Harry Klein: Baritone saxophonist who dominated his field for two decades

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The Independent Online

Back in the 1950s the alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, the undisputed king of modern jazz, invited Harry Klein to sit in with him and trumpeter Fats Navarro while they were playing at a New York jazz club.

The Englishman, who was then himself an alto player, declined. He and his pal the trumpeter Leon Calvert were overwhelmed by the city. They had already used most of what money they had when they'd been hustled by a smart salesman into buying identical brown suits. Perhaps Klein felt he'd taken enough risks for one trip.

Klein had docked in New York on the Mauretania as a member of Geraldo's Navy. This was the group of British instrumentalists managed by Geraldo who provided the music for passengers on the Queen Mary and the other transatlantic Cunard liners. The chance to hear musicians like Parker in the clubs was invaluable and Geraldo's men brought home and nurtured the seeds of Bebop in Britain.

Teaching himself to play the alto when he was 14, Klein had his first regular professional job with Ivor Kirchin's band at the Paramount in Tottenham Court Road. He was soon involved with leaders like Nat Gonella, Kenny Baker, Victor Feldman and Jack Nathan. In 1950, although Klein wasn't keen on the idea, Nathan bought him a baritone sax and Klein found he was better suited to it.

Basing his style broadly on that of Gerry Mulligan, he quickly developed a deep, broad-shouldered sound on the horn. He came to fame as a baritone player, winning the Melody Maker poll each year from 1953 to 1957 and he and Ronnie Ross dominated the baritone sax field for the next two decades. Although a lot of his work was in dance bands, Klein made a multitude of good jazz records, notably with the Jazz Today unit. He played in Jack Parnell's big band and was a regular on the various series of broadcasts by Kenny Baker's Dozen during the Fifties.

Stan Kenton's band was touring Europe in April 1956. Two of his musicians were sent back to the States on what turned out to be trumped-up drugs charges. Klein and the fine English tenor player Don Rendell took their places for the tour and both learned much from the American musicians. Klein and Rendell were unknown to the Americans; on their first night with the band Klein was given a solo to play on "All The Things You Are". When he sat down after it the rest of the band turned to him and held up their thumbs.

Klein worked with the tenor player Tommy Whittle on and off throughout the 1950s. After playing for Tony Crombie in 1959 he co-led The Jazz Five with the clarinettist Vic Ash from early 1960 until 1962, when he formed his own quintet. But most of his work was as a freelance in the studios and he played for artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Tom Jones, Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Dusty Springfield and the Rolling Stones. He recorded with the Beatles (on "Lady Madonna"), Sammy Davis Jr, Dudley Moore and Champion Jack Dupree. He worked regularly in the Johnny Spence Big Band.

In later life he continued to play jazz gigs, reverting to the alto when back problems made the baritone too heavy. He also had some success as a bit-playing actor, often in EastEnders. A private man, Klein had no family except for his wife, Pam. She died a few days after him, also of natural causes.

Harry Klein, saxophonist and bandleader: born London 25 December 1928; married Pam; died London 30 June 2010.