From the Editor: Music, Nostalgia and Some Choice Asides

Catching up with Fred Katz

BY June 30, 2015
Catching up with Fred Katz


Hey, music-lovers, do you know that Cole Porter hated his classic Don’t Fence Me In and only created it because he was forced to do so for a movie? Do you know that the title of the popular Frank Sinatra tune The Best Is Yet to Come is inscribed on his tombstone? Well, in this issue touting summer fun indoors (see p. 32) and out (see p. 76), I’m happy to call attention to yet one more attraction—some foot-tapping nostalgia music programs made ever more kicky with choice details like these.

They come to you in Collier Country public libraries, senior residences and private clubs, and they’re produced by Fred Katz selecting the recordings and delivering the commentary and his wife, Elsa, projecting PowerPoint visuals of the performers and their times. They’ve been quite the team since they met in 1959 as staffers on the University of Michigan’s daily newspaper. Fred actually began his career as an editor and writer—and it’s the use of those skills that makes his scripts such good preludes to the music. But it was in Peoria, Illinois, where they spent so much of their lives, raising two sons and building a single department store into five, with Fred as president and CEO and Elsa as the buyer for all stores and manager of several. Here in Naples year-round since 2003, they’ve thrown themselves into numerous community causes. And now there’s the music as well.

For the past five years, Fred and Elsa have presented hourlong programs on the masters of classical, opera, jazz, pop and Broadway music—some 35 different ones so far—and they do specials on holiday themes as well. They’re drawn from Fred’s huge, huge collection of CDs, which, he says, “would take you a year to listen to if you wanted to hear every one. With all this, I thought, ‘Why not share it with the community?’”

Sharing it has produced some memorable moments, for sure. “We did a program called Three Tenors and a Whole Lot More, including Richard Tucker,” Fred says, “and a man from the Bronx came up to me afterward with tears in his eyes and told me his dad had spent a week’s salary to take the two of them to High Holy Days services at a synagogue there back when Tucker was a cantor. The man has been at all our programs since then.”

Another time, a woman at Moorings Park approached Fred after a program and gave him four CDs of a 1940s concert in San Francisco of famous composers like Irving Berlin and George M. Cohan singing their own compositions. “It had never been broadcast,” Fred says. “I was able to make a program out of it for this community.”

Once, at The Carlisle, a woman named Maggie Smith told Fred how much she loved the concert that day. She went on to mention that her son Gary E. Smith was living down here and Fred’s eyes lit up. He knew Smith as the conductor of the very prestigious University of Illinois marching band (Fred had played the trumpet in Michigan’s). Maggie said her son would still like to conduct. Two years later, the Bonita Springs Concert Band was looking for a conductor and Fred, a trumpet player in that band, moved quickly to let Gary know and he did, indeed, get the job.

Fred tells of some wonderfully spontaneous moments at the concerts. At the playing of Don’t Fence Me In one time at the Southern Regional Library—with Roy Rogers singing—all 250 guests began singing along. “And,” Fred says, “they knew all the words.” Then there’s Elsa’s light personal touch that gets them every time: Whenever Put on a Happy Face is played, she includes among the images of smiling faces a shot of her beaming 2-year-old granddaughter. It never fails to get the “ahs” and chuckles.

What do audiences love the most? “Frank Sinatra,” Fred says, “especially in his mature years. I have 300 of his songs.”

So the beat will go on with these programs. Fred says he would have been a musician if he had had the talent to do so. But here’s his chance to touch hearts and souls with music—and even as he plays pieces like Sinatra’s popular My Way—we’re getting the words and sounds that resonate Fred’s Way. That’s a good deal all around.


(You can catch The Music of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer June 17 at 2 p.m. at Naples Regional Library and Rodgers and Hammerstein II—Their Early Partners July 14 at 2 p.m. at the Naples Headquarters Library. Reservations required.)


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