. They had the energy, spirit and rhythm of youth – and a jazz-y edge that often eluded these sorts of records at the time. Perhaps Ogerman, who was only in his mid-thirties when these records were waxed, did not have to struggle like the older orchestra leaders to make sense of this crazy, new music.

Those who now equate Ogerman with his more sophisticated sides – sensed and lured out, initially, by producer Creed Taylor – for Jobim and, later, Frank Sinatra, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Diana Krall and Danilo Perez, might not immediately take to his RCA records. They are of an altogether different order; meant not to appeal to the jazz sophisticate but rather to kids partying at discotheques, downing shakes around the jukebox or thundering through a roller rink.

From the back cover of “Latin Rock” (1967)

Ogerman’s RCA records mix the sound of early-sixties Atlantic 45s (many of which Ogerman worked on) with Phil Spector’s then-in echo-y, drums-up-front in the mix “Wall of Sound.” Wailing organs and chirping guitars often lead the charge (and take many of the solos) while the emphasis is always on catchy tunes with a brawny beat.

While all these records captured the zeitgeist of the day, none ever caught on in any meaningful way. Even Ogerman would quickly disavow these records, hoping the sands of time would bury what he considered to be “sell-out” embarrassments. But there’s nothing to be ashamed of here, and quite a bit to enjoy. Over and over again.

Claus Ogerman’s RCA records are pure fun for open ears. Throw one on and start the party.

Music From The Broadway Hit “Fiddler on the Roof” (November 1964)

Of the handful of records Claus Ogerman waxed for RCA between 1964 and 1967, Fiddler on the Roof is likely the one to resonate with those familiar with the German musician’s work in jazz. While it’s more string driven than any of the other Ogermans on RCA, there is an attractive, easy-listening jazz that informs the rhythms of these Jerry Bock compositions.

Still, it is the least known and remembered of Ogerman’s already barely-recalled RCA records. Fiddler is also the only one of Ogerman’s RCA discs that was not released digitally in 2016. But it is a delight, loaded with many charming moments.

Albums covering Broadway musicals were populous and popular in both the jazz and easy-listening worlds during the late fifties and early sixties. Ogerman’s full-length Fiddler swings more in the direction of, say, Percy Faith than those albums by Shelly Manne, Oscar Peterson or Miles Davis. Perhaps the addition of an individual jazz soloist here could have helped cross this otherwise terrific record across the finish line.

Producer Andy Wiswell – who would win a Grammy in 1968 for his production of the cast album of the musical “Hair” – was also one of the producers on the original Broadway cast album of Fiddler on the Roof – also on RCA, making this something of an “inside job.”

To my surprise, much of this music is immediately familiar. Perhaps that’s because I am already down with Cannonball Adderley’s 1964 album devoted to Fiddler. Certainly, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and “Sunrise, Sunset” and the “Fiddler” theme (also the only song Ogerman arranged for Al Hirt’s 1965 album That Honey Horn Sound) are very well-known. But the anthemic “To Life” and “If I Were a Rich Man” have earworm qualities about them as well.

What makes this Fiddler especially compelling is the addition of “If I Were a Woman” and “A Little Bit of This.” The first, which has a gently rocking jazz appeal, was cut from the score prior to the New York opening of the show and the second, although rehearsed, was never actually incorporated.

Ogerman devises a highly attractive presentation, serving up some radio-friendly fare that never seemingly never had a chance. Highlights include “If I Were a Woman,” “To Life,” “Do You Love Me” and “Far from the Home I Love.” “Sunrise, Sunset” and “A Little Bit of This” have a cool, but ever-so slight and prescient John Barry Bond-quality about them (the iconic Goldfinger would open the following month).

“Fiddler on the Roof” was issued as a single in August 1964 – three months ahead of the album – and was backed with the delightful and completely unknown non-album Ogerman original “Summer Ska.”

“The play is undoubtedly a huge success,” wrote Billboard in November 1964, “with ticket buyers quequed [sic] up before the box office every day. This Is the first instrumental album of the score. Arranged and conducted by Claus Ogerman, one of the best in the business, the sound is warm and vibrant, and especially relaxing. Ogerman transforms the Yiddish -flavored tunes into sophisticated melodies without destroying the feeling.”

The German picture sleeve for “La Bostella”

“La Bostella” b/w “Theme from ‘Zorba the Greek’ (January 1965)

“This is the new and increasingly-publicized dance from Paris,” declared the American music publication Music Business on February 5, 1965. “There are several other good versions2 but this stylish Ogerman arrangement could have the best chance.”

The non-album single “La Bostella” was issued in early 1965 in hopes that an obscure European dance-fad might cross-over in the United States. The song is based on the 1964 French hit “Dansons la Bostella” by Esperanza Gustino, a song that sounds nearly Greek in its origins.

Ogerman’s cover seemed to want to simplify the song by turning it into a kids tune – not necessarily for teens, but for little kids. Curiously, though, Ogerman’s version of “La Bostella” reminds this listener of Geoff & Maria Muldaur’s 1968 cover of Ary Barroso’s “Brazil,” which, of course, was later used as the theme to Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil (1985).

“La Bostella” really never caught on in the United States. But Ogerman’s cover did garner a fair bit of play and attention outside of the U.S. The flip-side, Mikis Theoradakis’ “Theme from ‘ Zorba the Greek,'” is from the hit film released the month before Ogerman’s single came out. “Zorba” was likely intended to appeal to those who might not take to “Bostella.” But listeners, at least in the U.S., weren’t buying either one. Ogerman would later record John Kander and Fred Ebb’s score to Zorba, the hit Broadway musical that opened in November 1968, for the Capitol label in 1968.

Soul Searchin’ (June 1965)

“Arranger [Claus] Ogerman,” wrote Billboard in its June 5, 1965, Pop Spotlight, “regards ‘soul’ as the ‘Third Force of Music,’ the first being ‘pop,’ the second, ‘jazz.’ He displays that feel for ‘soul’ in this package of exciting instrumental arrangements which include ‘What’d I Say’ and ‘Fever.’ Organ, brass and strings are cleverly and effectively woven throughout.”

You really have to wonder whether Claus Ogerman would have stood by such a claim – made on the back-cover liner-notes by Ogerman himself on this very album – even a few years later. Regardless, the composer-arranger, who had indeed worked on his fair share of soul and soul-jazz records in his day, beautifully manages to bring all three of his so-called “forces” together on Soul Searchin’.

The album clearly swings toward what was known then as “soul jazz.” Think Billy Larkin & The Delegates or Gene Harris and The Three Sounds with a horn (or string) section: both of which could likely never have afforded Ogerman’s services.

Ogerman even hints at some of the era’s better-known soul-jazz burners, with traces of Jimmy Smith and Oliver Nelson’s “Walk on the Wild Side” (for Ogerman’s own “Soul Searchin”), Herbie Mann’s “Right Now” (“What’d I Say” – although Mann’s tune is well-informed by the Ray Charles hit), Kenny Burrell’s “Midnight Blue” (“House of the Rising Sun”) and Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” – covered here as well (a supercharged version of the little-known “The End of the Line”).

The unnamed and unknown studio players here seem to be have been instructed to parrot the sound and style of a Jimmy Smith or Dave “Baby” Cortez on organ (although I suspect Dick Hyman plays organ, at least on “Memphis”), Kenny Burrell on guitar and Ray Bryant, Bobby Timmons or even Wynton Kelly (with whom Ogerman had then recently recorded) on piano.

Ogerman’s twelve-song program here includes several pieces he’d previously worked on, including “Fever,” for the 1960 novelty-jazz record Sounds for Sick (?) People; “Comin’ Home Baby,” the 1962 Top 40 hit Ogerman arranged for Mel Tormé; and “What’d I Say,” the Ray Charles classic that was included on the Creed Taylor-produced Up With Donald Byrd (1964)

“The End of the Line” originally appeared on guitarist Vinnie Bell’s 1964 Verve album Whistle Stop, an album on which Ogerman himself was one of the arrangers. What’s more, Whistle Stop features Bell’s covers of “Fever,” “What’d I Say,” “Shindig” and “Memphis ” – all of which factor here as well. It’s highly likely that Bell is one of the unnamed players here, too.

Soul Searchin’ sounds more like a record meant for the kids to dig than one of those meant to appease the parents who just didn’t get it – as so many easy-listening records of the period attempted to do. Maybe that’s why no one bothered with Soul Searchin’. But highlights abound. They include the two Ogerman originals (note: “Tell It As It Is” is not “Tell It Like It Is”), “Green Onions,” “Comin’ Home Baby” and, especially, both the album’s jazziest moments, “House of the Rising Sun” and “Fever.”

Considering the crossover appeal of Soul Searchin’, it’s remarkable that the album yielded not one single release. What’s mind-boggling about this is that the bulk of the record would have made superb music for juke boxes. But that probably never happened either. It’s wonderful stuff.

Watusi Trumpets (October 1965)

The Watusi was a popular dance style in the early sixties. The craze was kicked off by The Orions’ 1962 hit “The Wah-Watusi,” but it was Puerto Rican percussionist Ray Barretto’s 1963 hit “El Watusi” that became the dance’s best-known number (it also typecast the dynamic Barretto in that particular style for a number of years).

The Watusi was still popular enough in 1965-66 to inspire a full Ogerman album (and two Watusi originals), not to mention “The Batusi,” jazzman Neal Hefti’s delightful theme from the beloved Batman TV series (1966-68). Come on, who can forget Adam West dancing to that?

The dance is also name-checked on “Land of 1000 Dances,” a 1962 song by Chris Kenner – but better known by the hit version recorded by Cannibal & the Headhunters in 1965 and, after this (and to this day) by Wilson Pickett (1966). Ogerman covers both “El Watusi” and “Land of 1000 Dances” here.

Watusi Trumpets is the third Ogerman album on RCA released in the span of one year and it’s a genuine joy.

Unlike labelmate Al Hirt’s popular records at the time, Ogerman doesn’t lead with brass . Rather, he spices up the program with trumpets. Various keyboards carry the majority of the melodies and take the bulk of the solos. The rhythm section keeps things exciting throughout, making it hard to sit still: Watusi Trumpets grooves like few so-called easy-listening records of the period do.

Trumpets That Go-Go!: As usual for an RCA record, none of the musicians are credited here. But there’s no doubt to this listener that Dick Hyman is helming the keyboards; he is especially identifiable on the organ (and the pianist swings like Hyman on the title track). It’s possible trombonist Urbie Green (and/or, possibly, Kai Winding) mans the trombone lead on “Downtown.” I’m willing to bet, too, that one of the Watusi Trumpets is Doc Severinsen – Ernie Royal and Bernie Glow are likely anonymous co-conspirators as well. I’m guessing that Bobby Rosengarden is on drums.

Here, Ogerman covers such then-recent hits as Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual,” Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and the always-infectious “La Bamba,” a traditional Mexican folk song, often credited to Richie Valens, but credited here to Ogerman himself.

To Ogerman’s credit, he includes recent and decent Broadway fare (“The Joker”3 from The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Paint – which Ogerman also arranged around this time for Sammy Davis, Jr.) and such jazz titles as “Poinciana,” (arranged earlier by Ogerman for the 1962 record LeRoy Homes Goes Bossa Nova), Herbie Mann’s “Right Now” (which Ogerman arranged for Mel Tormé in 1962) and Joe Zawinul’s “One Step Above.”4

In addition to “El Watusi,” “Right Now” and “The Joker,” the album’s highlights are surely the Ogerman originals: the title track (and the album’s single release), “Stingray” (a retitling of the 1963 Ogerman tune “Hero,” written for trombonist Kai Winding) and “Harlem Watusi.”

But, as notes writer Arnold Falleder puts it: “Watusi Trumpets isn’t meant to be dissected. It’s meant to be danced to!”

