Clarinetist Rod Cless seems to have emerged from the middle of a potato field somewhere in Iowa and died in the mid-'40s after falling several stories from the balcony of an apartment. Named George Roderick Cless, he was related by marriage to the much better-known reedman Bud Freeman, but certainly had a respectable career in the Dixieland ensembles of leaders such as Muggsy Spanier and Bobby Hackett. He began playing in bands in college including the Varsity Five, darlings of Iowa State University. In the mid-'20s he relocated to Des Moines where he first came into contact with an important influence, bandleader Frank Teschemacher, known as "Tesch" to his musical cohorts. The two went to Chicago together and began playing with groups such as the orchestra of Charlie Pierce.
In the late '20s, Cless toured in the south with Frank Quartell's Band, including his first journey to New Orleans. Back in Chicago, Cless squatted at the Wig Wam Club and enlisted with the combo of Louis Panico, a fairly calm bandleader despite contrary indications suggested by his surname. During this time Cless began to play more saxophone and took part in gigs with a less pronounced jazz content. Often these jobs involved extended club residencies, and the stay-at-home nature of this employment also allowed him to expand his activities as a clarinet teacher.
The spring of 1939 marked in many ways a return to pure jazz work, Cless joining up with Spanier's band the Ragtimers for the balance of the year, followed by two years with pianist Art Hodes. Other gigs in the '40s included work with Marty Marsala, Ed Farley, Georg Brunis, and Wild Bill Davidson as well as the aforementioned Hackett. In 1944 he was associated with Max Kaminsky with whom he was employed at New York City's Pied Piper Club when Cless suffered catastrophic injuries toppling over the railings of an apartment, subsequently surviving for only four days in the hospital. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi