‘Underground’ Jazz Songwriter, Composer and Performer Edward Kalendar Dies at 80

Edward Kalendar  performs at the Rainbow Room in 2007
Edward Kalendar performs at the Rainbow Room in 2007 | Courtesy of the Kalendar family

Edward Kalendar, whose love of underground jazz music heard while living in Ukraine led to a prolific career as a composer, conductor, jazz pianist and educator, died on June 11 at his home in Philadelphia. He was 80.

Kalendar led an underground jazz band and was a pioneer of that genre in the former Soviet Union during the 1950s and ’60s, daughter Elina Kalendarova Picht said.

“[At the time], anything coming from the West was considered part of the bourgeoisie culture and ‘couldn’t be good,’” she said.

Kalendar, who attended Congregation Kesher Israel, fell in love with jazz while listening to Voice of America broadcasts when he was growing up. He learned to play by ear, as he did with many piano pieces.

At one point, the dean of a conservatory Kalendar was studying at called him into his office after learning he was practicing jazz and told him that his involvement with the genre could negatively impact his musical career, according to Kalendarova Picht. However, his love for the genre persisted: After 1964, he led his underground jazz band for another six years.
Kalendar was trained in classical music at conservatories in Tashkent and Moscow, where he studied with other prominent composers and musicians.

Music was not Kalendar’s only love there. He met his wife, Asya Kalendar, while studying at the conservatory; they married in 1967.

His musical career officially began in 1968, as he began serving as the conductor of the Tashkent Radio Orchestra through 1976. He also was the music director for the Music Folklore Theater in Moscow from 1991 to 1994.

Kalendar had a great appreciation for folk music, including Jewish folk music. He knew and could perform folk music from around the world, according to his son-in-law, Aaron Picht.
“He was the Stevie Wonder of Uzbekistan,” Picht said, describing how he would write a tune, record it and suddenly everyone would be singing it. “Edward was an extremely versatile musician. We all had musical relationships with him.”

Kalendar’s family of three moved to New York City in 1994, performing with the American Society for the Advancement of Cantorial Arts, alongside prominent artists at the Vail Jazz Festival and even doing some stand-up comedy with a Russian-Jewish comedy troupe.
Kalendar, who was a member of the American Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers, played the organ at Temple Shalom in Long Island, New York, when he wasn’t sharing bigger stages.

He performed at the United Nations, Rockefeller Center, Tilles Center, Alice Tully Hall and the Theater Gran Vía Madrid. He once shared a program with Victor Borge at a private school graduation in Manhattan.

Kalendar’s compositions included 27 film scores and more than 200 classical and popular songs. Several volumes of his Jewish music arrangements enjoy worldwide distribution, according to his family.

He also shared his musical acumen with his family.

Kalendarova Picht is a violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, while Picht is the conductor of the Youth Chamber Orchestra and Baroque Players Orchestra at Temple Music Prep.
Kalendar was especially proud of his grandson, Sebastian Picht, who shares his love and talent for the piano. Kalendar worked with his grandson to restore a lost original concerto from the drafts, the first section of which Sebastian Picht hopes to perform later this year.
And that love for music showed up in other places, too, such as in his students, friends and colleagues.

Kalendarova Picht said her father often made a point of standing up for musicians who were the victims of an age bias, either being thought of as too young or too old.
Kalendarova Picht told a story where Kalendar stood up for a young Vlad Girshevich, who was being pushed to finish his piece early so more experienced musicians could join in. Thirty years later, Kalendar and Girshevich were reunited at the Vail Jazz Festival in Colorado.

Kalendar taught composition classes in Philadelphia. Many of his students went on to attend prominent schools and several became successful composers, jazz singers and instrumentalists, according to his family.

He is survived by his wife, Asya; his daughter Elina Kalendarova Picht; son-in-law, Aaron Picht; and a grandson.

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