Andy Klaehn July 14 1960 – May 4, 2021
by Herb Klaehn
When the physician from the CCU called to tell me, despite all of their efforts, Andy was on a downward spiral, he asked, “Are there any words you would like me to say to your brother?” It took me but a few seconds to say, “thank you for the music.” My father told Andy his ministry was his music. It was. Whenever I heard him play, for some reason my eyes filled with tears. A dear friend, Jane Siegel, wrote these words, “Andy was a genius. It was an honour, a privilege, a precious gift to accompany Andy. As much I was in awe of Andy’s musical ability, it was when Andy stood by himself at the front of the church and soloed “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” I understood the breadth of Andy’s gift. It was as if Andy was speaking to God, a truly sacred moment.”
Andy was a unique character who will be remembered for his showmanship. Chris Malleck writes, “its been years since I’ve seen Andy,
but back in the Circus Room days when Andy did summer gigs and the garage door was open, he would leave the stage during a solo. The band would play on but Andy would be gone sometimes for minutes….just as people would start to chatter, his car would pull up outside on King St., windows down, someone driving and Andy, half out the window playing away on the sax. I remember Andy as a nice soul and will remember him fondly.”
Andy was a kind soul. He suffered from a major mental illness. (Bi-Polar.) Andy told me it was like a light switch would turn off sometime in February and he would make a descent into depression. He would wait for the light switch to turn on in May or June, and then the clouds would lift. This was his journey for the last 42 years. I admired him greatly for waging the battle so courageously. In the midst of his mental health battle, he struggled financially, as do many musicians. Strangely, this kind soul seemed most upset by the insensitivity and cruelty he encountered in the world. Being so kind and thoughtful, he could never understand others who just didn’t seem to care.
Carrie Waekens outlines Andy’s musical history, “Andy Klaehn – thank you for a dozen years of amazing SAX playing! …always a favourite at the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival. I would always sit front row with Philip Bast sharing our deep respect for artists. As per Jazz Club: Andy was a dynamic, multi-talented, professional musician, bandleader, and master teacher. He was a highly sought after alto, soprano, and tenor sax player, as well as a flute and clarinet player performing with various artists in a wide array of collaborations from duos to sextets. Andy is also a founding member of the renowned Top Pocket Jazz Quartet. My sincere condolences to those artists that have played with Andy. *HUGS*
Andy has played with many jazz legends, including Buddy Rich. Andy has played at the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival, the Hillside Festival, the Guelph Jazz Festival, as well at the legendary Rex Jazz and Blues Bar in Toronto. Andy has shared the stage with many musical giants, such as Moe Koffman. He has also played with the Stratford Festival Orchestra, the K- W Symphony, and as a sideman for Bo Diddley. Thanks Andy for all that you have offered the K-W music scene. You will be greatly missed.”
Denise Baker shared this story about Andy, “I met Andy over 30 years ago and I instantly knew that this guy was special. Very special. He always had a smile, a warm hello. Always. Andy gave me my first chance to sing Jazz in front of an audience. It was at the Circus Room. He and Bill Gillard were playing there on a regular basis. Oh, I practiced and practiced and when the night finally came, I nailed the first song and bombed on the second. I was devastated. Not devastated for me, Oh yeah, I was horribly embarrassed for myself but devastated for Andy. I was on stage with greatness and I bombed. I remember, apologizing over and over to him. Telling him how sorry I was for not being ready. You know, he was such a kind man, and knowing how much I was hurting, he told me that even the best musicians have a bad day. Keep pushing forward and you will get there…..
Andy was a genius! A musical genius! A warm, sweet person who could explore the outer limits that very few could ever comprehend. If you ever witnessed Andy playing, when he was in the zone, riding those invisible waves of greatness, then you were part of something very, very special. You may not have known it at the time, but the heavens were giving you an extremely precious gift.”
Andy, when asked, “What do you like about the work you do?” replied, “Everything! To work as a musician is truly a gift of God. I get to play instruments, which to me are my toys. Having the ability to bring pleasure to other people’s lives through music is likely the most rewarding thing life can offer! I will continue to do it until the casket drops.”
Ten thousand words would only be a feeble attempt to articulate the memories we share of Andy. Our hope is to have a celebration of life, befitting Andy, with music and stories, on the other side of the pandemic. As soon as we know a date, we will let you know.
Andy was predeceased by our parents Bruce & Rae, and our sister Tracie. He will be missed by his nieces and nephews, his sister-in-law Cate Klaehn and brother-in-law Gord Lomoth. And, he will be missed by his brother, Herb Klaehn. I love you Andy! You will never be far from my thoughts. Thanks for the music!
Klaehn could Make
a Clarinet “Soar to the Heavens“
Waterloo Region Record – 18 May 2021 by VALERIE HILL
United Church minister Rev. Herb Klaehn would occasionally ask his brother, Andy Klaehn, to share with the congregation what he was feeling. Standing alone on the chancel with his clarinet, Andy’s expressions were not of words but of music. Bright and happy, slow and mournful, it was his way of relaying what was inside and sometimes the music came from dark places as he struggled with bipolar disorder.
“When that reed was in his mouth, the world disappeared and Andy spoke,” said the now retired Herb, the last surviving sibling of the three children born to Bruce and Rae Klaehn. Tracie died of cancer on July 14, 2018, Andy’s birthday. Andy was born in 1960 and died May 5, 2021.
The Kitchener-born musician was a legendary multi-instrumentalist, particularly known for his mastery of the alto, soprano and tenor sax, as well as flute and his primary instrument, the clarinet.
Three decades ago, Andy became a founding member of the dynamic Top Pocket Jazz Quartet and he performed with dozens of jazz legends including Buddy Rich, Bo Diddley and Moe Koffman. Andy was regularly on stage at the Jazz Room, Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival, Hillside Festival, Guelph Jazz Festival and the iconic Rex Jazz and Blues Bar in Toronto. He had also played with the Stratford Festival Orchestra and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.
There is scarcely a musician or music lover in the region who didn’t know about Andy, as both an extraordinary musician and a kind, thoughtful man. Herb believes his brother’s mental illness wasn’t something he shared and that was unfortunate because he was sometimes treated harshly. Never by anyone who knew him, of course. Andy was deeply loved and his unexpected death has devastated the jazz world. The cause of death is unknown but thought to be connected to organ damage after decades of being reliant on medication for his bipolar condition.
In a tribute, Herb said that Andy had described his mental illness as akin to a light switch turning off in late winter, when he’d sink into depression. By May or June, those dark clouds would lift and life was bearable again.
“This was his journey for the last 42 years,” said Herb.
Such an illness, diagnosed in his teens, could have debilitated Andy. Instead, it seemed to propel him forward, sharing everything he thought or felt through his performances.
Aside from his virtuoso playing, Andy was also a showman and a prankster. It wasn’t unusual for him to slip in a few notes from a nursery rhyme into his music. Most of the audience wouldn’t have noticed. And he often broke out of his musician’s role to suddenly recite Dr. Seuss.
Donnie McDougall, drummer and co-founder of Top Pocket, recalled his friend was “always entertaining, seamlessly mixing straight-forward jazz, trad, bebop, funk; even novelty tunes, in every performance.” Donnie added, “we were known for playing a pretty smoking version of the ‘Star Trek’ theme; that was Andy’s idea.”
Donnie said, “He was the consummate performer; saxophone or clarinet, he could make them sing. But that clarinet, oh my goodness, he made that instrument soar to the heavens on a nightly basis.”
Herb said music was always part of Andy’s life. He first studied classical clarinet with a K-W Symphony musician, then studied contemporary and jazz music at Humber College.
Andy never married but was devoted to his sister’s children. Tracie’s husband, Gord Lomoth, would occasionally open the door in the morning to find containers of chocolate milk tucked inside, a treat for the kids. And, of course, every family gathering included music.
“He always had a horn with him,” said Gord. Andy particularly loved playing with Tracie, a family therapist and a musician.
“He played at Tracie and my wedding and Herb did the service,” said Gord. “It was a real family affair.”
Paul Weigel, a friend and fellow musician, remembered Andy as quirky with a wonderful sense of humour. “He told the best stories,” said Paul.
On stage, Andy loved to engage the audience.
“He never failed to make me feel ‘wow,’ ” said Paul, who admits to regularly welling up with emotion. “When he played, he was in the zone, so inspiring, heavenly inspired.
“I’ve heard him play hundreds of times and each time, it was new and fresh.”
Andy was also a bandleader and a master teacher, inspiring hundreds of students who will now continue his unique brand of musicianship as the rest of the jazz world mourns the passing of an extraordinary musician.
Comments are invited…..