May 10, 2011

In Memoriam: Morty Jacobs, 1917 - 2011

Morty Jacobs

Morty Jacobs

ASCAP mourns the loss of beloved composer and accompanist Morty Jacobs. This obituary was written by his son, composer/drummer Stephen Jacobs.

One of the most brilliant musicians in the entertainment industry has transposed to a higher key.The great Morty Jacobs, who many in the entertainment industry referred to as “Pianist to the Stars,” passed away on April 22nd, 2011. Born and raised in New York City, Morty became an exceptionally creative jazz pianist, brilliant accompanist and a fine composer/arranger. In the latter part of his career, he become very well known worldwide for his over 30-year tenure as musical director and accompanist for the great George Burns. After his appearances with George on the Johnny Carson Show, the Hollywood Reporter started calling Morty “The Silver Fox” for his great mane of white hair.

Morty had a remarkable career as a great musician a long time before meeting George. While he was receiving his traditional classical and folk music piano training and studies as a young prodigy, he was also being mentored by some of the great pioneering jazz pianists such as Willie “The Lion” Smith, Meade Lux Lewis and Fats Waller. Morty began performing while very young, and during his many musical journeys, performed for or with such artists as George Dewey Washington and Cantor Samuel Vigoda. The great trumpet player Roy Eldridge and Morty, as young musical lions, had a band that played for some of the greatest jazz tap dancers, including the Nicholas Brothers, Bunny Briggs and Sammy Davis, Jr. Morty’s distinguished resume also includes: Teddy Wilson’s Famous Door, Stan Austin Jazz Band, Bob Silvestre Orchestra, Irving Berlin Music, Decca Records, Bob Burke Dixieland Orchestra, Bob Haggard, Milt Hearth, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Jack Haley, Ray Bolger, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Desilu Studios, Margaret Whiting, Nat King Cole, Dorothy Dandridge, Van Johnson, Ethel Merman, Lou Rawls, O.C. Smith, Stella Stevens and many, many other notable performers.

Morty Jacobs composed the great Herb Jeffries cowboy hit “Palomino.” His delightful composition “Lefty Louie” was recorded by the David Rose Orchestra and his brilliant, innovative, bebop-bossa-rumba standard “Tell Me More” was recorded by the great June Christy for her landmark Something Broadway, Something Latin concept album.Morty also worked as a co-composer with Irving Taylor, Harry Chandlee and Johnny Mercer, and appeared in several motion pictures and many TV shows.

Morty served in the Merchant Marine and later, during WWII, in the US Army as a machine gunner with an armoured recon unit of the 5th Armoured Division. Early in his military training he became the Light-Heavyweight Wrestling Champion of the US Army and set a record for accuracy against moving targets on the 30 cal. machine gun. He suffered terrible injuries to his back and spine when his armoured vehicle went into a tank trap during WWII. Even with this and other serious traumatic injuries and lifelong medical problems, Morty was a kind, generous and very humorous man. He was a lifetime musician’s union member and activist, and once served on the Board of Directors of Local 47, AFM. He helped create the union’s pension plan for Local 47 and helped integrate the then-separate black and white musician’s union locals. He helped combat drug dealers who were victimizing musicians with drug and alcohol addiction problems. He was a prime mover in getting Synanon -- one of the nation’s very first drug and alcohol rehabilitation halfway houses especially structured to help musicians and other artists -- started in Santa Monica, CA. When the then-Senator Jack Kennedy was literally “swinging” his way through Southern California during his successful presidential campaign on a large flatbed truck, Morty was very proud to have been selected as the musical director and conductor for the Senator’s live jazz band on the truck with him.

Morty lost his beautiful wife of over 50 years, Madeline Louise Burnley-Jacobs in December of 1999, and is now rejoined with her and their many beloved family members and friends that preceded them. Their three sons, Stephen, Mark and Mitchell survive them and have lost the greatest father anyone could have wished for.