Claus Ogerman, 1960s.
"The Influence Of A Lifetime"
by B.J. Major
Written in 2004 for the occasion of Klaus Ogerman's 74th Birthday
(Note: this story itself is a work of fiction
but is based on verifiable family facts and a real vacation
which took place in the summer of 1963.)
It was a long and tiring bus trip from Philadelphia to New York City. The Majors had yet to purchase their first car, which would not happen for another four years. It would never happen if Bill Major had his way, as he didn't drive and was against the family ever having a car.
After the family checked into the Hotel Manhattan, the process of getting settled into their room began. B.J., who was nine years old at the time and who would not turn 10 until October, spied a white clock radio which was on a small table between the beds in the room. It was already tuned to an easy listening N.Y. am radio station. As the process of unpacking began, something caught her ear that was playing on the radio. The tune was unfamiliar to her at the time, but she liked it right away and was entranced by the arrangement of the song. It turned out to be "More", the theme of a recent motion picture, this recording performed by trombonist Kai Winding and arranged by someone named Klaus Ogerman.
B.J. loved music but had not yet found the right instrument to play. She only knew that it was not going to be piano. Her mother Mary was a fine pianist, able to play by ear and could improvise well. Mary thought that B.J. would enjoy playing piano very much with the child's interest in music, but the year of lessons at the parish convent turned out to be disastrous and one that almost turned B.J. off to music altogether.
The coordination of left and right hands to play different patterns of notes was extremely difficult and frustrating for the child, and after a full year of steady practice and instruction, begged her mother to stop the lessons. It was clear that Mary was very disappointed in her daughter wanting nothing to do with the piano. Mary had tried unsuccessfully to get her husband interested in music. He could not read any sheet music, so she would write out the letter names of the notes on a piece of paper for him to play on the saxophone in order for him to accompany her on the piano. This lasted only a short time as his interest really was not in music. One more attempt was made to get him interested in being an accompanist; a snare drum and single cymbal was his Christmas present the following year. But these stood unused and abandoned in the corner of their living room. Until B.J. began playing with them one day - but we're getting ahead of our story...
The vacation in New York City for the Majors was only going to be a week long and they had a lot to get in during that time. Some of the usual tourist things were on their agenda like going to Freedomland, NBC Studios, Macy's department store, riding the Circle Line Boat Cruise around Manhattan, as well as some non-typical items as well. And there was one surprise in store which no one could have guessed would have such a lasting effect and influence on the youngest family member.
They got an early start on their day the next morning and began with a tour of the general Times Square area. After a nice breakfast at Howard Johnson's, they took a walk, stopping to do a bit of window shopping here and there. All this was so new for B.J. who previous to this had only spent vacations at the New Jersey seashore and while those were nice, this was exciting and much more to her liking. The seashore was always the same year after year, but this hustling, bustling city was full of adventure. Pretty soon they found themselves standing in front of the famous Verve recording studios.
"Here it is," said Mary, "this is where Sylvia's sister Betty works." Sylvia was a coworker of Mary's and told her to look up her sister who was producer Creed Taylor's secretary at Verve, one of the busiest recording studios at that time in New York.
Once inside, Mary made the inquiry and soon after Betty came down to greet the visitors in the lobby. She was very nice and asked if they would like to see how recordings are made. Wow, this was going to be exciting! Everyone would have to be very quiet until the recording session was over, and they would be observing everything through glass while the session was in progress. Down hallways and around corners they went, through a door with a red light glowing on the outside which lit up a sign saying "Recording In Progress." The visitors walked into what was a control booth with tape machines and consoles with switches all around them. B.J. was fascinated with all the equipment and tried to take in everything. She wondered what it all did. There was a nice looking man sitting at the main controls (Creed Taylor) wearing a white long sleeved shirt and dark necktie and who was speaking into a microphone to someone else on the other side of the glass who was conducting the orchestra. B.J. peered into the glass to see a young man sitting down who was wearing a blue long-sleeved polo shirt and holding a guitar (Antonio Carlos Jobim). He was sitting to the left of the orchestra. We learned it was his first U.S. album which was being recorded and that he had come here from Brazil. The man on the podium (Klaus Ogerman) was acknowledging Creed Taylor's suggestion of proceeding with the first take of the next track for the album. Klaus had his white shirt sleeves partially rolled up and also had on a dark necktie. As the recording of the next track began, B.J. was fascinated with the whole process but was especially captivated with the conductor, whose movements were so interesting for her to watch. It was apparent that he was someone who was really feeling the music. She had no idea that this was the very same person who arranged the song she so enjoyed which was played on the hotel room radio just the day before...
