Claus Ogerman on Verve

Some two decades ago, I worked on the four-disc boxset Claus Ogerman: The Man Behind the Music.1 The esteemed Gene Lees (1928-2010) contributed a typically lovely and well-informed text to the CD while Ogerman (1930-2016) himself chose much of the material and, remarkably, commented on each of the set’s individual tracks. I worked on what amounted to a massive “Selected Discography” for the set, which only scratched the surface – particularly in Ogerman’s early years.

This is where and when I discovered the incredible extent of Ogerman’s work in the pop-music world. He was literally “behind” such hits as Little Eva’s “Locomotion,” Mel Torme’s “Comin’ Home Baby,” The Drifters’ “Up on the Roof,” Kai Winding’s “More” and Leslie Gore’s “It’s My Party” – to name just a few. He also helmed five superb – and genuinely fun – “easy listening” records issued between 1964 and 1967 on RCA, the highlight of which is 1967’s Latin Rock (the only one of the RCA records issued officially on CD).

The boxset’s producers desperately wanted Ogerman to represent this part of his recorded heritage. But he steadfastly refused. He seemed more than a little embarrassed by this music, admittedly waxed relatively early in his career. Ogerman, likely sensing his legacy, wanted to be remembered for his work in the jazz, Brazilian and classical-music worlds. The only pop Ogerman considered worthy of inclusion here was some of the music he waxed with Sammy Davis, Jr., David Clayton-Thomas, Barbra Streisand, George Benson and Diana Krall.

In that early phase/early-sixties part of his career, Ogerman was also one of the stable of arrangers contracted by producer Creed Taylor (1929-2022) for the jazz artists on the Verve Records label. Taylor, who took charge of Verve in 1961, immediately heard the magic Ogerman could bring to a record: a “sweetener” who could get a record crossed over. (Ogerman worked on several ABC-Paramount records while Taylor was still there, but it is not known if the two actually worked together at that time.)

Taylor recruited Ogerman – against all odds – to score Antonio Carlos Jobim’s landmark The Composer of Desafinado, Plays (1963) and the surprisingly underrated Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra (1966). These two albums subverted all expectations and remain some of the most profound recordings of all time. But Ogerman was merely doing his job. He did the same thing at Verve for albums by Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz, Donald Byrd, Wes Montgomery, Pat Thomas, Astrud Gilberto and Jackie & Roy.

Ogerman also contributed a healthy number of originals to Verve during this time – without getting an album of his own on the label. Most of these tunes are meant to be catchy “radio-friendly” fodder – and all have fallen through the cracks of remembrance. In the end, only three of these tracks were included in Claus Ogerman: The Man Behind the Music – but these tracks are among the best of what follows.

The majority of tunes included here are featured on albums issued between 1963 and 1967, produced by Creed Taylor and arranged by Claus Ogerman. Somewhat remarkably, Taylor and Ogerman worked together through to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s landmark album Wave (1967) – the second release on Taylor’s CTI alliance with A&M Records – but never together again.

Both went on to greater acclaim…but not together. You have to wonder why.

“Hero” – Kai Winding from Soul Surfin’ (a.k.a. !!!More!!!) (1963): The groovy “Hero,” named as such for a surfer who thinks he’s better than he is, seems based on Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” (1959). The funky electric piano is by Paul Griffin and the signature guitar work is by Kenny Burrell. “That crazy sound you hear at odd times” is an ondioline, an electronic analog synthesizer that makes a warm bubbly water sound. Jean Jacques Perrey claims he is the “ondiolioner” but it’s likely that guitarist Vinnie Bell is making that crazy, crazy sound. Note, no trombone: Here, no…Kai Winding.

“Surf Bird” – Kai Winding from Soul Surfin’ (a.k.a. !!!More!!!) (1963): This seems to be a variant of The Trashmen’s much derided and still well-known novelty song “Surfin’ Bird” (1963). Kai Winding gets to add the occasional tag line. Admittedly, this one confirms why Ogerman might have wanted to distance himself from this sort of material: it’s derivative to a fault.

“Spinner” (Claus Ogerman/Doris Tauber) – Kai Winding from Soul Surfin’ (a.k.a. !!!More!!!) (1963): An oddly Hawaiian number, reminiscent of Martin Denny or Arthur Lyman, “Spinner” prominently features a steel guitar that is certainly not Kenny Burrell (which means it is probably Vinnie Bell). Kai Winding again delivers only brief background horn motifs. The song was also covered, improbably, by a group called Los Twisters, a Chilean “surf” band that had likely relocated to Argentina by the time of their cover of “Spinner” (also released in 1963).

