Although primarily known throughout the music industry as a classical violinist, my father, William Zinn, who died on April 11 at the age of 92, was an amazing man who was active in several fields. Bill was a composer, author, inventor, engineer and more. He had been a member of Local 802 since 1944.
My dad had a big personality. Some aspects of his resume are impossible to fact check, but I wanted to share with you a few things he told me about himself and a few things that I know for sure, so you’ll get a sense of what he was like.
My dad told me that he knew or collaborated with Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Arthur Fiedler, Arturo Toscanini, Vladimir Horowitz, Arthur Rubenstein and Van Cliburn. I know he played with the Cleveland Orchestra, Baltimore Orchestra, Pittsburgh Orchestra, Indiana Orchestra and many others. He told me that he was the concertmaster of the Queens Symphony Orchestra in the 1960s. He said he helped found the Big Apple Chamber Pops. I do know for sure that my father was truly a first-chair performer and contractor for countless artists and comedians. He played Broadway shows. During his career, he said he played in backup orchestras for Sammy Davis Jr., Peggy Lee, Gladys Night & the Pips, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles and Jerry Lewis, among others.
My dad always said he was the one of the most widely-published and widely-performed composers and arrangers for strings. He told me that he was the youngest musician who was ever contracted to play in a major orchestra. My father carved his own violin and performed it with the New Britain Symphony. A humorist at heart, he performed pop concerts on the eight-belled “Octahorn” with the Harford Symphony and others. He was proud of his concerto for piccolo and told me that his “Ragtime String Quartet” won the Sedelia Ragtime Festival Award. On a visit to Hawaii, he composed two Hawaiian songs and told me he won a Hawaiian song contest. He wrote major compositions in the Jewish music genre, including his “Hebraic Scenes” violin concerto, his “Klezmer Symphony” and a piece he called the “Jewish Seasons.” He also wrote pieces dedicated to Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa.
My dad told me stories about meeting Albert Einstein (who played violin), the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, and jazz musicians Clark Terry and Snooky Young.
My dad told me he established the first sheet music exchange with mainland China and that George H. W. Bush wrote my dad a personal letter of endorsement.
My dad founded the International Symphony for World Peace. According to my dad, this orchestra held the first “international music peace concert” at Lincoln Center on June 14, 1982. My father’s “International Anthem for World Peace” is apparently still available at the United Nations bookshop, and my dad told me that this was the first international song that was played on the radio in mainland China.
My dad was also proud of establishing a Lincoln Center-style organization in South America, which he mentioned was either in Brazil or Caracas, Venezuela.
My dad wrote (or co-wrote) several books, including “The Mystery of the Lost Chord,” which is still available on Amazon. He also developed a special library system that he called “Themography,” which helps musicians and others locate musical themes in scores.
My dad told me that he was the only male member of the National Council of Women.
My dad told me he was one of the largest patent and trademark holders. He told me his invention of “the smallest bi-metric thermometer” was launched on one of the early Apollo spacecrafts.
My dad was listed in “Who’s Who in America” and “International Who’s Who.”
Many of my dad’s stories can be found in Bill Crow’s “Band Room” column here in Allegro.
As I say, many of my dad’s stories are impossible to verify. Some may be hard to believe. But my dad was proud of a letter he received from the composer Lukas Foss, which I have in my possession. It says: “William Zinn throughout his life has provided charitable services to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries, religious orders, musical organizations, charities and needy students. He has never refused a helping hand from fund-raising for a cultural organization to a private music lesson. His accomplishments as an inventor, engineer, manufacturer, teacher, composer and performer are too numerous to mention in one letter. However, in the field of music he has many important credits to his name. He is a composer and a member of ASCAP. Many of his works have been performed, published and recorded. He is also a versatile violinist. One may find him giving a recital, performing a concerto with an orchestra, leading a section from the concertmaster’s chair, playing a musical show or a rock concert, in a jazz ensemble, playing a chamber music concert or giving a ragtime exhibition on television. In short, he merits awards and recognition, and I highly recommend him. Sincerely, Lukas Foss.”
Besides myself, my father is survived by his daughter Karen and grandson Noah. His wife Sophia Kalish, with whom he was married 69 years, died in April.