Thursday, February 25, 2010


Composer, songwriter,conductor, cellist, and professor Fred Katz, was born on February 25, 1919. Katz was classically trained at the cello and piano and began his career in a number of classical and swing orchestras. In the early 1950s, Katz accompanied singers such as Lena Horne, Tony Bennett and Frankie Laine. From 1955 through 1958, he was a member of the Chico Hamilton Quintet. He also recorded several solo albums for Pacific Jazz, Warner Bros., and Decca Records. At Decca, he also served as A&R director.

Before he became Dr. Katz, musicologist and academician, Fred Katz contributed some priceless items to the space age pop archives. Let me review his c.v.:

Arrangements for Harpo Marx's "Harpo in Hi-Fi" album
Jazz cellist in Chico Hamilton's innovative combo with the young Eric Dolphy
The score for the Roger Corman cult black comedy, "The Little Shop of Horrors"
Backing soundtrack for Ken Nordine's "Word Jazz" albums
Original compositions for the early Tzadik/rad Jewish music album, Folk Songs for Far Out Folks
Original compositions to back Sidney Poitier's reading of excerpts from Plato Obviously, his tenure in the pantheon of this site is assured.

Katz spent World War Two leading the 6th Army Band based at the Presidio, then joined the studio system in Hollywood, where he worked with vocalists such as Lena Horne and Vic Damone. He also performed on the side as a jazz pianist in local clubs, and through those gigs came in contact with many of the leading figures in the West Coast jazz scene.

Having studied the cello in school, Katz was encouraged to explore its possibilities as a jazz instrument through his work with Chico Hamilton. Hamilton was attempting to expand his repertoire beyond cool jazz and bebop, and Katz' classical training and interest in ethnic music provided the means to explore new areas. Together, they wove classical, Middle Eastern, and Asian themes into their performances, helping to pioneer "exotic jazz," a small but fun subgenre shared by Duke Ellington's "Far East Suite" and Cal Tjader's "Shades of Jade" album.

Katz can also be seen and heard in the great Tony Curtis/Burt Lancaster film, "The Sweet Smell of Success," again as part of a Chico Hamilton combo. Katz and Hamilton wrote and perform the four numbers the group performs in the film along with Martin Milner (dubbed by Jim Hall) as the "disreputable" jazz musician Lancaster (as Walter Winchell-like gossip columnist and holy moral force J. J. Hunsecker). As befits lazy good-for-nothing hop-head jazz musicians, Katz and Hamilton can also be spotted hanging around backstage.

While playing with Hamilton, Katz continued to work in the studio system. He worked briefly for Roger Corman, cranking out three scores--"The Little Shop of Horrors," "Bucket of Blood," and "The Wasp Woman"--in under 18 months. Given the similarity of musical cues among the films, however, it may be more accurate to say that Corman used Katz's one score three times.

He served a number of years as an A&R director for Decca Records and recorded occasionally under his own name--a diverse array of projects in their own right as you can see from the list of titles below. Sometime in the mid-to-late 1960s, Katz moved up the road from Hollywood and settled in as a member of the music faculty at the California State University at Northridge.

Chico Hamilton Quintet (Fred Katz on cello), plays "Blue Sands"
Reference - AAJ/American Musicians

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