“Hollywood” (Bill Evans/Claus Ogerman) – Bill Evans Piano and Orchestra from The V.I.P. Theme (sic: 1963): From one of the most disparaged albums in the entire Bill Evans discography comes this positively sparkly and Bond-ish blues. To be fair, the record was originally on the MGM label (the album’s two top-billed themes were notably from MGM productions). But Verve was owned by MGM at the time and the album was produced by Creed Taylor (Evans’ next crossover attempt – the 1970 album From Left to Right, not produced by Taylor, was also on MGM). Credited to both Evans and Ogerman, “Hollywood” is surely the highlight of an album rife with film and TV themes. It’s hard to say whether the Bond-ian provenance of this little number was intentional or accidental, as “Hollywood” predates the start of real James Bond mania with Goldfinger in 1964. Either way, it’s a feather in both caps. No one was happier than this listener when this album was (amazingly) issued on CD in 2008, this time as “Theme From The V.I.P.s” And Other Great Songs.

“Sandy’s Gone” Johnny Hodges from Sandy’s Gone (1963): It’s not clear who Sandy was or why she left, but “Sandy’s Gone” is a charming surf ballad played by the man whose tone Duke Ellington said was “so beautiful it could bring tears to the eyes.” Sandy’s Gone was one of alto player Johnny Hodges’ only pop crossover albums, featuring many songs that were popular in 1963 or sounded as though they could have been hits that year. This is one such song. Oddly, Hodges doesn’t solo here but frequent partner Wild Bill Davis takes a commanding solo on organ while Hank Jones provides the catchy piano riff that gives the song its waves. The uncredited ondioline is likely helmed by Vinnie Bell. The album Sandy’s Gone was reissued in full on the 2012 Jazzplus CD titled The Eleventh Hour + Sandy’s Gone.

“Monkey Shack”Johnny Hodges from Sandy’s Gone (1963): Wherrrrrrre’s Johnny? Johnny Hodges is nowhere to be heard on this catchy little dance tune that never veers far beyond a riff. It’s little more than background music heard in a beach-party movie. (Actually, the movie Beach Party was released in 1963.) Still, it’s fun. Either Joe Wilder or Joe Newman is blowing the trumpet theme and my money is on Vinnie Bell, all in on the hearse-ride twangy guitar solo.

“Since” Johnny Hodges from Sandy’s Gone (1963): This oddly-titled number (“since” what?) seems to marry “Where the Boys Are” with a bit too-fast Phil Spector-type rhythm. There is a South-of-the-Border flavor here that even suggests a hint of Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (Hodges is recorded here in an echo-y way that also mimics Alpert’s overdubbed trumpets). One could wish this one was better developed.

“Get Lost” Kai Winding from Kai Winding (a.k.a. The Lonely One) (1963): There is a bit of mystery behind this one. Ogerman’s “Get Lost” kicked off the trombonist’s December 1963 album, strangely titled Kai Winding (it has somehow become known since as The Lonely One, after one of the songs on the record). Winding’s role here is clearly as a session player: he plays counterpoint to the unnamed trumpet lead(s) while an uncredited guitarist solos. The album was probably intended to be a feature for keyboardist and arranger Garry Sherman, who is barely even audible here. In the end, it was likely determined that Kai Winding’s name – literally – would sell the record and, if successful, could lead to further Sherman records on Verve. But that never happened. Sherman’s path often crossed with Ogerman; both worked out of the Brill Building in the early sixties. Sherman, who was also a podiatrist, later arranged Van Morrison’s hit “Brown Eyed Girl” (1967) and worked on several film soundtracks, including Midnight Cowboy (1969).

“Just Say Auf Wiederseh’n” (Claus Ogerman/Mort Goode) – Pat Thomas (1963): A single-only release produced by Creed Taylor for the MGM label (owner at the time of Verve), “Just Say Auf Wierseh’n” is one of the songs given over to vocalist Pat Thomas, who should have had much more of a career than she did. This one is likely a response of sorts to the German bandleader/composer Bert Kaempfert-penned “Danke Shoen,” a huge hit for crooner Wayne Newton in 1963 (and three years ahead of Kaempfert’s similarly-titled “Wiederseh’n,” a hit then for Al Martino). There is some dispute about the provenance of this song, but the German Ogerman is credited as co-writer on the above-pictured promotional single – as well as music publisher BMI. From the November 2, 1963, issue of Cash Box: “JUST SAY AUF WIEDERSEH’N” (2:15) [Glamorous ASCAP—Goode, Ogerman] The jazz lark who got a good reception for her Bossa Nova diskings here and abroad, is in a strong international pop vein here with a typically German-sounding rendition of a sentimental item, that is a sad tune done with a buoyant [orchestra]-chorus backdrop. Could move.” Did not. “Just Say Auf Wiederseh’n” is included as a “bonus track” (again co-credited to Ogerman) on the 2017 CD release of Desafinado + Moody’s Mood.

