In memoriam: John Von Ohlen

Legendary jazz drummer John Von Ohlen, “The Baron,” died on Oct. 3 following a long illness. He was 77.

He was a drummer, bandleader and recording artist. You could only marvel at his effortless technique, his musicality and his seamless communication with his fellow musicians. Small wonder he was the drummer of choice for Rosemary Clooney, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Tony Bennett, Benny Goodman, Mel Torme and Perry Como. He toured and recorded with Kenton for two years.

Von Ohlen was one of the last big band drummers of his era.

“Performing with and discussing music — and philosophy — with John Von Ohlen has been one of the great joys of my life,” said Rick VanMatre, saxophonist and former director of Jazz Studies at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. “Asking John to join the CCM jazz faculty in 1985 was the best decision we could have made for the students, the faculty, and the legacy of the Jazz Studies Program.”

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A drum legend branches out… to piano

2003.0108.10.2--BLUE WISP--Steve Schmidt, piano, Larry Dixon, sax (center left), John Von Ohlen, drums, and Mike Sharfe, string bass play with the Blue Wisp Big Wednesday, January 8, 2003 at the Blue Wisp Jazz Club. Photo by Craig Ruttle/Cincinnati Enquirer
The jazz community hopes to raise $5,000 by Dec. 12 through Kickstarter to pay for studio and production costs for John Von Ohlen’s album, “The Pond.”

John Von Ohlen has recorded an album of piano musings — a surprise for someone who made his mark as drummer for Stan Kenton. Of course, we all know him as the co-founder and anchor of the Blue Wisp Big Band, which still plays every Wednesday night at the Urban Artifact in Northside.

“It’s not avant-garde or cutting edge, but it’s unique in the true sense of the word,” Von Ohlen says in an interview about his project on Kickstarter.

His original tunes are warm, lovely to hear and grounded in lush jazz harmonies. He also puts his own spin on a few standards. CCM jazz prof Kim Pensyl — himself a pianist, trumpeter, and prolific jazz recording artist — heard him play one day, and arranged to get him in the studio to record his collection.

Josh Moore is designing the cover art and a tee shirt featuring the famous cracked cymbal.

Now the jazz community is hoping to raise $5,000 by Dec. 12 through Kickstarter to pay for studio and production costs for the album, called “The Pond.”

Click here to make a pledge.



The week in review

Here are some handy links to stories and reviews from last week in the arts:

Where will the Blue Wisp Big Band land? Here are some potential ideas from readers.

Did you attend the symphony last week? Here’s the review of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.

Read some of Louis Langree’s insights into Mahler’s music before he takes the CSO podium.

Read about this weekend’s premiere, a new Double Concerto by Andre Previn, written for cellist Sharon Robinson and Jaime Laredo. Also there, watch Robinson and Laredo as they discuss Previn and play part of his Piano Trio No. 2.