Monday, January 16, 2012

R.I.P.: Phil Kraus, CTI's symphonic percussionist

(born 1918 in New York, NY, USA;
died January 13, 2012 in Houston, Texas, USA)

Phil Kraus, arguably the most recorded percussionist of the past century, passed away last Friday, at age 93. Kraus was the first (and simply the best) classically-trained "symphonic percussionist" to crossover to the pop and jazz fields. Below you'll find one obituary and two biographies, but, oddly, they omitt his efforts with the NBC Symphony as well as with jazz luminaries.

Besides his solo albums ("The Percussive," "Conflict") and the sessions he co-led with Bobby Rosengarden ("Percussion Playful and Pretty," "Like Bongos," "Hot Line For Sound" etc) and Max Roach ("Taste of Drums"), I became acquainted with Krau's talents through his three decade-long association with producer Creed Taylor. Firstly, as a key member of the Creed Taylor Orchestra on such Kenyon Hopkins-arranged albums as "The Sound of New York" (1958) "Panic" (1959) and "Ping Pang Pong - The Swinging Ball/100 Musical Percussive Sounds" (1960), on which he and Joe Venuto used an arsenal that ranged from vibes, marimbas and tubular chimes to a set of Balinese rice drums, Chinese gongs and Oriental gamelon. Later on, from Jimmy Smith's Grammy-winning "The Cat" (1964) to Don Sebesky's "The Rape of El Morro" (1975), he remained as Creed's first choice when symphonic percussive sounds were needed.

On the aferomentioned Sebesky album, for instance, Kraus is featured mainly on a superb track titled "Footprints of the Giant," based on the second movement of Bela Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste." During the CTI heyday, Phil Kraus and Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira sometimes played in the same projects - from Freddie Hubbard's "First Light" to Don Sebesky's "Giant Box." On George Benson's "White Rabbit," arranged by Sebesky, while Airto plays caxixis, tambourine and does vocal effects, Kraus can be heard on castanets ("El Mar" and the title track), gongs ("Little Train"), tympani ("White Rabbit") and vibes ("California Dreaming").

Another memorable collaboration with both Sebesky and Airto Moreira happened on Randy Weston's magnum-opus "Blue Moses," on which Kraus can be heard playing marimba on the title track, while Airto and Randy's son, Azzedin Weston, take care of Brazilian and African percussion instruments. Besides the collaborations with Airto, Kraus also recorded alongside another Brazilian percussionist, Rubens Bassini, on Hank Crawford's "Wildflower" album. And, under Bob James' direction, he performed on Grover Washington, Jr.'s "Soul Box."

The list of countless jazz artists with whom Kraus recorded also includes: Billie Holiday, Esther Phillips, Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hammond, Jimmy Scott, Chris Connor, Joe Morello, Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones, Dick Hyman, Stan Getz, Toots Thielemans, Johnny Hartman, Grady Tate, Clark Terry, Ray Charles, Buddy Rich, Charles Mingus, Sonny Stitt, Gene Bertoncini, Jackie & Roy, Art Webb, Theresa Brewer, Maynard Ferguson, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Eartha Kidd, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Ella Fitzgerald, Cal Tjader, Luiz Bonfá, Bob Thiele and so on. Not to mention the pop stars - from Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra to Janis Ian and Roberta Flack, from Ben E. King to Carole King; from the Swing era to the Disco crazy of the mid-70s, when he recorded with The Village People (on their anthem "Macho Man" LP) and Sister Sledge. Oh, and the dozens of soundtracks, from the "Bewitched" TV series to "The Wiz" featuring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. We'll miss u.From
Bio by Jason Ankeny

Phil Kraus was far and away one of the busiest and most prolific New York City studio percussionists of the postwar era, appearing on sessions headlined by Percy Faith, Hugo Winterhalter, André Kostelanetz, and virtually every other giant of easy listening and lounge music. Kraus was born in New York in 1918, and began playing xylophone at age eight. He continued adding other percussion instruments to his repertoire throughout his teen years, eventually winning a full scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music.

In 1939, Kraus was hired to play vibes with the staff band at the New York radio station WNEW, moonlighting with some of his bandmates in a nightclub act called the "Five Shades of Blue"; he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941, concurrently appearing in Irving Berlin's musical This Is the Army. After World War II ended, Kraus returned to New York, in the decades to follow leaving the city only once (to tour behind Frank Sinatra in 1970). He played in the studio bands for such early television hits as Your Show of Shows, The Jackie Gleason Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show, in addition to a frenetic schedule of album sessions, most often on the payrolls of the rival Command and Time labels, and at his peak played on as many as three sessions per day, seven days a week.