“Nocturne” Wynton Kelly from Comin’ in the Back Door (1964): The genuinely stirring “Nocturne” was originally written for orchestra leader LeRoy Holmes’ 1962 album Bossa Nova (United Artists), a record that likely convinced producer Creed Taylor that Ogerman was – against all odds – the man to helm the arrangements for Antonio Carlos Jobim’s American debut, The Composer of Desafinado, Plays. This late-1963 recording is mostly a trio performance, with Paul Chambers on bass and the ever-ageless Jimmy Cobb on drums. Ogerman adds a subtle and worthy string overdub….but it ends far sooner than it reasonably should. There is a hint here of Bill Evans’ “Peace Piece” here (it should be noted that Kelly replaced Evans in Miles Davis’ quintet in the late fifties), mixed with an after-hours feel of, say, Ray Charles or Wynton Kelly himself. This one should be much better-known than it is. Another of the four tracks Ogerman wrote for the Holmes record, “The Jazz Samba,” would factor on the Taylor-produced Intermodulation (1966), by Bill Evans and Jim Hall – noted below.

“The Bitter End”Wynton Kelly from Comin’ in the Back Door (1964): A nice New Orleans-flavored piece that lets pianist Wynton Kelly do what he does best. The trumpet, saxophone and clarinet players, all of whom enter rather late in the game, are unfortunately unknown. Again, this is a nice-enough theme that cuts out well before it develops in to something resembling a full-fledged melody. One wonders whether the composer – or the producer – favored this sort of filler, something that was not likely to do much for anyone.

“Python”Kai Winding from Mondo Cane #2 (1964): This rock instrumental sounds like the sort of thing designed for TV dance shows of the period. “Python” features the nominal leader, trombonist Kai Winding, not in the lead but as part of the background horn chart. The song is dominated by a combo organ that sounds very much like a Rock-Si-Chord, a keyboard instrument that, while patented in 1963, was not officially introduced until 1967 – some three years after this recording. Only guitarist Les Spann gets to solo. No other musicians are known.

“The Struggle” Kai Winding from Mondo Cane #2 (1964): Mondo Cane #2 is an album that boasts several movie themes and two Kai Winding songs with “Theme” in the title. Ogerman, who arranged only five of the album’s twelve, umm, themes, structures “The Struggle” very much like a theme to a non-existent movie…in this case, a Western. Again, Winding is only heard – at least on trombone – as part of the horn section. The song is dominated by a high-pitched organ that sounds a lot like a theramin, heard in such films as Spellbound, The Lost Weekend (both 1945) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and for those of more recent generations, the ITV show Midsomer Murders (1997 to the present). A bit more melody here than most of the Claus Ogerman tunes written for Kai Winding.

“Sunset Blvd.”Cal Tjader from Warm Wave (1964): The intoxicating “Sunset Blvd.” (also as “Sunset Boulevard”) is one of the highlights of Latin jazz vibraphonist Cal Tjader’s (1925-82) melodic, easy-going Warm Wave album – which has yet to appear on CD or streaming. According to Ogerman, it was producer Creed Taylor who had the inspired idea to have the vocal group Les Double Six (which later evolved in to The Swingle Singers) drive a warm undercurrent beneath Tjader’s gently-rolling waves. “Sunset Blvd.” is included on The Man Behind the Music and factors on my own Tjader compilation, Soulful Vibes (2008). But, oddly, no one else has ever picked up on this nifty little number.

“New Song of India”Kai Winding (1964): The flip-side to a cover of The Caravelles’ 1963 hit “Don’t Blow Your Cool,” a single released in July 1964, “New Song of India” is a surf-rock riff on the 1937 Tommy Dorsey big-band hit “Song of India.” It’s not an unattractive piece: it lays the groundwork for Neal Hefti’s “Batman” theme. And it also features Winding’s trombone more forwarded than his other surfer tunes (no solo, though). But it captures neither the exotica nor, frankly, the excitement of the earlier track. Nothing came of it anyway.

“The Skillet”Willis Jackson from ‘Gator Tails (1964): Soul jazz and R&B saxophonist Willis “Gator” Jackson (1928-87) recorded scores of albums for Prestige Records during the sixties. He veered toward Cadet for one album in 1965 and to Verve in 1964 for ‘Gator Tails, the only album he recorded for the label (reissued in 1969, simply as Willis Jackson). None of the musicians are known here and arranging duties are split between Claus Ogerman and Robert Banks. Ogerman’s “The Skillet” offers Jackson an invigorating calypso – which the album’s notes describe as merely “done in an easy, carefree style.” Okay…and not so. “The Skillet” kicked off a spate of wonderful calypso-jazz tunes including Sonny Rollins’ “Hold ‘Em Joe,” Nat Adderley’s “Junkanoo” and Blue Mitchell’s “Fungii Mama” (all 1965). Ogerman provides a genuinely exciting framework here while Jackson brings the house down.