After this take, it was time for the musicians to take a break. The door to the control room opened and some of the musicians came through, including young Mr. Jobim who looked at B.J. and smiled. Some of the other musicians were still in the studio, talking and milling around and B.J. noticed that Mr. Ogerman was still at the podium, putting some marks on his score sheets.
"Is it ok if I go in there?" she asked Mr. Taylor. "Sure, go right ahead" he said. "But be careful of everything, Barb" said her mother admonishingly. B.J. very timidly went through the door and walked closer to the podium. She was so quiet that Mr. Ogerman did not even hear her approach him. Suddenly she was at his side and then he saw her. "Well, hello" he said in a friendly tone as he turned toward her. At first B.J. felt completely lost for words and she could only look at his face - not having seen his face from the front when she was watching him through the control booth glass. His hair was jet black and he wore black framed glasses. "I was watching you from in there," she pointed, "and I really liked the way you conducted the orchestra." He smiled and said "Thank you, what is your name?" After the introductions were finished, Klaus said, "Would you like to see what the music looks like?" "Yes, I would." She stepped up on to the podium to look, but the music stand was still a little too high for her to see everything on the large full score sheets. Klaus pulled the elevated chair behind him closer, sat down and then said to B.J. "Come up here and you will be able to see it all" - and with that he had lifted her up onto his lap. B.J. felt as if she was on top of the world at that point and she could have spent the rest of that entire day in the studio with this man. He made her feel so special that he was giving her all this attention. Klaus then began to point out all the interesting things on the music sheets that she had heard while in the control booth. Their conversation then went on like this:
K.O.: "You seem to like music very much. Do you play an instrument?"
B.J.: "Well, I want to, but I don't know which one yet. I had piano for a year but I didn't like it. I really like music and I love to play records, too."
K.O.: "I think you will soon find what instrument suits you, I just have that feeling."
The conversation was interrupted by Creed Taylor announcing into the microphone, "Five minutes, everyone..."
B.J. had her hand on Klaus' arm while he was showing her the music; she looked at him and she wanted to talk more to him, but they were running out of time. The musicians were now coming back into the studio and returning to their places in front of the conductor. "We have to start recording again, honey, but I enjoyed talking to you and I hope to see you again." B.J. slid down off his lap and turned to him and said "Thank you, Mr. Ogerman for showing me the music." He took her hand for a moment and said with a smile, "You're welcome." With that, B.J. walked back into the control room and the recording session began again.
In the meantime, Betty was giving some recommendations to Mary about lunch and also told her about a special fashion show that was going to be in the area shortly afterward. Bill had wanted to go down to the harbor to see the ships that were docked there and talk to some of the people in that area (as he made a living being steamship clerk in Philadelphia). Mary was definitely interested in the fashion show and after some negotiations between the three of them, it was decided that the two women would go to lunch together and then take in the fashion show. B.J. would go down to the harbor with her father, and they would all meet back in the Verve lobby at a certain time afterward.
The lunch and afternoon proceeded as planned and while down at the harbor, Bill and B.J. had their picture taken in front of the SS United States, which was the flagship of the company U.S. Lines, located just down the hallway from where Bill worked. B.J. had no idea at the time that there was a connection between this ship and the conductor in the studio whom she was still thinking about several hours later. They had lunch at Nathan's and enjoyed some New York style hot dogs.
Around 3 p.m., Bill and B.J. returned to the Verve studios' lobby. Mary and Betty were still not back from the fashion show. At first it was quiet in the lobby, with only the sound of some typewriters clicking away in the background and an occasional telephone ringing. Bill smoked a cigarette and looked at one of the trade magazines on the table nearby. B.J. just quietly sat and looked around. But then a door opened from down the hallway and musicians with their instrument cases began pouring out, talking and chattering about the recording session they had just been a part of. She overheard one of them say, ". . .that sure is going to be a nice album when it comes out". B.J. recognized some of these musicians from the morning's visit, and as they all filed past her she caught sight of the conductor who was one of the last ones to come through the hallway door. He had his suit coat jacket on now and his shirt sleeves rolled back down.
