Who was/is Crazy Otto ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more


Fritz Schulz-Reichel

* 4. 7. 1912

+ 14. 2. 1990

It was 1953 when the brilliant swing pianist Fritz Schulz-Reichel acquired a new (and decidedly more  commercial) identity. He turned into the man with the 'tipsy piano', and soon his infectious sound would become a musical trademark and make Schulz-Reichel into an international success. A world chart with his sales would have few blank spots, and wherever his records couldn't be sold for political reasons, the radio carried his cheerfully upbeat music. Crazy Otto's slightly off-key piano guaranteed his listeners' high spirits. He toured extensively in America, Australia, South Africa, not to mention bordering European countries. Pan-Am Airlines even named a Boeing 727 after their famous guest (and frequent passenger).

As stars go, Crazy Otto was easy to work with, and radio and TV stations competed with each other for his appearances. More than that, Fritz Schulz-Reichel was a creative composer who wrote evergreens like Wenn ich dich seh, dann fange ich zu träumen an, Im Café de la Paix, Banjo-Benny, Denk an mich and Am Samstag um Vier. The latter became a tremendous success when Rita Paul, Bully Buhlan and Werner Müller and the RIAS-Tanzorchester recorded it.

In the decades after the War, his melodies could also be heard on the soundtrack to movies with such interesting titles as 'Schwarze Nylons - Heiße, 'Keine Angst vor Schwiegermüttern'or even with an end rhyme 'Jetzt ist er da aus USA'. He was hired to compose pieces for then successful TV-series like 'Drüben bei Lehmanns', 'Hokus, Pokus, Musikus', the successful 'Hei-Wi-Tip Top' with Heidi Kabel and Willy Millowitsch and 'Otto, der Klavierstimmer' (Otto, the piano-tuner') a series, in which Schulz-Reichel played the main character 'Otto' and established himself as congenial actor.

When he was born in Meiningen on June 4, 1912, Schulz-Reichel's parents wouldn't have dreamed of their young son becoming such a success in show business. In music perhaps, but with an orchestra or as a soloist in a concert setting. His father was the respected concertmaster of the Meininger Hoforchester, then under the leadership of Max Reger. Little Fritz's godfather was the eminent conductor Fritz Busch. Apart from the fact that no one would have known what to make of a 'tipsy piano' at that point in time, a character like 'Crazy Otto' would not have been acceptable to a family solely involved in classical music. That meant a conventional education, accompanied by musical instruction, culminating in

the university entrance qualification (1931). When young Fritz came to Berlin, his first full-time engagement was indeed with an orchestra, but playing jazzy dance music at the 'Mokka Efti', on the corner of Friedrich and Leipziger Strasse. The leader was James Kok - and, at that time, just to have played with him was the highest recommendation. Solo engagements followed in such well-known Berlin clubs as 'Ciro's', 'Sherbini' or 'Patria'. In the 'Quartier Latin' he founded the swinging soloist orchestra with trumpeter Kurt Hohenberger, an ensemble still much appreciated by record collectors today.

In the end, critics and swing lovers alike gave him the honorary title: Fritz Schulz-Reichel - the German Teddy Wilson. He played with a popular recording group, the 'Goldenen 7' ('Golden 7'), and recorded with Willy Berking, Rudi Schuricke, Michael Jary, Theo Mackeben, Franz Grothe, Peter Igelhoff, and Rosita Serrano. During the War years, he played with Otto Stenzel and the orchestra of the Berlin variety theater 'Scala' and with swing bandleader Heinz Wehner at the Deutschen Sendung (German Radio Program), which was broadcast to the troops from Oslo. In March 1943, he was forced to switch places from behind the microphone to behind the gun. One year later on the eastern front, a grenade splinter hurt his right hand, but the doctors managed to save his ability to play.

After the end of the war, Schulz-Reichel returned to his profession in Berlin as early as July 1945. The circumstances forced people to improvise in many areas. The remaining school auditoriums and council chambers in the city halls were used to present variety evenings. Matinees in cinemas were also popular, and the radio station on the Masurenallee was still intact. There, Schulz-Reichel played with the RBT-Orchester (Radio Berlin Tanzorchester) under the prominent conductor Michael Jary, and worked with the stars of the time: Marika Rökk, Lale Andersen, Rita Paul, Gitta Lind, Rudi Schuricke, Fred Bertelmann, Vico Torriani, Gerhard Wendland, Bruce Low and Helmut Zacharias, to name a few.

Everything could have gone on like that, had there not been a recording session in the music studio of the RIAS (Radio Im Amerikanischen Sektor) in 1953. Schulz-Reichel decided not to join the others in the cafeteria during the break. He stayed behind in the studio and, to pass the time, tried the keyboard instruments lined up against the walls. One of them was a piano that was probably seldom used and therefore hadn't been tuned in quite a while. At first, it sounded terrible, but Schulz-Reichel applied his magic touch, and gave it an enjoyable sound despite the off-key notes. He probably thought of the honky-tonk pianos in the old American West which were nearly always out-of-tune. By chance, the engineers had stayed during this lunch break to do maintenance work. Through the window, they saw Fritz Schulz-Reichel fool around with the old piano, got curious, and turned on the microphone, finally recording his improvisations. When they listened to the recording, they were all convinced that this funny incident could be turned into a unique sound that would be widely appreciated. But surely no one in RIAS's music studio 7 that lunchtime could have imagined that this sound would turn into a worldwide success.

Now dubbed Crazy Otto, Schulz Reichel toured America, and during his much celebrated visit he made newspaper headlines like "Der schräge Otto begeistert Amerika" ("America Is Enthusiastic About 'Crazy Otto'")", "Welterfolg mit seinem verstimmten Klavier" ("Worldwide Success With An Off-key Piano"), "Disc Jockeys Hail New Star", "In Amerika die Nummer 1"("Number 1 in America") or "Medley By Crazy Otto Blitzes Record Fanciers".

With so many appearances one feels prompted to ask how he found pianos tuned and prepared like the original 'tipsy piano'. For that, 'Crazy Otto' had his own special kit: a box with thumb tacks and a tuning fork were always part of his luggage. That way, he 'taught' every piano the tunes that made 'Crazy Otto' so unique.

This CD contains all the medleys of the series of recordings named 'Die beschwipste Drahtkommode' ('The tipsy piano'), and maybe they can start a revival of this diverting and infectious music on today's radio. - GOETZ KRONBURGER

CRAZY OTTO (F.Schulz-Reichel) Die beschwipste Drahtkommode
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More information about Crazy Otto on Wikipedia.org

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