EXPIRED: 04/16/10 – Milton Kabak, 84, loved music and made music.

More importantly, he loved to teach music. With me, he failed. But he did teach me to love music,  so in a sense he really succeeded, as music is such an important part of my life.

Kabak was the bald headed, bowtie wearing, Citroen driving music teacher of Westlake High School in Thornwood, New York. He taught pimply faced kids like me how to hold a saxophone or play a timpani or march with a tuba or change a clarinet reed for over 30 years.

For me – I tried the trumpet, got frustrated, tried drums, got frustrated and quit band and focused on the rock and roll that mattered more to the teenage me.

I never really thought about Milton Kabak again.

So I never got to discover that Kabak was more than just a dedicated music teacher in a boring old suburban school.

I never knew until after he died – surrounded by his wife of 52 years, his 4 children, 10 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren – that Kabak rocked.

Milt Kabak was a renowned composer, arranger, and trombonist who wrote and recorded with some of the best musicians in the 40’s and 50’s  like June Christie, Peggy Lee, Martha Tilton and Anita O’Day. He also produced a lot of up and comers in the early days of rock’n’roll when you could write a song in an evening, cut it in a studio that night, press it and shop it to record companies the next day, like he did with rocker Billy Quadt.

But most importantly, Kabak toured extensively with the Stan Kenton band, and was extremely influential on Louis Prima and his sound. He and Prima wrote dozens of songs together for their band. When you think of Louis Prima’s big band sound, you think of Milton Kabak.

I wish I had known.

Sure, Kabak will be remembered by all the pimply faced kids who learned how to play an instrument in his classrooms. But he’ll also be remembered by all of us who didn’t. Because now, thanks to the internet, we’ve come to discover that he gave us great songs like “Wa Da Ga Dot,” “Yeah Yeah Yeah,” “Oh Babe,” Bronxville Clarinets,” “Aria for Barbara,Minor Bone Condition,” “Mop Top’” and “Clickity McClackity.”

And Mr. Kabak, just for the record, I loved your bowties and your car! And I’m bald now too.



6 responses to “RIP – MILTON KABAK

  1. I was the piano player and co-songwriter in Billy Quadt’s band. I don’t remember (or maybe never knew) how Billy and Milt met. But Milt was our manager. Our first recording session produced 4 songs and Milt placed two of them with Bobby Robinson; they got released on Fling Records (Fling 712 Oh, Susie Darling/I’ll Stop Crying). The recordings were done at 1650 Broadway, I think in Allegro. At the time, we (the kids) were puzzled about this seemingly square guy who nodded rhythmically while we rehearsed and recorded but seemed to us not to “get it” — he was no rock’n’roller. I think I knew he was a high-school teacher (I thought he taught in the Bronx; the band was a bunch of kids from Irvington in Westchester plus some others that Billy had met in college at Fredonia).
    Years later when I got into the music of Louis Prima I discovered Milt’s name as a trombonist. I’d had no idea. And wish I had appreciated that he could have been a teacher for us and not just an underappreciated meal ticket.
    I’m really glad I stumbled onto this website.

    • Thanks for your comment. I think the interesting thing is that Mr. Kabak was very unassuming. I had a lot of people on my Facebook reply that they also had no idea that he had such an interesting past – and they also took band classes from him. He didn’t brag about it. He was just a nice guy who loved music.
      Thanks for reading….

  2. One of my lifes greatest regrets is that Milton and I never met. From the very first band arrangement that I purchased from him, I recognized that he was an exceptional talent. Over the next twenty-five years we purchased many arrangements by Milton, many of them custom written for our band. Milton and I enjoyed a great raport on the phone and by mail, sharing many stories and musical experiences. Our band truly enjoyed his arrangements, and as he became more familiar with our band, he would mention various players by name, as got to know them through our recordings. He had amazing ears, and could pick a harmony line(say like fourth trumpet) out of a recording. Most of all Milton was the kindest, most generous, soft spoken gentleman you could ever want to be aquainted with. I’ve referred to him as the friend I’ve never met for many years. George Rose

  3. Where to start…. I met Milton when I was a kid at the Pleasantville Cottage School. I played guitar and sang for Milton. He told me that he wanted me to record a few of his songs. I did, and he became my manager and long time friend. I would take the train to the Bronx to have dinner with he and Margo, where we would rehearse. When I became and adult, I hooked up with Milton again and we got together for lunch and dinners. He was a sweet dear dear man and I miss him. If anyone knows how I can reach out to his daughter or Margo, please let me know.
    The last time we saw them was about a year before his passing. My wife and I flew into NY. He picked us up at the airport, where we then went to lunch. After lunch, he drove us into the city. That was the last time we saw Milton. He changed my life and I will never forget him

    • Milton Kabak was my great grandfather, the sweetest person I’ve ever known. Margo is now living at a nursing home near my grandmother, Milton’s daughter Dee, in Florida. My sister and aunt were just visiting, and everyone is doing well. I was thinking about him today, and it’s nice to see that he had an impact on others as much as he did me. Thanks for your kind words.

  4. Milt was my high school teacher at Westlake — I arrived in the band having played accordion in grade school. Milt took me through a few instruments, including clarinet, before I landed on percussion. With my “keyboard” experience, he encouraged me to take up the xylophone, and wrote a piece for me — “Aldo’s Waltz.” I played vibes in the school dance band, too, where Milt often joined in on t’bone. I got interested in snare drum and eventually timpani, which I still play today as an avocation.

    After high school, I bumped into him occasionally when he played in some summer jazz bands. As others have noted, Milt was very modest about his abilities — I knew somewhere along the line that he had played with Stan Kenton, but he never made a big deal about it. All in all, a wonderful and talented man.

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