Thursday, September 19, 2013


Fred Katz produced some pretty swingin' music…especially when it came to cult artists and cult films. The Fred Katz Group backed word-jazz hipster Ken Nordine on the creepy-cool novelty single "My Baby." Dig who the baby he's growlin' about really is, and flip your lobes laughing. Maybe. Maybe not. Katz also composed the jumpy soundtrack music for the Roger Corman classic "Little Shop of Horrors," and many more.

The dynamite Brooklynite (February 25, 1919-September 7, 2013) started out in squaresville…but an impressive part of that town….playing cello in symphony orchestras. He had studied his craft with the great Pablo Casals his own self. Even so, Katz was more of a meow on the piano, and that's where he got his better paying gigs, tinkling for Lena Horne and pounding the elephant tusks for Frankie Laine. He was both a dry pianist and seminal cellist with the Chico Hamilton quintet. You can see the quintet in the movie "Sweet Smell of Success." Katz's expertise in classical music gave him an edge when it came to composing, conducting and arranging, and while his film score "Sweet Swell of Success" wasn't used in the film, he found a willing customer in director Roger Corman. Aside from "Little Shop of Horrors," Katz scored "Bucket of Blood," "Wasp Woman" and "Creature from the Haunted Sea." Matching wits with the frugal Corman, his soundtracks tended to sound alike. Fred's appraisal of Corman's films is that they were all alike: "“I hated every picture that Corman did."

Among Fred's other bend-your-head creds…is Carmen McRae's classic 1958 album "Carmen For Cool Ones." He supplied all the arrangements. The following year, he issued his own legendary album, "Folk Songs for Far Out Folk." Among his other albums, there's "Soul-o Cello," which includes a wide variety of oddness, ranging from jazzy versions of light classics ("English Garden") and folk ("Poor Wayfaring Stranger") to his own "The Vidiot." The latter, overlayed with a dialogue between a groovy interviewer and a square boob-tube lover, was on Ken Nordine's 'Word Jazz" album, but below, you get Fred's music sans words.

Fred was all music all his life…and more. As the concerned "don't quit your day job" conservatives would tell you, making it as a full-time player in a jazz band, or waiting for movie score work, or arranging charts for pop singers, is very, very hard. As is being a novelist, actor or painter. So…Fred put in 30 years teaching at Cal State (both Fullerton and Northridge campussies, cats) handling some unusual courses, including "Shamanic Magic and Religion." One of his students was John Densmore, or "Dinsdale" as he's sometimes known…who is best remembered as a member of Jim Morrison's back-up group. But if you really want to enter a door of perception, check out some of dead Fred. You know (now) he even performed his "Folk Songs for Far Out Folk" when he was far into his later years...yes, he was far from forgotten by real music devotees.

While some of Fred's albums are fairly common, including "Eastern Exposure," and a few are even on mp3 now at bargain prices ("Soul-o Cello" and "Fred Katz and his Jammers") old-school jazz fans and new-wave weirdos alike crave and pay high for the Pacific Jazz release with Paul Horn and Chico Hamilton, "Zen: The Music of Fred Katz," and of course the Warner Bros. classic "Folk Songs for Far Out Folk." Quite the tribute, Rhino even made an "original soundtrack album" out of a 35mm print of "The Little Shop of Horrors." Oh yes…the opening credits theme is also hear to sauce your cauliflowers....

Little Shop of Horrors


The Vidiot

No comments: