My father died Wednesday. It was sudden. Unexpected. And mercifully quick. RF asked me if I wanted to pen a tribute to him here on the TTAG site. And so I’m taking this opportunity to tell you about a remarkable man . . .

Eddy Kozak was born in 1925 in Chicago, growing up a couple of blocks away from Al Capone’s home. He came from a musical family, and he took his place in the family business at the tender age of six. He was a star on the Vaudeville stage, as Cadet Kozak, Wizard of the Xylophone.

At eight years old, he was a member of The Century of Progress World’s Fair 100 Marimba Band. He was a peer of guys like Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo and other great jazz mallet instrumentalists. And he was a regular on the WLS Barn Dance radio show, alongside Arthur Godfrey, Francis O’Connor, and Pat “Mr. Haney” Buttram.

Then the Pearl Harbor atack changed everything.

Durring the war, he served in the U.S. Navy, and although he’d trained to be a radio operator and was selected to pilot a Higgins Boat for the D-Day invasion, fate had other ideas. He was hand-picked by Commander Eddie Peabody to become the personal musician and soloists for Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific Fleet.

During his service, he served on the U.S.S. Missouri, with a berth directly under the 21″ guns. As a result, in his final years, he suffered progressively more severe hearing loss. (There’s a lesson right there. ALWAYS wear hearing protection around guns.)

When he returned from the war, America was a vastly different place. Vaudeville was dead. The music business was changed forever. He put together a niteclub act, and toured the country, playing with Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, and Burl Ives. He toured North and South America with famed Latin bandleader Xavier Cugat.

As the influence of jazz and pop gave way to rock and roll, he saw the business changing again. So he relocated from the colder climes of Chicago to Shreveport, Louisiana, the city where he’d met his wife, Marjorie.

In Shreveport, he quickly built a reputation as “Mr. Music,” opening a music studio where he taught an estimated 20,000 students music over a 55+ year teaching career. Along the way, he authored a groundbreaking music theory book, obtained patents for several inventions, and became the musical director for not one, but two musical theaters in the area. He authored a number of religious musicals and penned countless arrangements for singers, soloists, and pageant contestants. He was a guest lecturer at Julliard, NTSU, and a number of other prominent music schools.

But aside from his contributions to the world of music and North Louisiana fine arts, he was also a family man, with a clear idea of his task as husband and father. It is because of him that I am both a musician and a marketing guy. Dinner conversations frequently revolved around discussions of commercial messages from an analytical point of view. “Why would having a washing machine that’s 10 feet tall be a good thing,” he’d ask, thus sending me down the road of thinking past slogans and getting to the heart of the matter.

My dad was a big believer in teaching me the skills I’d need to be a good husband and father. Woodworking, when you think about it, is kind of a weird hobby for a musician – lopping off a finger is a risk every time you pick up a power tool. But he felt it was important for guys to be able to ‘fix stuff around the house.’ In point of fact, he taught me not just how to fix things around the house, but to build and remodel them. He also gave me my early training regarding firearms.

He taught me to respect guns – not fear them. He taught me basic gun handling and safety. And he taught me that when it comes to self-defense, a gun is your last resort – not your first option.

Interestingly, although he served with the Navy, he was never issued a sidearm durring the war. That’s kind of ironic, as my early fascination regarding the 1911 semi-auto stems from thinking that it must have been the gun he carried in the war. As it turned out, he was fascinated with my 1911, the few times I was able to take him to the range in the final year of his life.

His years in the Navy left him with a love of boats and boating. I practically grew up on a succession of power boats, learning seamanship and navigation along the way. His personality was such that he never did anything halfway. When he discovered a love of shrimping (!), he studied and passed the test for a commercial skipper’s license and bought a shrimp boat. (Frankly, the attraction of shrimping escaped me, and does to this day. Love eating ’em. Hate catching ’em.)

When you strip away everything that is non-essential about a person, what’s left is the core of their being; their core beliefs. At the core of my father’s belief system was the idea that he had to excel at everything he did. He had a laser-like focus on anything he set out to do, coupled with an iron will.

Like many of his generation, he was a smoker. Unlike many, though, he threw himself into his habit to the point of wretched excess. He told me that at one time, he would go through a carton of cigarettes per week, a can of pipe tobacco per month, and a box of cigars per month, all at the same time. When his doctor discovered a pre-cancerous condition in his mouth, he quit. Cold turkey.

When he got into boating, he became a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the United States Power Squadron, becoming something of an expert on safe boating, navigation, and meteorology.

When he performed, he would accept nothing less than perfection from himself, and he held those around him to nearly as high an exacting standard. He instilled in me a desire to excel, and to be motivated more by striving for personal achievement than by external factors like fame or fortune. Not a bad lesson to learn, when you think about it.