A Salute to Sam Cooke (1966/2016)

Sometime in 1965 or 1966, Claus Ogerman recorded an album’s worth of songs in tribute to the late, great singer, songwriter and civil rights activist Sam Cooke (1931-64). For some reason, RCA declined to issue the record at the time. Several of the songs recorded here first appeared a few years later on the German compilation Down Town: Non Stop Dancing with Claus Ogerman & His Orchestra (discussed below). The full album was released digitally a half century later, in 2016.

The exceptionally gifted and handsome Sam Cooke, who was shot and killed at a Los Angeles Motel on December 11, 1964, was considered the King of Soul but he had crossed over to popular success years before. Cooke scored no fewer than a whopping 30 Top 40 hits between 1957 and 1964 and Cooke albums like Twistin’ The Night Away (1962) were huge sellers at the time.

Many artists over the years had their own hits with songs Sam Cooke either wrote or performed. But, surprisingly, there are all too few actual tributes to the man5, which makes Claus Ogerman’s A Salute to Sam Cooke all the more notable.

Ogerman’s Cooke book is a genuinely loving and an unexpectedly lively tribute. As with Ogerman’s other RCA albums, there are no vocalists. The melody leads are often carried by what a friend of mine calls a “screaming electric organ,” audibly helmed, at least on several tracks, by the great Dick Hyman. The aural palette here also includes the addition of baritone sax on some tracks, flute on others, some genuinely funky barrelhouse piano and four-on-floor drums way up in the mix.

The horn arrangements throughout are superb. One thing that pops – maybe explodes – on nearly all of Ogerman’s RCA records is how the arranger can use a horn section to bring you to your feet. Is it Gospel? Is it Soul? Is it Groove? It’s all of the above and it’s never been better than on A Salute to Sam Cooke.

The album’s program features covers of a dozen songs Cooke recorded between 1960 and 1964. Incredibly, 11 of the album’s 12 songs all reached the Billboard Top 40 (“Somebody Have Mercy” only reached number 70 in 1962). What’s more, eight of the tracks here were written by Cooke himself.

One might wonder why some Cooke classics like “You Send Me” and “Wonderful World” are missing here, but songs like these pre-date Cooke’s contract with RCA6 – which, of course, reveals why Ogerman was either recruited or volunteered for this effort.

While A Salute to Sam Cooke never misses the mark or sinks to any lows, the highlights are plentiful. Sample “Shake,” a song recorded shortly before Cooke’s death and released posthumously, “Little Red Rooster,” the always-reliable “Twistin’ the Night Away,” and – this listener’s favorite here – the joyous “Another Saturday Night.”

Ogerman gives “Send Me Some Lovin'” a witty twist of “More,” the hit he arranged for trombonist Kai Winding in 1963, while he adds a delightful splash of Basie to the standard “Frankie and Johnny,” a song the Count himself would cover the following year, in 1967.

There are many reasons why this album might not have been issued at the time. I can think of at least one. Maybe, two. But, ultimately, there was something missing here. No one or nothing could ever imitate or intimate, replicate or replace that beautiful and beatific voice of Sam Cooke. His instantly recognizable velvety tenor voice helped carry any song across the finish line.

Remarkably, Sam Cooke and Claus Ogerman never worked together. Perhaps there was some backroom talk that the two would collaborate in some way, some day – similar to what happened between Jimi Hendrix and Gil Evans. But, of course, that, too, never happened.

Ogerman would later arrange the strings for George Benson’s cover of Cooke’s remarkable “A Change is Gonna Come,” a 1964 composition written after being turned away from a “whites-only” motel in Louisiana, on the guitarist’s 1979 album Livin’ Inside Your Love. It’s a gorgeous performance that stands the test of time. This one deserves better than it ever got, too.

Saxes Mexicanos – 1966

Let’s be frank: this is a strange record.

“Saxes” may well be heard, but where is the “Mexicano”? Not only does none of this music hail from South of the Border, there is no attempt at all to make it sound like it does. The closest we get to that is the pairing of lead saxophones, which suggests Herb Alpert’s overdubbed trumpets in The Tijuana Brass. But the effect is more American country than Mexican in any way.

