Obituary | David Leo Kamien of Springfield, Missouri

Obituary | David Leo Kamien of Springfield, Missouri

David Leo Kamien (née Silverman), born at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, New York on July 22, 1928, died on March 11, 2023 (18 Adar 5783) at Birch Pointe Health and Rehabilitation, Springfield, Missouri. Dave was the eldest child of Anna Pitkin Silverman (z’’l) and Joseph Silverman (z’’l) of Mechanicville, New York; he grew up in a white house on the banks of the Hudson River, a place he treasured until the end of his life.

Dave was an extraordinarily gifted musician, an often impatient savant, and a curious inquisitor fascinated by, among other things, psychology; politics; and people. After he showed musical and scientific talent early in his life, his mother and father encouraged him in both. By the age of 13, he was playing evening piano gigs at Mechanicville’s Fantauzzi’s Venetian Restaurant (his dad ferried him to and from work, since Dave was too young to drive). Dave entered high school in 1941 already a piano whiz; eager to continue his musical education, he mastered several brass instruments (including the sousaphone) for the Mechanicville High School band and started composing original scores, a practice he would continue almost until the end of his life. Dave’s parents wanted him to become a chemist — they knew the prevalence of antisemitism in the music industry, and thought science would be a safer path. But Dave’s love for music won out, and in 1945, he entered the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. After graduating in 1949 with a major in composition and a minor in conducting (having memorized the complete orchestral and vocal scores for more than 30 operas, including his lifelong favorite, Don Giovanni), he and his childhood friends Chris Izzo and Cynthia Woodell went on the road with their trio, The Revelers, crossing the United States to play venues large and small from Manhattan to Minnesota.

While playing a series of gigs in Rochester (Minnesota), Dave met Evelyn Bridges, a young woman from Urbana, Missouri working on assignment for United Airlines. Dave and Lyn fell in love and, before long, moved to Chicago, where she converted to Judaism and they were married in 1955. Chicago, although welcoming to the young couple, was hardly the music mecca New York was, and so — moving further east — Dave and Lyn made their home in New York’s famous West 73rd Street Sherman Square apartments for creative professionals, where Leonard Bernstein also had a studio. Dave began graduate studies at the Mannes College of Music, vocal coaching at the New York City Opera and copying music for “the dean of American copyists,” Arnold Arnstein, at night to make rent. One of Dave’s last copying assignments for Arnstein was his neighbor Lenny’s original score for West Side Story.

In 1957, Dave was selected to receive a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to study and teach at the Kölner Musikhochschule (conservatory) in West Germany. Dave and Lyn set sail across the Atlantic, docking at the port of Hamburg on a chilly, foggy day, and settled into life in Cologne’s expatriate community. Part of Dave’s scholarship included study and an assistant conductorship at the Oper der Stadt Köln (Cologne Opera); there, he was fortunate to work under, and be trained by, legendary interpreters and conductors Hans Knappertsbusch and Wolfgang Sawallisch.

In the mid-1960s, Dave struck out on his own, widening his career to include composition as well as conducting and coaching. He became a sought-after composer of music for commercials, television programs, and films; until the end of his life, he was a proud member of GEMA (the German equivalent of ASCAP), and was honored for fifty years of contributions to the post-war German musical scene. Credits included numerous commercials for Lancôme, IBM, Varta, Diamant Mehl, Bioclear, and other standing clients; television series and films, including Tatort (Crime Scene), Die Kriminalerzählung (Crime Story), and Der Fall Eleni Voulgari (The Case of Eleni Voulgari); and several industrial productions. Dave also pursued a diversity of special projects, including a Bicentennial pop recording featuring Peggy March, Happy Birthday America!; the West German premiere of Kurt Weill’s anti-war musical, Johnny Johnson; and an album created in collaboration with American musician, composer, theoretician, and poet Moondog (Instrumental Music of Louis Hardin).

In 1976, a chance dinner party conversation led to Dave’s appointment as an associate professor at Essen’s Folkwang Musikhochschule (now the Folkwang Universität der Künste [Folkwang University of the Arts]). Several of his students asked Dave to help them form a jazz group, and the Dave Kamien Division — a sixteen-piece jazz/rock/soul band — was born. The group quickly became popular, gigging all over Germany (including at the Sommerfest des Bundeskanzlers [the Federal Chancellor’s Summer Festival]) and, in 1978, releasing Terra Contact, a ten-track album, on the Hör Zu label. Dave’s teaching abilities did not go unnoticed; the following year, Let’s Swing: Jazz Zum Mitmachen (Let’s Swing: Play Along Jazz) — a short course on jazz created by Dave and Dietrich Schulz-Köhn (“Dr. Jazz”) — premiered on television, with an accompanying book, sheet music, and two-LP set. Dave welcomed European and American musicians, including Slide Hampton, Wilton Gaynair, Carmell Jones, and Dave Kamien Division colleagues (Uli Launhardt, Jürgen Königs, John Marshall, and Lamont Hampton among them), to an informal on-screen studio to demonstrate basic techniques of jazz performance. After the series was repeated, Dave, whose face was now known as well as his music, enjoyed being stopped on the street for his autograph. And Let’s Swing led to more TV: Dave’s last production in Germany was 1979’s Christmas in Ettal, a musical extravaganza set in a south German Benedictine monastery and featuring Ray Charles, Sarah Jordan Powell, Donna Lynton, Rick Abao, the Munich Gospel Choir, and several members of the Dave Kamien Division. Although Christmas in Ettal’s producer proposed a longer relationship, Dave and Lyn had other ideas: as they approached the twenty-fifth anniversary of their arrival in Germany — a country they had originally envisioned spending only two years in — they began discussing a return to the United States. In 1981, Dave and Lyn moved back to New York City, close to where their daughter, Judi, was in college.

After his return to New York, Dave was active in a number of musical productions, created a well-received interpretation of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), and began work on a musical adaptation of Robin Hood with his writing partner, lyricist Nancy Ponder. At the same time, he expanded a lifelong interest in graphic design, eventually moving almost exclusively into that area of creativity; he pursued graphics work until a few years prior to his death. Dave left New York in 2012 with his daughter and her husband and, after living in Vermont for five years, the family moved to Springfield in 2017.

Although he was not religious, Dave was proud of his family’s heritage. In his early 20s, following the example set by his uncle, artist Harry Kamien, Dave changed his name legally to his family’s original name (“stone” in Polish). His sister Marcia (z’’l), a successful author, would follow later; his brother Jay, a public relations and advertising expert, broadcaster, and educator, is still a Silverman.

Dave is survived by his daughter, Judith M. Kamien, and her husband and Dave’s friend, Roy T. Lloyd, both of Springfield, Missouri; his brother, Jay Silverman, and Jay’s partner, Mary Ann Bourgeois, of Schaghticoke, New York; his cousin, Leon Lasdon, and Leon’s wife, Laraine Kentridge Lasdon, of Austin, Texas; three nieces; numerous cousins; and other family, friends, students, and musical colleagues, across the United States and Germany.

At his request, Dave will be cremated and his ashes scattered in his beloved Hudson River. Donations in his honor may be made to the scholarship program at the Eastman School of Music.

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