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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mr. Klein

He was my music teacher at Skaneateles High School until my parents' divorce sent me off to the U.K. in the 9th grade. He was funny, witty, tall and rather thin, dressed in khakis, a white button down and a tie. Sometimes he wore a jacket, too, but sometimes, when he was working with his chorus or the band, he rolled up the sleeves. He had a long, large nose, wise brown eyes behind big glasses, and long musician's hands.

As this was back in the 50's, a time of teen angst, I don't really remember as much about him, or how he taught, or things he said, as I'd like to. He thought I might learn to be a vocalist, and though that probably wasn't likely, he cared enough to give me something to work toward, which is important for kids in general and which was very kind to me. The high point of my last year was singing a solo at the Christmas program. Even a few days later, broadcast by a local a.m. station, as one among the offerings of a hundred other high schools, I was proud to hear myself, clear and pitch perfect. If I'd stayed in Skaneateles, I probably would have studied music, simply because he was such an inspirational teacher.

My parents often went out to dance and hear music in Syracuse, and they came across Mr. Klein working another job, as pianist in a locally well-known jazz band. Those were the days when teachers didn't get paid very much, but this was more than just moonlighting. Mr. Klein's brown eyes always lit up in music class when he talked about "Jazz Hot" and "Jazz Cool," which was, according to him, the end point in the evolution of western musical tradition. "Jazz Cool," was, of course, what he preferred--and played.  At the big hotel, he was the featured player: "Pop Klein on the Piano," disguised, as were the rest of the band, behind hip dark glasses. It was, of course, a secret, not something that in those days the school board would have looked on kindly, so my parents swore me to secrecy.

Once, in class, Mr. Klein mentioned something about this other life, telling a story about another musician who was, around supper time, scratching  himself absently and saying "I got spag-eyes." Those not into jive talk imagined a horrible skin disease, but Mr. Klein explained that his hipster friend just wanted to go out for sphagetti.

Nope, I won't ever forget this marvelous teacher, the benign Mr. Klein! I hope he's still around somewhere, and that he has enjoyed the great stream of new jazz which has continued unabated ever since.

~~Juliet (Vandiver) Waldron


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