Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Austrian-born jazz legend Oscar Klein dead at 76

Austrian-born jazz legend Oscar Klein, who fled when the Nazis took power and recorded with Lionel Hampton and other greats during a career that spanned four decades, has died, local media reported Wednesday. He was 76.

Klein was not ill and his death Tuesday in Germany came as a surprise, the Austria Press Agency reported, saying a sister of the musician had confirmed his passing. He had lived with his wife in the southwestern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Born Jan. 5, 1930, to a Jewish family in the southern Austrian city of Graz, Klein and his family fled the country after the Nazi regime annexed Austria just before World War II and settled in Switzerland. He had planned to celebrate his 77th birthday next month with a concert in the alpine city of Innsbruck, APA said.

Best known for his aggressive and expressive Chicago-style trumpeting, which made him a fixture on the European club and festival scene, Klein also played clarinet, guitar and harmonica and began his career when the jazz boom was just taking hold in Vienna in the 1950s.

He teamed up with Joe Zawinul in the band Fatty George, later moved to the Tremble Kids and the Dutch Swing College Orchestra, and went on to play with Hampton, Wild Bill Davison, Bill Coleman, Dexter Gordon and other jazz greats.

Completely self-taught, Klein never learned to read music, but he made nearly 200 recordings during his 40-year career, during which he specialized in "old" jazz, Dixieland, swing and blues.

Trained as a graphic artist, he spoke seven languages and worked as an art teacher in Florence, Italy, when he was just 18.

In 1996, the late Austrian President Thomas Klestil presented Klein with the nation's silver Medal of Honor, one of Austria's highest decorations.

Details on survivors and funeral arrangements were not immediately available.


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