Original Item (5/30/12): Yesterday morning, El Chapultepec owner Jerry Krantz died at the age of 77. "The best of the best and the greatest of the greatest came through that place and played there because they could count on a great rhythm section and an open door policy to visiting jazz dignitaries that is very rare across the county," says saxophonist Max Wagner, who spent more than three years heading up the house band at Krantz's iconic jazz club.
Aside from jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker and Eddie Harris, a host of other distinguished guests such as rockers like Bono and Mick Jagger and former president Bill Clinton have stopped by the 'Pec since Krantz, who began as a bartender there, inherited the place from his brother-in-law Tony Romano in 1968.
Krantz appreciated swinging, musical, melodic, straight-ahead jazz players, Wagner says, and he was willing to put his money where is mouth was to bring the finest players into his intimate club. Aside from the steady stream of jazz heavies Krantz brought in, a formidable who's who of jazz players would stop by to sit in, including most of the Marsalis family and members of the Tonight Show band.
"The 'Pec is a unique and special thing," says Wagner. "Across the whole country, it was one of the places that all the insider, hippest jazz artists knew about, the place where you could really blow and play the real stuff, and it wasn't at all unusual for Vartan, for instance, to bring in heavyweight jazz cats, and as soon as they could get done over there they were right at the 'Pec."
Wagner says Krantz was a hard-nosed, no-nonsense guy who very much loved Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. "At one point he told me I could only let lady singers sit in if they didn't sing anything by Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald," Wagner recalls. "I tried to point out that there wasn't a whole lot of repertoire left over, if you think of everything those two singers sang or recorded. He said, 'I don't want to hear anything that those two did done by somebody else.' He really loved Ella Fitzgerald. He had memories of hearing her sing and feeling as though she was singing right to him."
Wagner says that Krantz knew a lot about jazz and fondly recalls one night, when the two of them were sitting in the club after it closed, when Krantz pulled out Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz from a drawer behind the bar and went through the entries and told Wagner about information that wasn't in the book.
"He knew all the inside, detailed history on the great players," Wagner says. "It was amazing of how the actual great depth of knowledge and understanding he had, which I don't think people always realized because he wasn't constantly shooting his mouth off."
Aside from being a place to see jazz legends, the 'Pec also became a proving ground for younger up and coming players like Javon Jackson and Brad Leali, who went on to play with a number of groups, including Harry Connick's Big Band, which he later brought into the club when the band was in town.
For bassist Ken Walker, who went on to play with legends like Lew Soloff, Charles McPherson, Pete Christlieb, Grover Washington, Jr. and George Benson, the 'Pec was essentially his university as he played there for twelve years, six of which playing seven nights a week during the late '80s and '90s. "People asked how I stayed there for so long," Walker says. "It was like an education. I really learned how to play there. Playing there seven nights a week, you can't find that kind of experience anywhere."
Krantz is survived by his wife Alice, his daughters Anna and Angela and his son Ray. No word yet on when the memorial service will take place or whether it will be open to the public, but we'll keep you posted.
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