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.
Share this page