Crazy Otto was one of the stranger and more entertaining phenomenon in light jazz in the years after World War II. Born in Germany in 1912, Fritz Schulz-Reichel was the son of a classical musician, and took up the piano at age six. By age eight, he had developed a unique style of performing, playing the melody with his left hand and the rhythm with his right. By the time he was in his teens, he seemed destined for a career as a concert pianist, but he discovered popular music and decided that this was where his future lay.
He became a light jazz performer known for his unusual, often comical improvisations built on popular melodies, and began building a reputation akin to Victor Borge or Francois Glorieux, but anchored in popular, as opposed to classical, music. When he wasn't performing in clubs in Berlin or Paris (where he was elected an honorary member of the Hot Club of France for his improvisational abilities), he wrote songs in a pop vein. In 1953, Schulz-Reichel took on the performing identity of Crazy Otto and made records for Deutsche Grammophon, either solo or with a small rhythm group backing him up, consisting of originals and improvisations on established popular tunes.
He became phenomenally popular not only in Germany but also in France and England, and his records sold extraordinarily well in America as well, where his work was released by Decca and, later, MGM. His most notable single contribution, beyond recordings of particular songs, was the invention of the Tipsy Wire Box, a device that transformed any piano, up to and including the most perfectly tuned grand, into an out-of-tune beer hall instrument. He became something of a pop culture phenomenon in America during the mid-'50s, with Johnny Maddox achieving a number two hit pop single with "The Crazy Otto Medley" in 1955, and releasing his own singles, including "Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh." Schulz-Reichel had top musicians covering his songs and playing on his work, including German jazz guitarist Ladi Geisler. He was still fondly remembered by German and European jazz fans at the time of his death in 1990. ~ Bruce Eder