BANGOR - Harry Weiss, friend, musician, humanist, story-teller, and great-grandfather, died peacefully in his sleep just before midnight on January 7. Born in New York City in 1917, he lived a remarkably healthy ninety-nine years, remaining musically creative to the end and performing as recently as New Year's eve. Harry was a musical prodigy from early childhood, taking up piano at three years old, but with a creative bent that ultimately led to him being more of a composer/arranger than a pianist. He began playing club dates in his early teens, and directed musical theater at City College. He played and wrote musical arrangements for vocalists and dance teams.
Harry briefly taught keyboard harmony and completed an unpublished textbook of the same title. He had serious interest in classical composing (and had once hoped to go to Russia to study with Prokofiev), but he was also fluent in the jazz and popular music of his era. In his early twenties his band was about to be signed by Decca Records, but Pearl Harbor changed that. He enlisted in army intelligence and, with his good ear and his knowledge of Japanese morse code, tracked and monitored Japanese movements and communications.
He married his beloved Sylvia just before the war. After the war, now with two sons, Paul and Matthew, he changed course from the uncertainties of a music career to become an audio engineer and music editor at United Recording Laboratories, and went on to become one of the most respected studio engineers in New York. His technical skills, musical knowledge and unaffected manner earned him the confidence of the many musicians and celebrities that he worked with.
After retirement, he and Sylvia were able to spend many years engaged in community service, traveling the world, and visiting their growing family. (Sadly, his son Matthew was lost to a freak automobile accident in 1979.) Harry also took up organic gardening, and he wrote and directed the music for the Sunday services of the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island, of which they were long time members.
One of his unique pursuits, begun in his student days, was to play live piano for silent movies. Harry abandoned the conventions and the classical scores, sometimes composing his own themes in advance, but largely improvising the score on the spot in response to the film. He played at art venues in New York and for many years at the Cinema Arts Center on Long Island; in Florida during his retirement there; and, finally, in Bangor, where he played for showings at the Bangor Public Library and the Bangor Opera House.
Harry and Sylvia moved to Boyd Place in Bangor in 2007 to be closer to family. Harry lost Sylvia at the age of 94, after seventy-one years of marriage. After many years of dedicated caring for her during her final illness, he now threw himself back into creating music, recording eight CDs of original arrangements and jazz improvisations on classic tunes in his own apartment. His last two CDs were completed at the age of ninety-eight, even after moving into assisted living at Phillips-Strickland.
(Some of his story-telling and his music may be heard on WERU interviews on Youtube and on the WERU archives, and in other articles and footage available at BangorDailyNews.com.)
Till close to the end, Harry enjoyed sitting in at clubs with local jazz musicians half his age. He also offered memorable piano music most evenings and on special occasions in the dining rooms of the Boyd Place and Phillips-Strickland residences. Harry found a wonderful last home there, and they, in turn, will miss his positive presence; as he will also be missed by his devoted family, to whom he and Sylvia showed great constancy, love, generosity and support.
He is survived by his son Paul of Bar Harbor; his grandchildren, Isaiah of Brooklyn, N.Y., Piari of Brooksville, ME., Josiah of Andover, MA., Gabriel of Brattleboro, VT., and step-grandchildren Scott of Penobscot, ME and Jason of Portland, OR; his great-grandchildren, Morgan, Elias, Dylan, Tae, Luna, Willow, Lucian and Adia; and his niece and grand-nieces, Helen, Ariana, and Cyrena of NYC.
A celebration of his life will be held at Phillips-Strickland on Friday, February 12 at 2pm.