Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Irv Kluger Dies at 84

Irv Kluger, a passionate jazz drummer who played with nearly every great musician, died recently.
I took lessons from the spirited and wacky Irv, who used to teach at Mahoney's drum shop in Las Vegas. He used to tell me, once I felt comfortable, I could sit in with his band at Pogos. Well, I never made it there, but he played at Pogos right up until his death. I still practice with the thick binder of handwritten lessons he gave me. Rest in peace, Irv.
photo by R. Marsh Starks
Drummer moved many during long career
By Ed Koch and Jerry Fink
Las Vegas Sun

When Irv Kluger hit his drums, you couldn't help but tap your foot - or even get up and dance.

"Irv Kluger and his All Stars were terrific," The Washington Post wrote on Sept. 18. "Their jazzy music was loud and lively and seamless. It rolled robustly off the little stage in waves. People slow-danced between the tables. (The bartender) did a little box step behind the cash register."

During eight decades, millions moved to the beat of Kluger's drums.

Kluger, a Big Band-era musician who also was a member of Artie Shaw and the Gramercy Five and performed with Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman, died Tuesday at Nathan Adelson Hospice from complications of a stroke and heart attack he had suffered in late January. He was 84.

Services for the Las Vegas resident of 41 years are pending. Kluger's family said his ashes will be sent to Israel, where he always dreamed of visiting but never did. Palm Mortuary is handling the arrangements.

For 20 years, Kluger led the Friday night jazz jam sessions at Pogo's Tavern, 2103 N. Decatur Blvd.

"I used to sit there and look over my shoulder at Irv when he was playing and wonder, what did this guy sound like 50 years ago when he was in his 30s?" said 65-year-old keyboardist Dick Fazio, who was with Kluger's band for three years. "He was a great musician up until the end."

Born July 9, 1921, in New York City, Kluger started learning the violin at 4 but soon switched to drums and became a professional musician at 13. He would go on to perform with Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and dozens of others.

"I am fortunate," Kluger said in a May 27 Sun story. "I am skilled and I'm getting better. I'm learning all the time. I like challenges."

Kluger, who in recent years resembled Einstein with his unmanageable mop of white hair and white moustache, attended college at a Manhattan Christian school in the late 1930s. A pre-law student, he put himself through school on the $85 a week he earned playing nights and weekends in a band.

He eventually chose music over law and, in addition to live performances, became one of the top recording session drummers of his time, spending 10 years in the 1950s and '60s in Los Angeles studios.

His drums can be heard on the soundtrack of the 1962 film "The Longest Day" and other motion pictures, as well as on numerous jazz and Big Band recordings including "Ella Fitzgerald - The War Years (1941-1947)" and trombonest Milt Bernhart's "The Horns" that also featured Maynard Ferguson on the euphonium.

According to, Kluger's first major job was with Georgie Auld's Orchestra from 1942 to 1943. He recorded with Gillespie in 1945. Kluger was with Stan Kenton's Orchestra from 1947 to 1948 and Tex Beneke's band in 1949.

Kluger joined clarinetist Shaw and the Gramercy Five in 1949 but left the band a year later to join the orchestra of "Guys and Dolls" at the 46th Street Theatre on Broadway.

In the early 1950s, Kluger joined Shaw's orchestra to perform hits that included "Frenesi" and "Begin the Beguine." Their nationwide tour included a 12-week gig at the Sahara's Casbar Lounge.

In the spring of 1954, Kluger rejoined the Gramercy Five to work on what would be Shaw's final recording session. Shaw, claiming he had done all he could do with a clarinet, retired that year at 44.

Shaw once said of Kluger: "I loved Irv's playing. He added something important to the band. He made contributions to the music while staying out of the way and allowing things to naturally unfold."

Kluger suffered a series of minor strokes last year, but continued to perform at Pogo's. A recent stroke landed him at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, where he suffered a heart attack in the emergency room, his family said.

Kluger's survivors include his wife, Phyllis Kluger; two daughters, DeAnna Langer and Jessica Marciel; and a granddaughter, Alexandra Marciel, all of Las Vegas.