Harry Steyert, 83, clarinetist who led quintet

April 14, 2005|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Harry Steyert, a big-band clarinetist who later led his own quintet, died of cancer Friday at his Eldersburg home. He was 83.

Born in Emmaus, Pa., he moved with his family to Baltimore's Hamilton section in 1935. He was a 1940 City College graduate and earned a business degree from the University of Baltimore.

He met his wife of 62 years, the former Dorothy Reamy, when he was playing in the orchestra pit of the old State Theater on East Monument Street. She worked at a nearby record store.

"The band members would come in to hear the new releases. Harry was still in college, and he had his books under his arm," she said yesterday. "He later took me to New York to hear Artie Shaw, and I wasn't impressed. Harry played better."

By the time of his college graduation, Mr. Steyert was serving in the Army and his wife accepted his diploma. He enlisted in 1943 and played in an Army band at Fort Knox, Ky.

After the war, he performed with the house band at the Club Charles, then toured for about a year with two well-known bands of that era, the Raymond Scott and Bob Chester orchestras. His final performance with the Chester group was at the old Congress Hotel on Franklin Street.

"He turned down playing with Tommy Dorsey and Claude Thornhill because he didn't want to be second clarinet," said his daughter, April Steyert of Asheville, N.C.

Mr. Steyert founded Harry Steyert's Quartet -- or Quintet, depending on its size -- and played at what was then Martick's bar, the former Lord Baltimore Hotel, and the old Chanticleer, Living Room and Westview Lounge.

"He was amazing. He played with the energy of a 30-year-old when he was in his 70s," said Elsa Burns, a vocalist who sang with him and who now performs at Da Mimmo's in Little Italy.

When patrons started requesting rock 'n' roll music, Mr. Steyert stopped playing. He focused on his accounting business, with customers in the city's garment manufacturing trade. In 1979, he founded Premiere Manufacturing, which makes uniforms, and was in charge of the business -- now on East 25th Street -- until his death.

In the 1980s, at the urging of fellow musicians, he resumed performing. Among the venues were Turf Valley Country Club, Kibby's on Wilkens Avenue and the Maryland Inn, Ram's Head and King of France Tavern in Annapolis. He was featured with guitarist Charlie Byrd, whose brother Joe Byrd played bass for Mr. Steyert's ensemble.

Mr. Steyert continued playing until last year.

He was a member of First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ellicott City.

Services were held Tuesday.

In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include a son, David H. Steyert of Stewartstown, Pa.; two sisters, Lyn Clauss of Bel Air and Lee Hunton of Baltimore; and a grandson.

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