"Hi Mr. Ogerman!", she said enthusiastically and waved in his direction, hoping he would see her. Klaus looked up and said "Hi B.J., did you have a nice day in New York?" She told him of their visit to the harbor. When Bill mentioned seeing the SS United States, Klaus told him that it was that ship on which he immigrated to the U.S. just four years earlier. At that point, Mary and Betty appeared in the lobby and everyone was reunited. Mary said she had wanted to go back to the hotel to freshen up for the rest of the day and Mr. Ogerman said he needed to get back to his office, which was just a few blocks away. He bent down and said to B.J. who was sitting on one of the lobby couches, "How would you like to see my office?" "Wow, could I?!" she enthusiastically said, "Can I go, Mom, can I, please?!"
Mary: "I'm sure Mr. Ogerman's a very busy man, I don't know if that's a good idea . . ." she said questioningly as her voice trailed off.
K.O.: "Oh, it's fine, I would not have mentioned it otherwise. I could bring B.J. to where the two of you are having dinner with no problem."
Mary: "Thank you, that's very nice of you, we were going to go to Jack Dempsey's Restaurant tonight."
K.O.: "Fine, I'll have her there at 6 p.m."
With that, B.J. waived goodbye to everyone and took Klaus' hand as they went through the revolving doors at Verve and out into the bright sunlight of the day. It was a sunny 85 degrees with no humidity, very rare for New York which typically is very humid in the summer.
K.O.: "My office is just a few blocks from here, we'll be there soon."
B.J.: "That's ok, I don't mind walking. I didn't think I would ever see you again and that made me feel sad."
Klaus squeezed her hand a little tighter. "I have lots to show you once we get to the office, a lot of music and some records I think you will know."
Before long, they were at the office building. Into another revolving door they went and around a corner to an office where Klaus picked up some waiting telephone messages. Once inside his office, B.J. was amazed at everything she saw. There was a piano against one wall, a desk which was filled with hand written sheet music (presumably Klaus' arrangements and compositions) and a long table filled with bins of records.
K.O.: "While I'm getting settled in here and return these couple of phone calls, why don't you look through the records?"
B.J.: "Ok, sure!"
B.J. loved records and her own record collection at home was just beginning. She knew as soon as she got home from this vacation that she would go to Krill's Music Shop in 69th Street and buy that 45 rpm she had heard on the hotel room clock radio. But where her albums were concerned she had mostly the teen favorites of the day so far and those were mostly by The Beach Boys. She also had a Paul Anka 45 rpm which a friend of Bill's had given her when he visited the house. She liked people like Frank Sinatra and Perry Como, too, but so far had no albums belonging to them. And, she had permanently "borrowed" her mother's "Music from Mr. Lucky" instrumental LP by Henry Mancini and played it a lot.
B.J. got the surprise of her life as she looked at many of the albums in the bins belonging to such stars as Connie Francis, Lesley Gore, The Drifters, Solomon Burke, Ben E. King, Little Eva, Mel Torme and others - who were all so popular and who were played on the radio constantly. She turned over one of the Lesley Gore albums and saw "arranged and conducted by Klaus Ogerman" on one of them and her jaw dropped wide open. She turned to Klaus who was just getting off the phone and said, "You did these albums? I hear these songs all the time at home on the radio!" "Yes, all those you see there I had something to do with; I either arranged and conducted them or they contain something I wrote." "I had no idea you were this famous!" exclaimed a very elated B.J.
K.O. "I haven't been in this country very long, B.J."
B.J.: "Where are you from?"
All B.J. knew was that was a place very far away. Some of her relatives on her father's side were from there, too, but she knew little about them or where they were from. She remembered being told that her great grandmother was born in Munich, Germany.
The rest of that side of the family was native to upstate Pennsylvania, a region formerly known for coal mining and very small towns.
B.J. continued to look through the bins as Klaus was finishing up on his last phone call. She could not get over all the famous names she saw on the records.
B.J.: "This is SO neat, I'm so glad I found this out about you and that you are on these records."
K.O.: "Come over here, I want to show you some other music that I have written."
