ITEA History: Lew Waldeck
By Carole Nowicke
Lew Waldeck, former tubist of the New York City Opera died on January 26, 2004 at 68 years of age. Sam Bergman, the editor of Senza Sordino, the official publication of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians described Lew as “… a union activist, hell raiser, baseball fan and longtime friend….”1 After leaving the New York City Opera, Lew became Director of the Symphonic Services Division of the American Federation of Musicians. He produced a video for the AFM in the 1980s entitled “Welcome to the American Federation of Musicians,” featuring interviews with members. When he retired from the AFM, Lew worked as a consultant in community organization and political action.
Lew Waldeck (December 29, 1935–January 26, 2004)
Lew was a tireless warrior for labor in the tradition of Walter Reuther and Joe Hill, so much so that those sharing his philosophies were referred to as “Waldeck clones.”2 Lew was also a tubist. Even if a tubist “of a certain age” never heard Lew perform, it was certain that they purchased the excerpt books he and Walter Sear created. The excerpt books were published by Artie Goldstein (who also published the “Schmutzig” method books).
Despite the discomfort of daily dialysis treatments, Lew was eager to participate in an oral history interview and talk about his experiences. Lew’s warmth and enthusiasm showed through his illness and the impersonal media of electronic mail and the telephone. Lew delighted in his fellow tubists, especially Bill Bell, Sam Green, Joe Novotny, and Herb Wekselblatt. “Herbie,” he said, “Is one of the greatest unsung heroes of the tuba world.… He was just a beautiful, beautiful player, and incredibly consistent. Never a nick or a burble.” He described Joe Novotny as having a “softness and pleasantness about him.” Joe’s incredible high-class career with NBC and the New York Philharmonic, said Lew, made a “Joe Novotny Festival” in order.
For twenty-five years, Waldeck was principal tuba of the New York City Opera Orchestra. Concurrent with his position with the Opera, he was Director of Cinematography for Freya Films. He played one season each with the St. Louis and New Orleans orchestras, and free-lanced and substituted in New York, including performances with the New York City Ballet, Radio City Music Hall, New York Philharmonic, the Stadium Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony (on a performance of Belshazzar’s Feast) the Casals Festival Orchestra, American Symphony Orchestra, Symphony of the Air, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
Lew began playing the tuba at age 13 when he was sick the first day of school, and “you know what happened next”—the only instrument remaining was a four-valved Conn helicon. Lew’s father, a voice teacher, wanted him to start taking lessons immediately, which he did with William J. Bell. Lew would take lessons with Bell at “Tante Lena’s” on a three-valved King “with slides frozen in place.” He started performing professionally in his youth with Italian festival bands where the pay (an actual scale) was $7 a day and included parading a statue of a saint around in the streets, lunch, dinner, and a four-hour evening concert. He also performed in a number of amateur orchestras in New York and with the La Puma Opera Company. By the time Lew was playing professionally, he indicated that he had learned most of the repertoire from these many orchestral experiences. He played in the Asbury Park Band, in Leona May Smith Seuffert’s band in Queens with Bill Bell, and in Paul Taubman’s Big Brass Band with Phil Cadway.
Lew pictured with his father Arthur, a voice teacher
Lew attended Brooklyn College for three years, majoring in chemistry. An official with Schenley’s Distilleries interviewed him for a position with the company, offering to pay for his master’s and doctoral degrees, having, a plan for his entire career.
I listened to this guy and I panicked! This guy was going to buy me for the rest of my life.
I called Mr. Bell the next morning and I said, “You’ve got to get me a job right away!” He sent me to St. Louis. That was in “those days’ when he was distributing work.
Lew had purchased a Conn tuba from Giovanni Manuti before he accepted the position in St. Louis. Manuti stipulated that he must come in and play rehearsals (without pay) if he wished to buy the instrument. He used this Conn (or another of the same model) for most of his career, along with a Zinzi cimbasso, and a De Prins tuba during the last few years in the Opera.
After the season in St. Louis, Lew went on the road with Ernie Rudy, or as Lew always said—“Ernie Rudy—WHO?” Who Ernie was, as it happened, was Sammy Kaye’s drummer.
