Benny Krueger

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The saxophone has been associated so strongly with jazz for such a long time that it is probably hard to believe that there was a time prior to 1920 when the instrument had actually yet to make its appearance…
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The saxophone has been associated so strongly with jazz for such a long time that it is probably hard to believe that there was a time prior to 1920 when the instrument had actually yet to make its appearance on a jazz record. This is where Benny Krueger comes in. Of no relation to the horrific character with knives on his fingers, this Krueger was known as a music director and orchestra leader for crooners such as Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallée. Also an accomplished songwriter, Krueger started out on clarinet and saxophone and began working with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917, staying with the group for half a dozen years.

This combo, featuring legendary New Orleans cats such as Nick LaRocca on cornet and drummer Tony Sbarbaro, is normally credited with cutting the world's very first jazz records. While it is normally a sign of intelligence to downgrade the contributions of record producers and A&R men in this genre, in the case of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band it was actually someone from the RCA Victor record company management who felt strongly that a saxophone belonged in this newly developing style. According to historical accounts, Krueger was the record company's choice, not the band's. In fact, Krueger and his instrument were supposedly shoved down the band's throat, an unfortunate and violent image considering a saxophone is involved.

The decision was a good one, however. Recordings such as the 1920 "Palesteena" were big hits, representing the onset of a process in which the saxophone would forever be identified with syncopated music and improvisation. Such is not the case with Krueger himself, however, who by the mid-'20s had evolved into a bandleader and was cutting sides such as "Lovin' Sam" and a version of "Bye Bye Blackbird." Although operating on the periphery of jazz with an obvious overlap in both available musicians and repertoire, the Krueger style was strongly aimed at the dance band crowd. His recording sessions were part of hyperactive production schedules, attempting to stay abreast of the latest popular recordings. Bandleaders from this scene often created alternate versions of tunes under fictitious names.

Krueger also worked steadily as a contractor for various radio stations, and by the mid-'30s had established himself deep in the valley of Vallée by becoming this superstar hitmaker's musical director. His group also began backing up Crosby during this period, the arrangements leaving room for Krueger's alto saxophone comments. As a songwriter, Krueger specialized in the type of romantic sentimentality that has been popular since the first days of pop music.

"Sunday," speaking of which, is his most prolifically covered ditty. It shows up in an R&B version by Louis Jordan and as saccharine '50s pop in the hands of Pat Boone, and was given the straight jazz treatment by one of the greatest saxophonists of all time, Lester Young. Another well-known Krueger standard is "I Don't Know Why," as in "I don't know why I love you like I do."