The album’s program is not what anybody was likely to be expecting either. If the goal was to put out an updated spin on a bunch of oldies, then it’s hard to figure out who the audience here was supposed to be.

The “young and the hip” might get the rock rhythms. But who among that age group in 1966 would recognize these numbers: “Dardanella” dates back to 1919 (!), “My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms” is from 1922, “Always” from 1926, “Just Friends” from 1931 and “Nightmare” is from 1938.

Perhaps the kids might have picked up on such standards as “St. James Infirmary” or “Bewitched,” the former from 1929 and the latter from Pal Joey in 1940. But not even most of the “middle-aged cats” out there would know (or get) whatever is going on here.

Even some of the more recent fare is, well, not exactly obvious and surely not enough to crossover to younger listeners of the day: Roger Miller’s Grammy-award winning hit “King of the Road” comes close. But Lawrence Welk’s “Apples and Bananas” and Skitch Henderson’s “Come Thursday” would have hardly figured in any teen’s record collection (all three are from 1965.)

Strange as it all is, though, the result is somewhat compelling.

It’s an odd duck, to be sure. It’s not quite rock, not quite country, not quite jazz and, surely, not at all South of the Border. But it has a hypnotic flair that somehow crosses all these borders. The rhythm section is pure popcorn, with the guitar or organ chirping out the beat. Leading with the saxes has a surprising allure, especially the way Ogerman harmonizes them.

Surprisingly, the horn arrangements are much more upfront and brasher than usual for an Ogerman record and nod, not unwelcomely, here and there toward Quincy Jones’ now well-known “Soul Bossa Nova” (1962), surely a template even then for jazz-y party music.

Saxes Mexicano is not the best of Claus Ogerman’s RCA albums, but it has its moments. Highlights include the album opener “King of the Road” (which veers nicely toward South Africa, of all places, in Ogerman’s hands), the surprisingly funky “Dardanella” (which, like several other pieces here, fades a bit too soon) and the album’s lone bossa nova, the superb Carlos Lyra/Jon Hendricks composition “You and I (Você E Eu).”

There is something about “You and I” that makes this listener suspect a certain Mr. Jobim might even have dropped by for a moment or two. I also have a hunch that frequent Ogerman trombonist Urbie Green solos on the semi-samba “Just Friends.”

“Nightmare,” of course, waxes not so subtly on Neal Hefti’s Batman theme (the TV show had debuted in January of that year) while “Always,” the album’s lone single release, sounds too much like a theme to a short-lived TV sitcom to be taken seriously. Indeed, the album – with one notable exception – loses much of its steam in its second half.

Ogerman’s sole original on the LP is the surf-styled ballad “Nancy’s Theme,” which, with its harpsichord lead, is likely named for Nancy Sinatra, who had her breakout hit, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” around about this time. (Ogerman would, of course, work with father Frank the following year.)

Previously, Ogerman also arranged “St. James Infirmary” for a jazz-novelty album called Sounds for Sick (?) People (1960), “Just Friends” for Cal Tjader’s Warm Wave (1964) and “Bewitched” for Gloria Lynne’s Intimate Moments (1965). Naturally, those takes sound very different than what’s heard here.

Latin Rock (June 1967)

The fifth – or, sixth, if you count the Sam Cooke set – and final release of Claus Ogerman’s all-too brief and commercially unsuccessful run on RCA Records, Latin Rock is surely the most inspired and enjoyable release of a truly delightful batch of records the German musician waxed in his own name for the label.

Like Ogerman’s previous records, Latin Rock dips in to yet another genre pool. But while such swim-meets unfortunately lacked the signature Ogerman established on the Jobim records (and continued thereafter), Latin Rock feels like the most sincere and authentic of all Claus Ogerman’s RCA output to this point. It’s a gem.

While Claus Ogerman proved himself – artistically and commercially – in any number of genres, there is not a lot of evidence that this German musician could dabble so successfully in a Latin bag.

