As a pianist/keyboardist, songwriter, educator, author and founder of the Jazzheads Music Group, Randy Klein not only has a long list of accomplishments in several overlapping worlds but is constantly adding new innovations to each area of his musical life.
It is not an understatement to say that Randy Klein keeps busy. Whether composing ambitious new works, playing piano, teaching and lecturing about songwriting, or running the Jazzheads Music Group, his life is a whirlwind of activity.
Born in Jersey City, hometown Fort Lee, New Jersey, he says, “I always played piano, I don’t remember ever not playing music.” I played in many types of ensembles starting at the age of 14, from rock to jazz groups. “When I was 17 or 18, I heard the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s The In Crowd recording and immediately knew that I wanted to be a jazz improviser. The groove and jazz of that recording hooked me. Amazing how one recording turned into a musical life changer, inspiring me to go to study at the Berklee College of Music.” After graduating from Berklee, he taught in John LaPorta’s improvisation program for a couple of years and gained experience working as a sideman, playing keyboards and synthesizers in a variety of groups in addition to accompanying singers on piano. Klein also began writing songs while working with RCA recording artist Ralph Graham. “He was a really wonderful songwriter and I learned a great deal from him about composing songs. I came to songwriting relatively late, in my late twenties, and became obsessed with the process of writing songs. In the first year, I think I wrote 70 or 80 poorly written songs, but I began to learn that songwriting was a cumulatively learned art form. I simply worked it and got to the point where now I am teaching the craft.’
Randy Klein moved to New York City in 1977 and joined R&B Hall of Famer Millie Jackson’s group as a keyboardist and composer. “That was a period when she had many gold records. We performed all over the world including Japan, Kenya, Germany, France, and throughout the Deep South.” He contributed songs to her hit albums and has since written songs for a variety of performers including Sarah Dash, Candi Staton, IRT, Memphis Bleek, JX, Black Sheep, and Lil Kim, Dr. Ticktock, not to mention Sesame Street.
As an award-winning (Emmys and Gold Records) composer, Klein has written in a wide assortment of styles for musical theater, film, television and individual performers. Just to name a few notable assignments, he wrote the score for the documentaries Richard Wright – Black Boy, Free To Dance (PBS Great Performances), and Beyond Tara – The Extraordinary Life Of Hattie McDaniels. His work in musical theater includes such shows as Move! (commissioned by Amsterdam’s Royal Theatre Carre’), I Don’t Do Club Dates, Capture The Moon, Falling Apart, Bucky And His Friends, Flambe Dreams, Ever Happily After and the music for the children’s musicals Fancy Nancy ‘Splendiferous’ Christmas and Twinkle Tames A Dragon.
Randy Klein’s more current works include the choral work, For My People (a song cycle based on the poetry of Margaret Walker) which has been performed numerous times utilizing chorales with up to 120 voices. His compositions Facing It and Dear John, Dear Coltrane are based on the poetry of Pulitzer Award winning poet, Yusef Komunyakaa and Michael Harper. His Fanfare For Jerusalem was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera and sung by 400 voice Hazamir Chorale, while his concert work Brockton had its premiere in 2018. Upcoming is a new musical The Black Swan, inspired by the ballet “Swan Lake” with a blues-infused score. It is a love story set in the magical world of voodoo in New Orleans, and explores racism in the South in the early 1960’s and Speak, a musical about communicating with spirits. He is proud to be playing with his old keyboard friend Kenny Keys on his new single releases Don’t Go and Sleep Walk.
In 1992, Klein founded the Jazzheads label. “The CD format was starting to take off and it seemed like the right time to start my own label. I recorded the album Randy Klein’s Jazzheads and, when WBGO’s Michael Bourne played it on the radio, I knew I had made the right decision. I was fortunate because I knew about the record business, distribution and publicity due to my songwriting background. My goal at Jazzheads has always been to make sure each of our recordings is of the highest musical value. I felt that if one built a catalog of worthy recordings, they would continue to live on for years, and that has come true.” Jazzheads has thus far released over 125 CDs. The Jazzheads catalog includes albums by many of the who’s who of modern jazz including Roni Ben-Hur, Harvie S, Mayra Valdes, Andrea Brachfeld, Diane Schuur, Susie Arioli, Dave Liebman, Claudia Villela, Ray Blue, Bobby Sanabria, Ole Mathisen, Chris Washburne, not to mention Randy Klein himself. One of the label’s recent successes was Bobby Sanabria’s West Side Story Reimagined which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Recording. Jazzheads Music Group also has subsidiary labels: King Kozmo Music (compilations from the catalog along with recordings in other genres) and 8910 (contemporary and pop-oriented music) with a new classical division, Espressivo, coming this spring.
An educator since his days at Berklee, Randy Klein specializes in teaching and conducting seminars and workshops on songwriting, piano, and the business of music. He has been teaching at SongU.com since 2006, been a member of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop since 1982, has written numerous articles, and conducted many presentations. His workshop The Power Of The Song will be presented at the APME (Association of Popular Music Educators) conference at NYU this June.
“After listening to 10-15,000 songs, I had an idea for a book about a guide to songwriting. The idea turned into a four-year writing period which produced a rather large work titled, You Can Write A Song. I was advised that publishers would rather put out a flow of smaller books from the same author so out of the larger work came a smaller book, The Quickstart Guide to Songwriting, which was published in 2017. It teaches anyone (even those with limited musical and English language skills) the basics about how to write a verse, a chorus and a hook line of a song. Currently I am finishing two new books, Songwriting Tips and Listening To Songs.” When asked what he enjoys most about teaching songwriting, he enthusiastically replies, “I have students from all over the world. I love it when students keep on improving and getting better at their craft. It feels so good to share my knowledge with them and help push their music forward.”
Even with all of this activity as a composer, educator, author, and record company president, Randy Klein never neglects his piano playing. “I take lessons from William Daghlian, love to play and practice every day.” He can be heard on nine recordings as a leader for the Jazzheads label: Randy Klein’s Jazzheads, Love Notes From The Bass, Underground Romantic, Invitation In, Piano Christmas, The Flowing, Sunday Morning, What’s Next and Kleinway@Steinway.
Looking towards the future, Randy Klein is particularly enthusiastic about Ambient Spaces. “It is a new improvising project with Robert Appleton, a leading multi-media visual improviser. It includes my improvised jazz piano and Robert Appleton’s improvised projected images. It is beautiful and joyful to experience. It is an exciting marriage of sound, light and improvisation that is influenced by the audience. And lots of fun to perform!!!
“With me, there are always many projects in different degrees of completion going on. I’m living my dream. I am very thankful that I am a musician!”
by Scott Yanow
More information about the remarkably prolific Randy Klein and Jazzheads Music Group can be found at www.randyklein.com and www.jazzheads.com.