Some people are know-it-alls. Randy Klein is a do-it-all — the kind of songwriter/composer whose sheer variety and volume of accomplishments could fill a résumé that would consume a redwood forest of paper.
Klein’s latest musical theater work Flambé Dreams recently enjoyed a sold-out debut run in New York City. But the story of his career as a songwriter begins in 1977, when the Berklee College of Music grad was playing keyboards for raunchy r&b diva Millie Jackson. One afternoon he slipped her a cassette of a tune he’d penned called “Feelin’ Like a Woman.” The song landed on her gold album Feelin’ Bitchy.
“Once I started writing it became a monkey on my back and I couldn’t stop,” Klein says from his office in New York City. “I have over 1,000 copyrights now. I’ve learned that the many genres I’ve written in — it’s like having a command of different dialects in a language.”
The tongues he’s mastered include r&b, soul, pop, rock, jazz, musical theater and modern classical composition. And along the way he’s scored films, earned two gold records and four Emmys, recorded over 10 albums, produced more than a dozen other artists and become president of his own Jazzheads record label that — contrary to his disciplined approach to songwriting – embraces improvised music…at which, of course, he also excels.
Klein’s other recent accomplishments include the premiere of his work-in-progress Lineage — The Margaret Walker Song Cycle, based on the Civil Rights poetry of the African-American author and composed for a 52-voice chorus. Part of the Cycle debuted on April 11, 2011, at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Then there’s Sunday Morning, the first album in Klein’s “Two Duos” series on Jazzheads, featuring duets by the pianist with trombonist Chris Washburne and saxist Oleg Kireyev. Two more discs are due this spring. And Flambé Dreams, a comedy about a young man’s ambition to become a great maitre d’ like his father, who was killed in a bananas foster accident, remains on his front burner.
Klein has a deep passion for musical theater, instilled by trips he made with his pianist mother from their home in Fort Lee, New Jersey, to Broadway from 1960 to 1967 to see classic productions like Fiddler On the Roof and Hello, Dolly!
“In 1982, when I was asked to join BMI’s Lehman Engle Musical Theater Workshop here in New York, the first musical we analyzed was ‘Fiddler,’ ” says Klein, “and I knew every word!
“The workshop is the best environment I know to learn to write songs. That room has some of the best songwriters around, and you learn by getting feedback. Writing a song for musical theater is much more difficult than writing a pop song. A theater song has to move the action from ‘A’ to ‘B’; a pop song can be stagnant. All you have to do is repeat the chorus and if the hook is powerful enough it will attract the listener’s ear. You need to be careful not to make your pop songs sound theatrical, which theater writers tend to do. But if you can write a good theater song, you can write a pop song pretty easily because you’ve learned about perfect rhymes and craftsmanship.”