When you think of Pittsburgh history, instantly The Steel Curtain of the 70’s Steelers of the NFL and Willie “Pops” Stargell or Dave Parker banging homers out of Three Rivers Stadium come to mind. If you think of musicians that come out of the Steel City, you hear names like George Benson, Billy Eckstine, Phyllis Hyman, and Art Blakey among others. But how about Eric Kloss? Does that name ring a bell? If it doesn’t it should. A successful saxophone player who is Jazz royalty in the Pittsburgh community, Kloss is one of the greats. Today we visit the title tune from his 1967 Prestige record Grits & Gravy.
“ “Mr. Coltrane, Mr. Coltrane, I’m 14 years old and you really inspire me.’ And I could feel him looking at me. He said, ‘If you’re a musician, don’t waste any time.’ And he walked up on the bandstand. ” – Eric Kloss on meeting John Coltrane as a teen.
Blind from birth, child prodigy Eric Kloss would sit in with his mentor Sonny Stitt at age 12, and by age 16 (after sitting in with Groove Holmes) would release Introducing Eric Kloss on Prestige Records featuring Pat Martino, Don Patterson and Billy James. 22 releases later for labels such as the aforementioned Prestige and Muse, Kloss’ style incorporated hard bob, be-bop, pop, rock, funk, free jazz, classical and world music. Recording with such Jazz luminaries such as Don Patterson, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Booker Ervin, Billy Higgins, and Bob Cranshaw among others, Kloss went on to tour the world. His Eric Kloss and the Rhythm Section featured the Miles Davis rhythm section of Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, and Dave Holland and showed how he could flex his chops in different genres of Jazz. Kloss was a well respected sax player who toured for more than 25 years, but dropped off into obscurity after his 1981 release Sharing on Omnisound. Apparently Kloss has some health problems that keep him from performing regularly. It’s a shame, he is one talented cat. An educator as well as a musician, Kloss has taught at Rutgers, Duquesne, and Carnegie Mellon, continuing to push Jazz forward in one way or another to the next generations.
With respect to his elders, Kloss’ “Grits & Gravy” could be a nod to the Lou Donaldson song from his Swing and Soul Blue Note record from 1957 (although the writing credits say Bland-Osmond). An upbeat, short stroll has Kloss putting his signature alto all through the track. Obviously he had a penchant for funky Jazz and you can feel some of his inspiration and openness to different styles of Jazz music on this title track. Much later on in the mid to late 70’s Kloss would discover meditation and a spiritual feel would radiate through his releases Conciousness and Now. Again, Kloss was adept at playing many styles. It’s interesting on this entire record that Kloss had an A and B group of musicians to choose from. The A group played on this song: Kloss (alto), Danny Bank (Baritone/flute), Teddy Charles (vibes), Al Williams (piano), Billy Butler (guitar), Ronnie Boykins (bass)Robert Gregg (drums), plus an all female vocal group. Other cover tunes such as a 10 minute version of “Milestones” from Miles’ Sextet days, a great version of Henry Mancini’s “Slow Hot Wind”, and a Bonfa track from Black Orpheus are set inbetween Kloss original “Gentle One”. He may have been a young man when he released this record, but his reputation was that of a much older player. I’ve heard that this release is hard to come by, so if that’s the case, it’s a bonus if you pick it up on vinyl. If anyone knows how to get in contact with Eric Kloss, I’d love to hear more about the making of this record, so send him over to FMF.
Listen to Grits & Gravy:
Sunshine Superman from Conciousness