“The Jazz Samba”Bill Evans/Jim Hall from Intermodulation (1966): Curiously, Claus Ogerman had nothing to do with this album. “The Jazz Samba” was originally written for the 1962 record LeRoy Holmes Goes Bossa Nova – which likely held sway over producer Creed Taylor – possibly even this album’s pianist or guitarist as well. Evans and Hall take this one at a little faster clip than seems necessary…for some reason. But they make hay out of it even so. This surprising rendition appeared on the duo’s second duo album Intermodulation, from 1966. This version of “The Jazz Samba” was also included on the boxset Claus Ogerman: The Man Behind the Music as well.

“Once” (Claus Ogerman/Guy Wood) – Stan Getz from Voices (1967): With the popularity of Stan Getz’s mid-sixties Bossa Nova records, Verve virtually saturated the market with the saxophonist’s records – in a variety of settings. It’s likely a record like Voices was lost among the din. But what a wonderful din it was. Voices is a real beauty – and one this listener did not discover until its 1995 CD release on a two-fer with Getz’s earlier (pre-Creed Taylor) Verve disc Cool Velvet. Voices, which, according to Ogerman, was originally intended for guitarist Wes Montgomery2, gets its title for replacing a string section with a vocal choir in the background. A master of strings, Ogerman seems a natural for arranging voices – an earlier accomplishment heard on Cal Tjader’s Warm Wave. For Voices, one of the last records produced by Taylor for Verve, Getz is accompanied by the superb (and remarkably identified!) signature sounds of Herbie Hancock or Hank Jones on piano3, Jim Hall on guitar, Ron Carter on bass and Grady Tate on drums. The ethereal “Once” is a haunting ballad that finds Getz at his delicate best. Surprisingly, the familiar-sounding “Once” (not to be confused with Ogerman’s earlier “Only Once” or Jobim’s “Once I Loved,” which Ogerman often recorded) hasn’t been much covered. But singer Lainie Kazan took “Once” on for The Love Album (1967).

“Little Rio (Un Poco Rio)” (Claus Ogerman/Scott English) – Stan Getz from Voices (1967): “Little Rio” – which is probably better known as “Un Poco Rio” – feels instantly familiar but it’s not nearly as well covered as its immediacy suggests. This breezy bossa gets its wind of authenticity from tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, who literally patented the “jazz samba” sound (Ogerman’s own cover of “Un Poco Rio” sounds more like Herb Alpert at Carnival). But there is a certain melancholy tugging at this one, particularly in Getz’s reading of the tune. While “Un Poco Rio” never had any coverage in jazz outside of Getz’s version here, it was covered by pianist/bandleader Joe Harnell on Bossa Now!, Ray Anthony on Today’s Trumpet, Doc Severinsen on Swinging and Singing and Ogerman’s own Latin Rock (all 1967). European bandleaders like Robert Delgado and James Last covered the song, too. “Little Rio” was also included on the boxset The Man Behind the Music as well.

“Darling Joe” (Claus Ogerman/Timothy Gray) – Stan Getz from Voices (1967): A nice blues, disguised as an orchestral number, this one is hard to define. It starts out in pure easy-listening mode. But Stan Getz ups the ante by bringing a real swing to the tune. Like “Sandy’s Gone,” it’s hard to know who Joe is or why he was darling. Either way, it’s a compelling performance from both Ogerman and Getz.

  1. Claus Ogerman: The Man Behind the Music was edited down to two discs and issued in 2004 in the U.S. as Claus Ogerman: A Man and His Music. None of the three songs noted here that factor on the former set are included on the abridged latter set. ↩︎
  2. According to Tom Lord’s The Jazz Discography, “the background” of Voices was recorded on December 2, 1966, and January 8, 1967, for a Wes Montgomery release. (Michel Ruppli’s The Clef/Verve Labels: A Discography gives the second date in 1967 as December 6, 1966.) But Montgomery had allegedly left Verve at the time for A&M and Stan Getz was brought in to overdub his parts at a later (and unknown or unregistered) date. All of this might be true or apocryphal, but this writer is not sure how accurate any of this is. ↩︎
  3. Herbie Hancock plays on “Once” and “Little Rio.” Hank Jones plays on “Darling Joe.” ↩︎

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