Milton Kaye, 97, pianist and musical director

OTHER NOTABLE DEATHS

August 18, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- Milton Kaye, 97, a pianist and arranger who moved with ease from accompanying Heifetz to writing theme music for the TV quiz show Concentration, from playing in Toscanini's orchestra to playing the organ on The Rootie Kazootie Show, died Monday in New York.

"Because so much of what he did was ephemeral, it survives - if it survives - totally by accident," said Dennis D. Rooney, a music writer and critic who presented a paper on Mr. Kaye at a meeting of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections in May.

Among his accomplishments was introducing Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1 to the United States in 1935, Mr. Rooney said. After a tour of European war zones as accompanist to the violinist Jascha Heifetz, Mr. Kaye turned down a permanent job with him, in part so he could remain in Arturo Toscanini's NBC Symphony of the Air. Mr. Kaye was a musical director for shows on all three major networks.

Milton Jay Katz, who later changed his last name, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. His father, Berish, a self-taught musician, played klezmer and other music on at least five instruments.

As a child, he went to Carnegie Hall concerts - and would sit in the top balcony until he spotted and raced to an empty seat near the stage. His father tried to steer him away from a music career, but by the time he was 8 he was playing in concerts.

His education included a doctorate at Columbia University. Meanwhile, he worked for WOR radio as an announcer, then played piano on the air.

In 1944, when Heifetz's accompanist quit, Mr. Kaye was recommended for a tour to entertain American troops. In North Africa and Italy, they played on the backs of trucks, in hospitals and in opera houses, sometimes to a background of machine gun fire.

A veteran of radio, he began to find work in the new medium of television. His jobs included Big Top, a children's show, The Bell Telephone Hour and Concentration, for which Mr. Kaye led a two-man band and collaborated with his wife, Shannon Bolin, in composing music to begin, end and punctuate the show, which he joined in 1961.

His classical recordings included collaborations with Heifetz immediately after World War II; works with the violinist Oscar Shumsky; and a duet with the Australian violinist Ben Breen in 2005. There is no complete discography, Mr. Rooney said.

He is survived by his wife, who originated the role of Meg in Damn Yankees on Broadway, then reprised it in the movie.

About four years ago, the couple made a commercial for De Beers diamonds. In a Monet-like scene photographed through gauze, Mr. Kaye, wearing a beret, holds hands with his wife as a younger couple turns to look at them. It was supposed to run for a month but is still being shown.

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