Lionel Kramer (1939-2024)


Lionel Kramer photo courtesy of Cooksie Kramer


The Seattle area jazz community lost one of its dearest members on February 8, when drummer, teacher, and concert presenter Lionel Kramer was taken by lung cancer. He was 85.

“Lionel was always the youngest fella in the room,” recalled his teacher of many years, Origin Records founder John Bishop. “I don’t think I’ve had any of my other students go on to start something like Eastside Jazz. Kind of a cool thing.”

Kramer was well-known to the Seattle area jazz community as a swinging drummer, especially in big band settings, but also as the co-organizer with his wife of more than 60 years, Cooksie Kramer, of the Eastside Jazz Club. For 20 years, Eastside Jazz presented local players at monthly concerts, and, for almost as many years, at a festival called the Eastside Jazz Club Extravaganza. 

“Lionel was such a warm, natural, nice, easy-going guy,” said Mrs. Kramer. 

Kramer was born and raised in Johannesburg, one of four brothers who worked day jobs as pharmacists and played music on the side. His musical life began with accordion lessons; the drums, which he taught himself to play, came to him by serendipity.

“One day, his [accordion] teacher asked, ‘Does anybody play the drums?’” recalled Mrs. Kramer. “And Lionel said, ‘I do!’ He had never, ever played drums. When it was over, some guy came up to him and said, ‘You don’t use the hi-hat.’ Lionel didn’t even know what a hi-hat was. So, he said, ‘Oh, it’s broken.’”

While working for Swiss Pharma and playing a concert in Johannesburg, Kramer met his future wife, who was featured on the show as the winner of an accordion competition. They married not long after, in 1960, and as a team, became a going concern. At one point, they had their own radio and television programs, including a children’s show. As a popular duo, Kramer would play drums and his wife played Hammond organ. 

In 1993, the Kramers followed their children to America, settling in Kirkland, where Kramer left his career as a pharmacist to focus on music. The Kramers started the Eastside Jazz Club in 2002 at the Bellevue Sherman Clay showroom, where Mrs. Kramer also produced children’s recitals. The concerts were wonderfully casual, coffee-and-cookies affairs that featured the area’s top players. In 2011, the concerts moved to the Marriott Courtyard Hotel and, finally, to Resonance in the Soma Towers. Kramer often played drums in various groups on the shows.

He also took in private students and, from 2014, played with the Centerpiece Jazz Ensemble at Seattle’s Music Center of the Northwest, where he taught. But his most enduring legacy may be the sheaf of lesson plans John Bishop wrote for him. 

“Every week, he’d come in with this list of stuff he needed to know,” recalled Bishop. “And I’d have to scan my brain, then write it out. After 10-15 years of that, we had these binders of me writing down everything I know about drumming. I’ll definitely make a book out of it.”

A memorial concert for Kramer is planned for later this year. He is survived in the U.S. by his wife, Cooksie, and three children: Dana Weiner, a director at the Stroum Jewish Community Center; Steven Kramer, who teaches computer animation at the Northwest College of Art & Design; and Ishtar Kramer, currently pursuing a doctorate in eastern psychology, in California.



Posted on

March 26, 2024