Rowland E. Pilling, 75, played saxophone for almost 50 years

March 29, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Nobody ever said Rowland E. Pilling couldn't jam with the best of them.

He could wail his saxophone for the most raucous version of "You Are My Sunshine" one moment, then tone it down the next to a somber rendition of "Harlem Nocturne." And with each, he achieved the feeling he desired to evoke from the listener.

Mr. Pilling, 75, a Maryland native and resident of Rosedale who died Thursday of lung failure at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, played saxophone solo or with accompaniment in and around Maryland for nearly 50 years.

He played in clubs and concert halls, and in basements and senior center meeting rooms. And each performance was played with gusto.

"There wasn't much he couldn't do with a saxophone," said his daughter Judi O'Brien of Carney. "He could do anything with a saxophone that you could imagine."

For the past 15 years, he and his pianist wife, the former Doris Shanklin, performed free about three times a week at countless nursing homes in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

"He was told that he had the finest [saxophone] tone all over Baltimore," his wife said. "He didn't do any singing, but he played a mean sax. He always got the patients to sing along."

Self-taught when he was about 12, Mr. Pilling played throughout high school and in the Navy band when he was drafted in 1942 during World War II.

When he played in the Navy, he acquired the nickname "Rogan De Hogan From Hoboken," which stuck with him for many years.

"He was kind of quiet except when he played the sax," said Charles Windall, who heard him play in area clubs since the 1950s. "[The saxophone] brought out a different person. He really enjoyed playing, and you could tell that, too."

The Baltimore-area clubs where he performed included the Mardi Gras and Freddie's, both in Hamilton, and Martin's Eastpoint.

Born in Baltimore, Mr. Pilling graduated from Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School in 1939.

Upon his discharge from the Navy, he became a lithographer at the old Roebucks Printing Co. in Baltimore from 1948 to 1963. He was a salesman for the GAF Film Corp. from 1963 to 1973 before he returned to work as a lithographer, working for the Daily

Record from 1973 until he retired in 1989.

He married the former Jean Witt in 1941. The marriage ended in divorce in 1974. He married his wife, Doris, in 1981.

Mr. Pilling enjoyed playing swing and big band music -- he said that "no decent music was written after 1952," Mrs. Pilling said -- and played with several big-name musicians when they came to Baltimore, including Stan Kenton and Harry James.

He was offered a chance to tour with Kenton, but the offer "came the same day as his draft notice," said his son, Ronald Pilling of Baltimore. "He didn't have much of a choice."

Services will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Ruck Funeral Home, 5305 Harford Road in Northeast Baltimore.

In addition to his wife, daughter and son, he is survived by another daughter, Gail Schuring of Phoenix; and a grandson, Jason Parrish of Towson.

Pub Date: 3/29/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.