There are essentially two strands of Latin music on tap here: the then-emerging confluence of Puerto Rican, Cuban and American jazz music known as salsa and the popular Brazilian export of bossa nova. Of the former, Latin Rock features “Bang Bang,” (the otherwise Brazilian) “It Didn’t End,” “La Peregrina,” “Yambo,” and “Paradiso.” – the album’s highlights, to these ears – while the latter includes takes on “San Juan,” “Un Poco Rio,” “Tres Hermanas,” and “Mas Que Nada.”

The program is a mix of the familiar (“Tequila,” “Mas Que Nada”), the semi-familiar (“Bang Bang,” “Cuchy Frito Man”) and several pieces unique to this particular album (“La Peregrina,” “Yambo,” “Tres Hermanas,” and “Paradiso”). Piano and percussion are up front in the mix, while a funky flute and a banging vibraphone grab some strong solos.

Ogerman had previously arranged the moody “San Juan” – co-written by German violinist Helmut Zacharias – for Ethel Ennis in 1964, while he covered “Tequila” with guitarist Wes Montgomery in 1966. João Donato’s exquisite “Nao Se Acabou (It Didn’t End)” was first arranged by Ogerman for the composer’s lovely album The New Sound of Brazil (1965).

By the way, “It Didn’t End” and “Cuchy Frito Man” were also covered – beautifully – by the legendary Latin jazz vibraphonist Cal Tjader on the 1966 album Soul Burst, although without Ogerman in each case.

The memorable – but naggingly familiar – bossa nova “Un Poco Rio (Little Rio)” was written by Ogerman for saxophonist Stan Getz’s 1967 album Voices (an album originally intended for Wes Montgomery). While the release of Latin Rock preceded Voices, it’s likely that Ogerman’s own version was recorded after Getz’s more elegant take. The song also became one of Ogerman’s earliest successes, particularly among the easy-listening maestros Doc Severinsen, Joe Harnell, Roberto Delgado and fellow German bandleader James Last.

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Ray Rivera – who, as of this writing, is still active – penned two songs here: “Yambo” (later covered by Pucho & The Soul Brothers) and “Cuchy Frito Man.” Rivera, who is of Puerto Rican and Spanish descent, worked often during this period with Claus Ogerman – probably in many uncredited instances. I would wager he’s an uncredited contributor here as well, and possibly even on Ogerman’s previous RCA records.

The German bandleader had arranged versions of Rivera’s tunes for Donald Byrd (1964), Gale Garnett (1965) and Cal Tjader Tjader with salsa pioneer Eddie Palmieri (1966). Ogerman also arranged and produced Rivera’s singles “Do the Blue Beat (The Jamaican Ska)” (1964), “El Rey (The King)” and “Chichironnes” (1966) as well as Rivera’s lone Mercury album Latin Workout (1968).

Like “La Peregrina” and “Paradiso,” Floyd Huddleston and Dick Hyman’s intriguing “Tres Hermanas (Sisters Three)” has oddly not appeared anywhere else. But it does suggest that Hyman mans the muscular piano heard on at least a few of the tracks here.

A single release of “Yambo” preceded the album Latin Rock by about six months in January 1967 – which makes me wonder just how illogically or ineptly RCA handled the release, promotion or support of any of Ogerman’s recordings – but was surprisingly issued as the b-side to Ogerman’s non-album cover of German composer Lotar Olias’ “Lotar’s Theme.”

The Olias song, which reminds this listener of John Barry’s “Midnight Cowboy” theme, is probably better known from the recordings by such German bandleaders as Hardy Kingston, James Last’s brother, Kai Warner, and the aforementioned Helmut Zacharias.

Of course, Latin Rock came and went with sadly little notice. But it is my hope that this – or any of Ogerman’s wonderful RCA releases – will find a new generation of admirers.

In another measure of RCA not knowing what to do with Claus Ogerman (or giving the composer, arranger and bandleader space to do what he wanted to do), this album was issued as Yambo in France and Boogaloo in Peru – featuring the exact same cover image that was used elsewhere for saxophonist Harold Vick’s 1968 RCA album Watch What Happens.

RCA Victor (Teldec) issue of “Down Town”
RCA Camden issue of “Down Town”

Down Town: Non Stop Dancing with Claus Ogerman & His Orchestra (c. 1968-69)

This German compilation collects 28 tracks arranger and conductor Claus Ogerman recorded for RCA between 1964 and 1967, including four from Soul Searchin’, seven from Watusi Trumpets, six from Saxes Mexicano, three from Latin Rock, two non-album b-sides and both sides of a single-only release. Like many compilations, it’s comprehensive but not exactly fulfilling.

The set’s title cheekily taps into fellow German bandleader James Last’s hugely popular series of “Non Stop Dancing” records at the time – at least everywhere in the world except the United States – of “Non Stop Dancing” albums. But the medleys and party sounds of Last’s records are nowhere to be heard here.

While there is nothing on this set from Ogerman’s first RCA album, Fiddler on the Roof (which is ironically pictured on this record’s back cover), there are some of what we would now call “easter eggs” lost in this mix; four tracks that had not previously been issued anywhere else before. “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Having a Party” and “Shake” were initially recorded for a Sam Cooke tribute album Ogerman waxed in 1966 – but not released, at least digitally, until 2016 (discussed above).

The set’s opener, “Carrapicho,” another of the record’s unissued gems, and written back in the fifties by Brazilian musician-composer Humberto Teixeira (strangely credited here as “M. Toixeira”), is likely an outtake from one of Ogerman’s other RCA sessions. To this day, though, this set is the only way to hear Ogerman’s take on “Carrapicho.”

Both editions of Down Town were produced in Germany – probably in late 1968 to early 19697 – with the German label Teldec pressing and distributing the RCA Victor version for sale in Germany while the budget label RCA Camden version was produced for distribution throughout the rest of Europe.

Given the lack of domestic popularity of Claus Ogerman’s RCA records, it’s not surprising that a set like Down Town was never issued in the United States. But the compilation’s unnamed German producer(s)/compiler(s) would have had to work closely with their American counterparts to pull this music together, especially to include the previously unissued material.

This listener wonders whether there’s even more Ogerman on RCA that we haven’t heard yet. We’ll probably never know. Check out what you can…while you can. It’s worth it. Even if Claus Ogerman dismissed this music, it’s all well worth hearing.

Many thanks to Claus Ogerman expert Suitbert Kempkes for assistance, insight and really good vibes here.

  1. While Ogerman arranged Mancini tunes for others (Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz, etc.), none of Ogerman’s RCA records featured labelmate Mancini’s then-popular music. ↩︎
  2. “La Bostella” was also covered by Enoch Light, Les & Larry Elgart and Buddy Morrow and His Orchestra at around the same time. ↩︎
  3. “The Joker” was also covered by guitarist Wes Montgomery, in a version arranged by Don Sebesky, on the guitarist’s Creed Taylor-produced A&M/CTI debut A Day in the Life (1967). The song was released as a single posthumously in May 1970, to no avail. ↩︎
  4. “One Step Above” appears to have been written for Watusi Trumpets – unless the tune is known by another name, The music publisher BMI lists an alternative title for “One Step Above” as “Der Schritt Sum Glueck,” but there is no evidence that a song with that title exists. “One Step Above” was later recorded by trumpeter Doc Severinsen for The New Sound of Today’s Big Band (1967). ↩︎
  5. A lovely exception to this is Dion (DiMucci)’s 2020 single “Song for Sam Cooke (Here in America),” featuring Paul Simon, reflecting on Dion’s travels with Cooke in the Jim Crow South. ↩︎
  6. Both “You Send Me” and “Wonderful World” were later acquired by RCA for the 1962 compilation The Best of Sam Cooke. ↩︎
  7. The Discogs listing for the RCA Victor issue of Down Town incorrectly lists the release date as 1963, which is impossible as it predates the recording of any of this music. ↩︎

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