Sammy Kaye’s was a co-op band, and when they broke up, Ernie’s share of the band was the book. He took it on the road for years, and his son Ernie, Jr. took it on the road after that. So, I spent a whole bunch of time on the road with him, playing banana notes, but it was a living. It was kind of fun, we had the usual on the road drunken adventures.
Lew became a cimbassist when Julius Rudel sent him a note asking “What is a cimbasso?” Lew wrote back, explaining the use of the instrument in Verdi and Puccini. Rudel replied, “Can you get one?” Lew found a cimbasso in Charlie Ponti’s shop window about 1965. Ponti had acquired the instrument from Pat Pistone, who had purchased it from a player in a Carbinieri band on tour in the U.S. The cimbasso needed some repair work, was not, he said, a particularly fine instrument, and took a while to understand it. He said that Rudel liked the sound of the cimbasso, so he used it for all the Verdi and Puccini works performed by the City Opera.
… It’s the right thing. Absolutely. Once I heard it, it was truly the right thing. The difference between “Scarpia” played on the tuba and played on the cimbasso is tremendous. Before I learned that it was a mezzo forte instrument, you know in “Un Ballo in Maschera,” where there are those rips in the end where he gets stabbed? The conductor stopped (an Italian conductor) and to the contractor he said, “Please tell the cimbasso player, he was killed with a stiletto, not a hatchet.”
Lew also belonged to one of the first modern brass quintets to commission original music. The Modern Brass Ensemble was based at radio station WBAI and gave a concert broadcast of new music every two weeks. Waldeck reported that the group commissioned 63 pieces in four years and that the group made two records, one of which never came out. The recordings were produced by Barney Childs. The quintet’s books, he said, went to the Honolulu Quintet.
Lew was also a poet. A memorial issue of Keola O Na Mele, the Musician’s Association of Hawaii, Local 677 AFM, reproduces a number of his short poems. A longer work (9 pages), shared at the time of his oral history interview described a day in the Carnegie Tavern, the scents of which, like Proust’s madelines, brought back memories of hours spent with other musicians, the staff of the restaurant, regular customers, and his teacher, Bill Bell.
The Carnegie Tavern
I taste one note
Of Mahler’s Resurrection
And all the smells of the
Carnegie Tavern live again,
As pungent as yesterday,
In my mind’s nose.
Now smell Bacon Lettuce and Tomato on toast
Giotto and gesso,
Mixed with Roast Beef,
Corn beef, and Club.
The Carnegie Special
Ham, bacon, and turkey.
Smell the white toast.
Matrons and patrons
Bratwurst and Knackwurst,
Capers and Klops
Piquant in their hour of freedom.
You would recognize them,
All expert and producing
Huddle in the corner of this
Aware of their invasion
But drawn by
The remembrance of
Hot roast beef sandwiches past,
Managers, and agents
Blended with acerbic house wine.
The ballet orchestra comes in,
They joke and needle.
All is relaxed now,
Winding down after a hard nights work.
Bad phrases and
Conductor’s death rays forgotten.
Colleague with colleague,
The familiar late hour essence
Calms and soothes them.
One by one they drift out.
March 22, 1995
From an obituary provided by the Waldeck family and sent to the ICSOM list by Nathan Kahn:
He is remembered by all who knew him, and is survived by his wife of 37 years, Mary, his daughter Erika, and son-in-law Brad Ilowit, sister-in-laws Carol Barnette and June Sands, niece Val Weeks, and nephew, Tom Sands. Many others love him as a friend, mentor, Papa, and mentor. Tall, of ample girth, with a grizzled beard and a strong voice, Waldeck had presence.3
1 Senza Sordino, May 2004, 10.
2 Brand, Andrew. The Leading Tone, November, 1995, 4.
3 ICSOM list, forwarded by Don Harry, February, 2004.
Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Lew Waldeck are from his April 2002 oral history interview with Carole Nowicke.
Acknowledgements: Mary and Erika Waldeck, David Sternbach, and Herb Wekselblatt. Photos: Lew Waldeck with cimbasso. A photograph of Lew Waldeck in McSorley’s Old Ale House appeared in the ITEA Journal 30 (1) Fall, 2002, 71.