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Leonard Balaban

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Leonard Balaban Obituary
BALABAN, LEONARD J. “RED” Leonard J. (“Red”) Balaban, former owner of the New York jazz club Eddie Condon’s and musician who played a key role in revitalizing America’s interest in Dixieland jazz, died at age 84 on December 29th at Milford Hospital after a brief illness. Born in Chicago on December 22, 1929, Balaban was a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. He attended Ethical Culture School in New York City and Milford Academy in Connecticut, and later graduated from Brown University, where he met Maxine “Micki” Israel, his wife of 62 years, who survives him. As a teenager, enamored of Dixieland music and its great instrumentalists, Balaban tried to hang out at Eddie Condon’s club in Greenwich Village, but was bounced for being under age. When Condon himself met Balaban near the stage door, he invited him in, and by the time Balaban moved south after college, he had made friends with many of the musicians he had long admired. Living in Florida, Balaban raised black angus cattle and also began to play music, starting on his son’s toy ukelele. By 1967, the farm was sold and the family moved to West Haven, so Balaban could play full-time. During this period, he became determined to revive the early 20th century music still being played by his older, illustrious friends. After Condon died, his wife Phyllis allowed Balaban to name his new club after Eddie, for what would be a 10-year run. Even after the club closed in 1985, Balaban continued to spread his favorite musical style throughout the Northeast as leader of Balaban and Cats, and playing with other groups. Besides the club, Balaban was proudest of the CDs he later produced with names such as “Home Cooking” and “Son of Home Cooking” on which he recorded himself singing and playing all of the instruments. In recent years, Balaban also began writing a blog called “Fare and Fowl.” A lifetime Democrat and political satirist, he wrote for a steadily widening circle of family, friends, and others who sometimes shared and sometimes debated his commentary. In addition to his wife, Micki, and his sister, Judith, Balaban he is survived by his son Michael, of New York; son Steven and wife Kyle, of San Diego, and their children Max and Bret; and by daughter Rachel and her husband, John Burnham, of Middletown, R.I., and their children, Isabel, Olivia and Sophia. He also leaves behind his beloved ginger Maine Coon cat, Rosie. A service for family and close friends will be held at 2:30 pm, January 5th, at Shure Funeral Home in New Haven. It will be followed by a larger, musical, memorial celebration of his life later this winter. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Neighborhood Music School, 100 Audubon Street, New Haven, CT 06510.

Published in The New Haven Register on Jan. 3, 2014
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