An active composer and an innovator on the electrified saxophone (using echo effects quite effectively), John Klemmer was also a very strong Coltrane-inspired acoustic tenor saxophonist. His solo saxophone recordings preceded smooth jazz and new age and his variety of projects earned him a great deal of crossover appeal that includes his music sampled by hip-hop artists of the '90s. Over the course of his career, Klemmer collaborated with a number of jazz and pop artists and performed the albums by Steely Dan, John Lee Hooker, Lauren Wood, Roy Haynes, and Nancy Wilson, among others.
John Klemmer began playing music at a young age, starting with the guitar and switching to tenor sax by high school. In addition to private music lessons that continued up through college, he also attended Interlochen's music camp. In school, Klemmer studied a variety of arts including graphics and visual arts, writing, and puppeteering at schools that include Chicago's Institute of Art. Early on in his music career, Klemmer led his own groups at gigs around the East Coast and Midwest, and was also busy touring as a sideman with big bands. Among the people he worked with during this time are jazz musicians such as Chicago pianist Jodie Christian, tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris, rock guitarist Harvey Mandel (with whom Klemmer purportedly co-led a band for a time in the '60s), and producer James Guercio (who worked extensively with the band Chicago). Klemmer made his debut recording as a leader in 1967 and moved to Los Angeles the following year. There he became a key soloist with Don Ellis's innovative big band for the next two years, while also working with artists such as Tim Buckley and Oliver Nelson, with whom Klemmer went on a State Dept. tour of West Africa.
From this time, up through the early '70s, John Klemmer led fusion groups and recorded a number of albums, primarily for Cadet Records. After studying film composition with Albert Harris, Klemmer began recording for other labels: first Impulse, then ABC, MCA, and Elektra. He also worked as a producer for pop, jazz ,and R&B artists. Klemmer's own music gained cross-over appeal, as his work with manager's Bill Siddons (who worked with the Doors) and Gary Borman (who went on to work with Faith Hill) brought his music to a growing number of pop listeners. With his electrified horn (using an echoplex), Klemmer recorded popular albums for MCA and Elektra that were in the easy listening, pop vein from the mid-'70s through the late '80s. He enjoyed a hit record with Touch and went on to record solo sax albums such as Cry, which are considered by some to be direct predecessors of smooth jazz music.
Klemmer alternated the more pop-oriented projects with fiery efforts; his finest jazz album was the two-LP set Nexus (mostly reissued on CD), a set of duets and trios with drums and occasional bass. In 1989, Music came out on MCA and Klemmer went on sabbatical, choosing to stop touring and recording in order to focus more on composing. Although it was rumored that this sabbatical was due to health problems, this is not true; it was simply Klemmer's decision to take a break from the limelight.
John Klemmer has co-written pop songs (for other artists) with, namely, David Batteau (the two wrote the successful song "Walk in Love," made popular by Manhattan Transfer) and Danny O'Keefe; the music on Klemmer's own jazz albums is composed solo. The late '90s found Klemmer returning to the stage, often on the West Coast scene. He also returned to the studio, guesting on albums by such new age artists as 3rd Force, David Arkenstone, and Craig Chaquico. During this time, Klemmer also founded his own record label, Touch Records, on which he released the albums Simpatico and Making Love, Vol. 1 (1998). By 2000, most of John Klemmer's earlier recordings were still awaiting CD issue. ~ Joslyn Layne & Scott Yanow