If you measure a man’s worth by the number of lives he touches and influences positively, my father’s life was priceless. Like everyone, he had his faults, but his virtues far outweighed them. If there is anything good in me, you can look to my father as the one who nurtured, grew and directed it into something positive.

Musician, teacher, inventor, patriot, mentor, author, and father, Eddy Kozak was one-of-a-kind. A consumate professional in everything he did, he left his mark on virtually everyone he knew. I’ll miss him, of course. But I’m not alone. He’s left thousands of friends, students, and fellow professionals that will never forget him.

15 Responses to Lessons I Learned From My Father.

  1. Thanks for the tribute, it sounds like you were a fortunate man to have a father of his caliber. My condolences to you and your family.

  2. My condolences to you and your sister. I hope you find comfort in all the lives your father touched.
    WIsh I could be there for the memorial jam.

  3. Brad, I am saddened to hear of your father's passing; he was a great musician and teacher and judging from your touching post a wonderful father, as well. Studying with and later working along side your father was an important experience for me, as I learned much from him, not only about music, but things that I have carried with me throughout my life.

    My thoughts and prayers will be with you and your family during this difficult time.

  4. Great insights on your dad… and you, by association. A very nice tribute he would be proud of.

    Would love to see any footage you can post of him on vibes or marimba.

    God bless and comfort you my friend.

  5. About 10 years ago I ran into a lady who had taken piano lessons from Mr. Kozak.She thought he was a great teacher,but tired of his incessant talking about Jesus.

    I told him at church that I thought this one of the highest praises of a Christian that I had ever heard.

  6. What a treasure. Brad thanks for sharing your father with so many others. You are truly blessed to have had such wonderful experiences and lessons learned from a great man who will be remember many years to come. As a pastor and student, I learned so much from him and knew that this day would come eventually. He talked so much about being with the Lord one day and seeing his beloved wife again. You can be proud of having such wonderful and loving parents who were not ashamed to share their faith. Blessings on your and your family.

  7. Brad, I was glad to learn more about your father through this tribute. Although I have been living overseas for the past 24 years, I grew up in Shreveport, where I had the privilege of studying piano with your father on a couple of occasions. Out of curiosity I Googled his name today, and was saddened to find that he passed away last year. I heard him play marimba and piano in concert a few times, and remember that he was a skilled piano tuner. I only knew and deeply admired his musical side, so it was fascinating to read about the other aspects of his life. It comes as no surprise that he was a perfectionist in other areas in addition to music. He was truly a special person of many gifts. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Brad, I studied with your Dad for only 1 year. My 10th grade year in high school. The lessons I learned from him were life changing for me during that year. My parents bought a Marimba from him, one they couldn’t afford, so I could continue my lessons when we moved away and back to Tampa, FL. I still have it. I went on to have a very successful career as a percussionist and it put me through college and beyond for decades. Now I work with young people at a high school as their Drumline Director. We don’t have any other instruments other than drums. I teach them the skills and techniques your dad taught me and enjoy watching them marvel at themselves on how fast they can learn to play. I think of your Dad everyday since my lessons with him and I want you and your family to know that he was a big influence in my life. My only regret is not being able to get back to Shreveport and telling him that in person. Peace!

  9. I studied music with your father for nearly my entire time stationed at Barksdale AFB almost 9 years. I was a guitarist in the AF Band “The Mighty Eighth”. The things I learned from him can’t be quantified, I’m still realizing his lessons, which were really more about life than music it seems. He is one person that never steered me wrong, everything he taught me about music, and the nature of human interactions has proven to be true. Of the people I miss seeing from my time in Sheveport, Eddie is at the top of the list. Thanks for sharing him with me.

    Dave Cousino

  10. I also googled your dad’s name to wind up here. Your dad taught me piano for over three years while we were stationed at Barksdale. I hadn’t played piano for over 10 years and your dad helped me buy a piano. He motivated me to surpass my previous level. I was a note-plunker when I came to him; when I had to leave, I was able to emote. I will never forget your dad.

  11. Thank you for writing this tribute. I’m very sorry for your loss. I didn’t know until today that he had passed on.

    I took piano lessons from him for a couple of years during high school in the 90’s. 90% of everything I ever learned about music I learned from him. He was truly brillant and taught me an understanding of music theory that opened up a whole new world to me. I still remember some of his arrangements. I loved sitting with him in his studio while he scored orchestrations. His love of music was toxic.

    Often his music lessons were more than just music lessons, they were life lessons where he would talk about theology, the church, politics, etc… Some complained about this, but I loved it. He was always thinking and challenging others to think.

    I always appreciated the genuine interest he took in me as a musical as well as a person. His reccomendation helped me get my first music position as a worship leader and he was always helpful in any way he could be.

    Reading your tribute brought back many memories of that short time that I had the privilege of spending with him.

    God bless,

    – David Wood

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