Lewisburg-Amid flowers from the garden, and soft jazz music playing while loved ones kept a tender vigil at his bedside, Gary Augustus Klein left this earthly realm on Friday, July 19, 2019.
He was born Mar. 19, 1933, in Reading, PA, where his musical career began at the tender age of 6 when his father put a saxophone in his hands. A naturally talented and gifted musician, Gary was playing professionally around town by the age of 12. He studied with the multi-talented Sam Correnti, who also instructed the likes of Gerry Mulligan and other musicians who went on to develop their careers from the wisdom Correnti bestowed.
During an audition at the age of 16 (he was already playing professionally with big bands and quartets, often in venues where he wasn’t even old enough to legally appear), Gary fortuitously heard Charlie Parker opening with a bass and drums, a pivotal moment that made Gary say to himself, “This is what I need to be able to do.” He began to study the works of jazz saxophone players he admired – Charlie Parker, especially – by playing their 78 rpm records repeatedly, lifting the needle and revisiting phrase after phrase until he was able to emulate his heroes through his own playing. Al Cohn, later a friend and mentor, was a strong influence on the development of his style.
By now, Gary had broadened his musical domain, and was often playing in New York City, where he was continually sharpening his skills. Then the army called, and young Klein departed to fulfill his call of duty, taking his saxophone along with him. As luck (and blessings) would have it, during boot camp he was called aside and was selected to become a fundamental member of the Army Jazz Band, where they performed at Officer’s Club functions, as well as patriotic celebrations, concerts, and USO shows. So, Gary’s time in the military was spent making music, as was the majority of his rich and accomplished life.
After completing his military service, Gary Klein attended the Peabody Conservatory, after auditioning in 1955. In 1959, he moved semi-permanently to NYC, where he spent the next several years working with short-run gigs, backing up stars in small engagements. He had married and started a family by this time, and still continued to go on the road playing professionally with then-popular name bands such as Billy May, Buddy Morrow, Ralph Materie, and Woody Herman. As part of the latter’s mid-‘60s career renaissance he recorded several internationally released albums including “Woody Live: East and West” and “My Kind of Broadway” for Columbia Records, having a solo spot on their raucous, rocking take on “Get Me to the Church on Time.” In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s he performed with the Les and Larry Elgart Orchestra and toured with Paul Anka, and the Sammy Kaye and Jimmy Dorsey Orchestras. He also recorded and played for Mel Torme, among others. His musical discography can be found at www.bobpeckmanjazz.com.
Gary later eschewed life with a traveling band for family life, and settled in New York to raise children and teach school. He taught jazz and classical saxophone at the University of Bridgeport and Western Connecticut State University. He also was an ardent composer and arranger for stage bands and combos. He later instructed at the Merit Music School, teaching theory and jazz improvisation.
In the late ‘90s, after a number of life changes, he eventually followed the lead of his friend and peer Al Jeter (also a sax player extraordinaire) and moved to Lewisburg, where he became a fixture on the live music scene in the region for two decades. There was no finer music made in the small venues of a small town than was heard coming from these two old friends and their musical comrades.
A dedicated music historian and avid collector of albums, he also revisited his love of vinyl later in life (ahead of the current popular resurgence; he was quite ahead of the curve), becoming a successful online record dealer with his mail-order business Signature Music, LLC (signaturemusic.com).
Leaving behind two sons, Gary Klein, Jr. and Jay Klein, a myriad of students to whom he taught immeasurable skills, a circle of loyal and faithful friends, and countless devotees to his music and legacy, the scope of our loss of Gary Klein is interminable. He will be remembered for the respect he gave to the musicians with whom he shared the stage, the kindness and generosity he imparted to his close circle of friends, his affection for the love of his life and her dog Blue, and his complete and utter professionalism when performing each and every time he brought his music to his followers. He was world-class, and will not be forgotten.
He is survived by his beloved Carrington.
There will be a celebration of his life later in the fall. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the “Gary Klein Music Appreciation Foundation” under the name of Carrington Dugger at any City National Bank location or Peyton Hospice House at 1265 Maplewood Avenue, Lewisburg, WV 24901.
Wallace & Wallace Funeral Home in Lewisburg is in charge of arrangements. Please send online condolences by visiting www.WallaceandWallaceFH.com