During the '50s he also headlined several LPs for the Golden Crest label, among them The Percussive Phil Kraus and Conflict; in 1955, he also collaborated with Harry Breuer, Terry Snyder, and a handful of other top percussionists for the landmark Speed the Parting Guest (Hi-Fi Bull in a Chime Shop), one of the first all-percussion recordings issued in stereo. During the following decade, Kraus recorded a series of albums with fellow percussion ace Bob Rosengarden, including Like -- Bongos!, Hollywood Sound Stage, Percussion: Playful & Pretty, and Hot Line for Sound; in addition, he worked on dozens of film soundtracks and literally thousands of Muzak sessions.

Kraus also wrote and published five books on percussion technique, most notably the three-volume Modern Mallet Method. He retired from session work in 1978 and relocated to Houston, agreeing to serve as the personnel director of the Houston Symphony, a position he held until joining the Houston Pops in 1981. Kraus remained with the Pops until its 1994 dissolution, and continued playing vibes in small local jazz combos into his eighties. Kraus passed away on January 13, 2012, in Houston, Texas.

One of the hardest working men in Space Age Pop, Phil Kraus' motto might have been, "Have Percussion, Will Travel." Along with his frequent partner, Bobby Rosengarden, Kraus played on more percussion showcase albums than any other musician--except, perhaps, Dick Hyman, who had the advantage of never having to sleep.

Kraus began studying the xylophone at the age of 8. His first music teacher suggested it after he resisted practicing the piano, and in Kraus' words, "I took to the xylophone right away." By the time he graduated from high school, was so proficient at most common percussion instruments that he won a full scholarship as a timpani major to the Juilliard School of Music.

Even then, he was working as a professional musician. During school breaks, he played in a combo with some friends: "We played at the Hotel Torrey in Harris, N.Y. There were four of us. The hotel promised to pay us $4 a week plus room and board and all the girls you wanted if you could make them. We played at night after dinner from about 8 to 11 p.m. We always had a boy singer, a girl singer and a tap dancer."

He played with a few New York groups, including a very early all-electric combo with organist John Gart that played at the Hotel Shelton. His goal, however, was to follow in his older brother's footsteps and land a job in radio--because it was a steady job. In 1939, he joined the staff band of radio station WNEW. The core of the station band took the name, The Five Shades of Blue. "WNEW was a Class-B station, a local station not affiliated with a radio network. So, they only paid about $55 for a six-day week, compared with $100 a week at a Class-A station."

Kraus enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941. Aside from Lionel Hampton, Kraus was one of the few professional vibraphonists at the time. Kraus was among the Army musicians selected to appear in Irving Berlin's patriotic musical, "This is the Army." The show opened at the Broadway Theater on July 4, 1942, where it played for three months, then did a national tour. "We played in the Broadway Theater for President Roosevelt, and we were invited to the White House, where we shook the president's hand," said Kraus. "The cast then made its way out to California, where we stayed there for several months making the movie version."

After the war, he returned to New York and began a busy schedule of TV, radio, and recording session work that continued through the late 1970s. He played in studio bands for such TV shows as "Studio One," "Your Show of Shows," "The Perry Como Show," "The Ed Sullivan Show," and "The Jackie Gleason Show." He was a favorite of numerous arrangers and performers, and can be heard on recordings by Percy Faith, Hugo Winterhalter, Leroy Holmes, Andre Kostelanetz, Benny Goodman, and many others.

One of the few percussionists in New York skilled at a variety of instruments, Kraus was in constant demand for television, radio, advertising, muzak, and recording sessions. He estimates that during his peak, he was working 7 days a week, covering as many as three sessions a day. He ventured out of New York City just once after the war, touring a few days with Frank Sinatra in the 1970s. Other than that, he enjoyed the luxury of more work than he had time to take, working constantly through three decades primarily on the basis of his reputation and acquaintances with music contractors like Carl Praeger.

Around 1955, Kraus, Terry Snyder, Harry Breuer, and six other percussionists took part in what was one of the first stereo all-percussion recordings. Assembled by Jimmy Carroll, who later became Mitch Miller's lead arranger, in Carroll Bratman's studio (and musical instrument rental shop), the group banged out a series of Carroll's own compositions. This was so early in the stereo era that they didn't have the luxury of two speakers in the studio and had to listen to the playbacks one person at a time through headphones. The album was released on the Cook Laboratories label, one of the pioneers in stereo recording, as "Speed the Parting Guest (Bull in a Hi-Fi Chime Shop)." Kraus recorded a few albums under his own name in the 1950s for the small label Golden Crest, including "The Percussive Phil Kraus" and "Conflict," both of which include original compositions by Kraus.

He served as the anchorman of the percussion section for Bobby Shad's Time label through its "Series 2000" albums, which competed with Enoch Light's Command records, following the same format of bold black-and-white (and red, in Time's case) designs, gatefold covers, and dynamic stereo effects. At the same time, he also racked up his share of Command sessions on albums such as "Far Away Places."

During this time, he teamed with Bobby Rosengarden for the first time on the Time album, "Like--Bongos." The pair formed a business partnership went on to record albums for RCA, Decca, and Project 3 during the 1960s. He worked with Dick Hyman as the Living Percussion on "The Beat Goes On," yet another in producer Ethel Gabriel's series of "Living (Blank)" albums for RCA's budget label, Camden. Hyman and Kraus each arranged 5 numbers for the album, which includes a fun cover of Les Baxter's "Quiet Village."

Kraus calculated that he performed on over 40 soundtracks, and thousands of muzak sessions. Muzak recordings in particular were usually rush-through jobs, but Kraus recalled producer and arranger Sid Bass commenting, "They're on and off the elevator in a minute or two--who's going to notice a flub?" He worked with most of the other star session musicians of the New York scene: on Living Jazz and Brass Ring albums with Phil Bodner; on Al Caiola's guitar albums on United Artists; and with Tony Mottola on Command and Project 3 albums, as well as side jobs like a series of educational film strips on topics like magnetism and electricity.

His mark can be found in places throughout much of the popular music recorded in New York City between the late 1940s and late 1970s. On Ben E. King's classic, "Stand By Me," for example, that little scraping sound that appears between phrases ("When the night" "has come") was Kraus playing the Brazilian guiro.

Kraus took his profession seriously and was active in the union movement and as a teacher. One of the early members of the Recording Musicians Association, he fought to win the right to residual payments for musicians who recorded on advertisement jingles, and he continues to encourage young musicians to join their local. He was sought out by many of his peers--including the great drummer Irv Cottler--to instruct them on fine points of techniques, and published five books. His three volumes on "Modern Mallet Method" are still in print and used as texts at the college level.

Kraus moved to Houston in 1978 to be closer to his children. He served as the personnel manager of the Houston Symphony for several years until he left to join the Houston Pops under Ned Bautista in 1981. He remained with the Pops until it folded in 1994. He continued to play vibes in small combos around the Houston area until just before his death. "My biggest regret? I have none," he told an interviewer in 2011. "I didn't work too hard, had a nice time, nice friends, nice work."

Phil Kraus, a percussionist who worked with musicians from Leonard Bernstein to Buddy Holly, from Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett to the Drifters died January 13 in Houston, TX. He was 93.

Born in New York City, Mr. Kraus started studying xylophone at 8. He won a full scholarship to the Juilliard School at 17. After graduation he worked in a radio band at WNEW and then joined the Army during WWll where he was recruited to play in the band for Irving Berlin's This is the Army, both on Broadway and in the movie.

Working in television, concerts and recording sessions in New York, Mr. Kraus played the famous marimba riff in Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem", the Latin guiro on "Stand by Me" as well as other percussion instruments for recording artists as varied as Billie Holliday, Carole King and Ray Charles and played with groups led by such greats as Quincy Jones, Benny Goodman and Doc Severinson. He was in the orchestra at Madison Square Garden the night Marilyn Monroe sang "Happy Birthday Mr. President" to President Kennedy, was in the band of tv shows such as The Ernie Kovacs show, Perry Como show, Howdy Doody and Miss America and was on the soundtrack of movies such as Midnight Cowboy, Carrie and The Godfather.

In 1978 Mr. Kraus moved to Houston, Texas to be closer to his family. He worked as personnel manager for the Houston Symphony and later taught percussion at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music as well as playing in the Houston Pops.

Preceding him in death was his wife of 65 years, Janet Hoenig Kraus. Mr. Kraus leaves his daughters, Beth Johnstone (Edwin), Suzanne May (Donald), his grandchildren Andy Turboff (Amy), Jeffrey Turboff, Alexa May Rushing (Eric) and Chloe May (Daniel Rowen) as well as great-grandsons, Will Turboff and Jack Rushing.

Funeral will be at 2 pm on Sunday, January 15 at Emanu El Memorial Park 8341 Bissonnet Houston, TX. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Juilliard School.

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