B.J. walked around the large desk to where Klaus was sitting. "I write other types of music myself, as well as working on the popular tunes. Here is a ballet score I finished just last year." B.J. looked at the score, all the parts listed there and did not know or understand how you could look at all this at once when you are conducting the orchestra, there were so many lines of instruments. She was amazed as he turned the pages and saw all the movements and different titles of the ballet sections printed at the top. "When I was still in Germany, I wrote this as well; - it's classical music - but it has not been recorded yet." At the top of the music it said "Lyrical Works." B.J. continued to look in awe and she started to realize what a talent this man was, what gifts he had, to be able to be at home in all these very different styles of music.
B.J.: "What instrument do you play yourself?"
B.J.: "Oh. . . . I guess you didn't like me saying that I didn't like that instrument and that I had a very hard time with it."
K.O.: "I understand that not everyone likes or enjoys playing the same instrument. And I still think you will find something that fits you just right."
B.J.: "I sure hope so, I really love music and I would love to be able to play an instrument."
She then told Klaus the story of what was currently going on at home, that her mother played piano frequently after dinner, that she didn't even need music to play, and that Mary was trying to get Bill to play the saxophone to accompany her. "I wish I could spend more time with you, I don't like what's going on at home right now." Klaus asked her why and she began, "Well, we just moved into a new house in a new area for us, I like the house a lot but Mom & Dad sure fight a lot. Sometimes I have to go up to my room and shut the door just to block it out, but most of the time I can still hear their fighting even though my door is shut. I play my records so that I don't hear anything else until things are quiet again." "I'm so sorry to hear that," Klaus said. "How has it been for you so far on vacation?" "It's been ok, this is only our real first day here, we got here yesterday afternoon kind of late on the bus. But it seems like Mom & Dad like doing things by themselves rather than together and then I feel like I'm in the middle, and that's not a good feeling..." the child replied. The time talking with Klaus was flying by; they had already been in his office for over an hour and Klaus knew they would have to leave soon in order to make it to the restaurant on time.
K.O.: "We'll have to be leaving here soon, I promised your mother I'd have you to the restaurant by six and there is a lot of traffic out there at this time of day."
B.J.: "I wish I didn't have to go," she said rather dejectedly.
K.O.: "I'm going to write my office address down on this piece of paper and I want you to write me and let me know how you are doing with music and what instrument you have chosen to play. Will you do that?"
B.J.: "You bet I will, I don't want you to forget me."
K.O.: "I could never forget you."
Klaus handed B.J. the slip of paper and B.J. tucked it carefully into her shorts' pocket. "I'm going to listen for your music all the time now, on the radio and I'm going to look for your albums, too. In a way it will be like I have a part of you always with me because it's your music" B.J. told him. "And as soon as that album you were making with Mr. Jobim today comes out, I will get it right away." "That would be very nice and I appreciate that," Klaus said.
He got up from his big chair and turned to B.J. to give her a private goodbye before they went out into the busy, bustling streets of New York. She hugged him back and didn't want this moment to end. There was something very special about this man, something even beyond his wonderful music that really touched her in a personal way. Something that she would not fully comprehend and that would not unfold until she was much older.
As B.J. let go of his neck, she gently kissed him on the cheek and said "I'm so very glad to know you."
That week's vacation in the summer of 1963 was over quickly. When B.J. returned home, she made good on the promise to herself to go and buy that 45 rpm Kai Winding record at Krill's the following day. She almost could not contain her excitement when she got home from the store, went to play it on her record player and noticed these words on the label "Arranged and conducted by Klaus Ogerman." She decided she would write her first letter to him that very night and she did. He wrote back shortly afterward and their correspondence with each other continued for decades. B.J. told Klaus about her interest in the drums and percussion after discovering her father's abandoned snare drum and cymbal in the living room. When she received a complete drum set the following Christmas, she told Klaus all about it and how much she loved to play to records. She practiced every day and learning the drums was very natural for her.
He encouraged her to study music and to be sure to be in the music program when she started high school a few years after that. She loved receiving Klaus' letters and hearing all about the latest project he was working on. And of course, she continued to follow his career and listen to everything of which he had a hand in making.
It turned out that Klaus Ogerman was
"The Influence of a Lifetime" for B.J.
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