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.