Harry Klein

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Being able to say "I was the saxophone player on the White Album by the Beatles" has to got to be a pretty heavy credit, unless one stops and tries to remember where exactly the saxophone is on this meisterstucke.…
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Being able to say "I was the saxophone player on the White Album by the Beatles" has to got to be a pretty heavy credit, unless one stops and tries to remember where exactly the saxophone is on this meisterstucke. The answer is that Klein appears playing clarinet on "Honey Pie" and tenor sax on "Savoy Truffle," but a quicker way to spot check Klein and the Fab Four is to identify him as one of a quartet of saxophonists on the Beatles hit "Lady Madonna." One of the nice parts of the arrangement on this record is the way these hornmen play the solo section as a group. The slick bit of interplay no doubt was helped by the longstanding relationships between these veteran musicians, which included Ronnie Scott, the combination saxophonist and club owner that everyone on the British jazz scene has to try and get along with.

By getting his foot in the door of the British pop recording scene of the '60s and '70s, the jazz saxophonist Harry Klein insured himself many of these sorts of credits. Sometimes he is more audible than other times, since one thing pop producers never seem to want to do is turn the saxophone up, unless of course the star of the show is a saxophone player. Klein also rode on the recording trip of the exotic Caravan, but was more likely to be found blowing alongside bandleader Georgie Fame, who straddled the worlds of blues, boogie-woogie, rock, and jazz on the British scene for years. One thing is for sure, the White Album sessions must have paid better than Klein's earliest jobs, such as playing in the medium-sized ensemble of trumpeter Nat Gonella in the late '40s, a venture that was summarized as "tremendously unsuccessful" even in a tribute to Gonella. Klein recalled taking in about 13 pounds per gig in that band, the pound being worth a lot more back then, but still not a lucky number. He also gained great experience playing in a band led by pianist Bill LeSage, playing just about everything including old-time dancing, community singing, regular dancing, and last but not least the cocktail lounge piano sound.

But all that was nothing compared to getting the call from Stan Kenton in 1956, when the bandleader was on tour in Europe and needed quick replacements for two of his musicians who had jumped off the band in panic. Recalling his first night on the Kenton bandstand, Klein said in an interview, "The music was absolutely impossible. It went by at such speed, page after page, absolutely black with dots." He rose to the challenge and soon Kenton was writing solos for Klein into the material, some of which he plays on the double Live at the Royal Albert Hall. This recording of dubious legality was also not recorded at Royal Albert Hall, and unfortunately credits one of the saxman that had quit the band instead of Klein. In the early '50s, the saxman was blowing in both the small and large groups of Kenny Baker, a British jazz trumpeter and bandleader and certainly not to be confused with the American bluegrass fiddler of the same name. Pianist Stan Tracey was Klein's sidekick in these groups, and the two continued their collaborative relationship in the mid-'60s when Tracey recorded his acclaimed big band album. "Lady Madonna" is also far from Klein's only historic performance alongside Ronnie Scott, either. The two were part of a jazz ensemble that was hired to play on the BBC-TV's 6 to 5 Special, but were fired after a few weeks for the inexcusable sin of being "too jazzy." Not a bad reason to be fired, all things considered.