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  EDITORIAL:  Why is Claus so hard on himself?
by B.J. Major
12/23/05

If I were Claus Ogerman, I might be tempted to rest on my laurels and especially now (as of this writing) that I was in my mid-70s, at least go into semi retirement and cut back on my work assignments.  Time to kick back and put my feet up for a while; take some well deserved R&R.  Apparently, this is definitely not what Claus is doing.  His correspondence to me over the last few years has indicated that he is busier than ever, working harder than ever, and traveling more than ever.  What is he doing?  What is he currently working on?  What projects is he involving himself with?  I wish I knew the answers to these questions, but I do not.  Claus will not reveal anything that he is currently working on to me, even though I have said to him that I would honor any and all requests to keep the information confidential.  I only have his brief words that he is "very busy composing and conducting" apparently, around the world.  I do know that he frequently is going back and forth between the U.S. and Germany/Europe.  He signed for a Certified Letter I sent him to his N.Y. P.O. address on December 8 and just 9 days letter sent me a reply from Munich, Germany.  So he gets around and has no trouble doing so.

That Claus chooses to go on working full steam at his age is not what this editorial is about, however.  It is just to give you some background on the stamina of this man.  As most people who have followed Claus' career know, in 1980 he made public his intentions that he would no longer arrange/conduct for others and that he wanted to spend what was left of his life devoted to composing and conducting his own, classical works (mostly with his orchestra of choice, The London Symphony).  This is all well and good and he certainly can pick and choose what projects he wants to spend his time doing.  What is very disturbing to me and to other fans of his music, however, is the disparaging remarks he's made and the distance he wants to keep between himself and the projects he worked on in the past - which projects are totally and 100% responsible for both his fame and his fortune.

As the film documentary "Time Past and Time Present - Who is Claus Ogerman?" revealed, Claus considers his 20 plus years in the recording industry (both in Germany & in the U.S.) to be nothing but "luck", having "suddenly and unexpectedly fallen into" that business as a full-time career after moving to New York from Germany in 1959.  He considers arranging unimportant, calling it "a frame business" (i.e., merely putting a "frame" around work composed by others) and "a background business".  This, despite the fact that he is truly (as the documentary states) an American success story and is most definitely one of the best arrangers in the business. 

What caused this sudden and dramatic change of attitude in Claus?  From my own study of his career, Claus always managed to compose classical music right along side of what other projects he was involved with at the time - be those top 40, pop, jazz, r&b, broadway, bossa nova, whatever.  This becomes evident if you look at Claus' work timeline. 
Some examples:  His "Lyrical Works" classical music was composed in Germany in the early 1950s, before he ever set foot on American soil.  This was while he was pianist, arranger, composer & vocalist for German big bands.  His wonderful "Canadian Concerto" was composed in the early 1960s after his first vacation to Canada when the vast natural beauty contained there inspired him to work and compose - even though he was supposed to be there on vacation, away from the grinding schedule of arranging charts for producers Quincy Jones & Creed Taylor.  Claus recorded his "Gate of Dreams" (adapted from his "Some Times" ballet) suite in the early 1970s during the time that Claus was most busy with Barbra Streisand, Antonio Carlos Jobim, The Jerry Ross Symposium, Bill Evans, and many other artists.

My own speculation regarding the sudden and dramatic change of attitude is that somewhere, somehow, someone "got" to Claus and very unfortunately managed to convince him that unless he began devoting himself to the classical field 100%, that Claus would not be taken as a serious musician by history and others in the future who study his career.  I do not think or believe for one second that Claus came upon this decision himself and just woke up one day resolved that he would no longer arrange/conduct for others.  I have nothing on which to base this speculation - just a general feeling and hunch I have inside that Claus could not possibly work for over twenty years in a business where he made many close, professional friends (Antonio Carlos Jobim, Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson, in particular) - and then suddenly one day decide to cast them and their music all aside because it was considered no longer "good enough" for him.   That just doesn't fly with me.   I know for a fact that Claus was thrilled and honored to work with many of the greats during his career (he was even a little nervous about recording with Sinatra).   It's one thing to want to change your venue and do something else for a while, something which you feel you haven't spent enough time doing; it's quite something else to disparage and no longer wish to be connected to that which you have done for the majority of your career and that for which you have the public's admiration and devotion.  Not to mention the high esteem & regard other musicians have for Claus.

Then there are the inconsistencies and conflicts.  These abound where Claus Ogerman is concerned.  For instance, why did Claus come out of his self-imposed arranging exile in 2001 to record two albums' worth of sensual, bossa nova-style material with Diana Krall (only one of which albums, so far, has been released)?  And then show up in Paris, France, later that same year to conduct parts of Krall's live concerts there?  I thought he was done with arranging for others in 1980.  That's what he said.  What, then, could have led him to do this work with Diana Krall in 2001?  Money?  I doubt it.  Claus certainly was not in a position where he needed the money.  Fame?  He already had that, from decades earlier.  Did he miss arranging and conducting for others?  Yes, I think he did - even if only a little bit, a tiny bit.  That bit which he will never admit to.  Definitely.  Will he ever do something like this again?  Who knows.  He may and he may not.  Where Claus Ogerman is concerned, expect the unexpected.



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