Obituary: Jerome Eisner / Musician who thrived on local jazz scene

Feb. 16, 1916 - March 4, 2012
March 7, 2012 12:08 am
  • Jerome Eisner
    Jerome Eisner
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Publicly, their gigs were separate. He played to earn a living, she chose the fun singing engagements. But Jerome and Alice Eisner, one of Pittsburgh's premier musical couples, equally thrived on the local jazz scene they helped create, starting in the 1930s.

When she died in 2009, their daughter Stacey Eisner said, "Daddy pretty much died. We didn't think he would live three more years, because he was so heartbroken."

Mr. Eisner died Sunday at age 96 at home in Squirrel Hill.

A Homewood native, Mr. Eisner was the son of a tailor. He played alto saxophone and clarinet in the band at Westinghouse High School, where he was friends with Billy Strayhorn.

With drummer Calvin Dort, he and Mr. Strayhorn formed a jazz trio, the Madhatters, that played Charlie Ray's, an after-hours club at Broad Street and Frankstown Avenue. Mr. Eisner and Mr. Strayhorn remained friends until Mr. Strayhorn's death in the 1960s.

Mr. Eisner studied music at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University, and played in orchestras, including Al Marsico's locally and Billy Yates' on the road.

Alice Gerber was a young singer from Homewood when she began noticing a handsome young man pass by the window of the dress shop where she worked. It was Mr. Eisner, delivering suits for his father.

"Oh, I admired him," Mrs. Eisner told the Post-Gazette in 1993. "There was something about him."

That something was "his hipness," Stacey Eisner said. "And he was so handsome."

At some point, she said, her mother learned he was a musician. They met at a wedding and were married in Little Rock, Ark., where he was stationed in the Army, in 1944.

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.
First Published 2012-03-06 23:54:45
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