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Louis W. "Fuzzy" Kane, jazz musician, dies

Louis W. "Fuzzy" Kane, an educator whose popular Fuzzy Kane Trio entertained Baltimoreans for more than 40 years with its easygoing jazz in the Les McCann-Ramsey Lewis idiom, died May 21 of heart failure at Sinai Hospital.

Mr. Kane, who lived in Strathmore Towers in Northwest Baltimore, was 79.

The son of a chauffeur and a cafeteria worker, Mr. Kane was born in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville, where he graduated in 1948 from Benjamin Banneker High School.

He earned a bachelor's degree in 1953 from what is now Morgan State University and a master's degree in administration in 1962 from Loyola College.

Mr. Kane served with an infantry unit in the Army for two years, attaining the rank of captain at the time of his discharge in 1955.

He began his teaching career in city public schools in 1955, and later joined the faculty of Gen. Henry Lee Junior High School in South Baltimore.

Mr. Kane was assistant principal at Edmondson High School from 1973 to 1977 and was named principal of Gwynns Falls Junior High School in 1978. He had also been principal at the Calvert Institute and the old Samuel Gompers School on North Avenue.

He was principal of Herring Run Middle School at the time of his retirement in 1990.

In 1965, Mr. Kane and his wife, the former Venciedora Pratt Howard, whom he married in 1953 and who was also an educator, and their then-7-year-old daughter, Robin, were the targets of the Ku Klux Klan, which burned a cross in the yard of their Belleville Avenue home in Northwest Baltimore.

Four years earlier, the KKK had burned cross on their lawn after they became the first African-Americans to move into the neighborhood.

"I guess bridging this gap between people will take place when fellows like me decide to become more humane about this situation, and we both drop our guards at the same time, and a man is just a man," he told The Evening Sun at the time. "And I just won't permit being classed as an Aunt Jemima."

"He decided in college that music would be his avocation and not his occupation," said his daughter, Robin Kane Prater, an educator who lives in Morgan Park. "He got the name 'Fuzzy' from his reddish-brown hair that was fuzzy. That's where that originated."

Mr. Kane started playing piano when he was 11 years old, and four years later appeared on Baltimore radio on "The Chuck Richards Show." He also appeared on network TV when he went to New York City and played piano on Ted Mack's "Original Amateur Hour."

He began performing in Baltimore in 1950, when he joined the Bass Davis group, and the next year played piano with Teddy Tip Toppers, a dance band that performed in Baltimore and the surrounding counties.

Mr. Kane founded his own group, the Fuzzy Kane Trio, in the 1960s with Montell "Monty" Poulson, who had played with the legendary Billie Holiday, on bass and Warren Gantt on drums.

"We crossed paths over the years, and I first met Fuzzy years and years ago, and he was a very humorous person," Baltimore jazz luminary Ethel Ennis recalled this week.

"The Fuzzy Kane Trio did have a sound, and they were very popular in the '60s and 1970s. If you put on a blindfold and listened, you knew who was playing," said Ms. Ennis.

Earlene Reed joined the trio as a vocalist in the late 1970s.

"It was Fuzzy who got me into professional show business, so I have lots of respect for him. He was like a brother to me," said Ms. Reed. "Musically, he was absolutely the tops, and extremely knowledgeable. We toured a lot, and I had many great opportunities working with him."

Jazz critics have likened the Fuzzy Kane Trio's sound to that of Ramsay Lewis or Les McCann and styled it "funky jazz."

In a 1969 article in the old Sunday Sun Magazine, Mr. Kane attempted to explain the trio's sound.

"Well, it's hard to describe — it's more of a feeling, like blues, than a musical style. … I hate to categorize music. It's just funkier, that's all," he said.

After Caravelle Ltd. and its subsidiary Bay City Music Co. released the trio's first recording in 1968, Gene Creasy, who had been a disc jockey and program director at WCAO, told The Sunday Sun Magazine, "It's a good sound they've got, sort of a semi-jazz trio, but with more backbeat, like R&B. Only I wouldn't call it R&B either. There's a lot of jazz phrasing in their sound, and jazz progressions."

Milton Dugger Jr., who had been a partner and president of Caravelle Ltd. and is president of Gumption Records and Bay Sound Records, was an old friend.

"Fuzzy and I were next-door neighbors on Myrtle Avenue, and I've known him since the late 1950s," said Mr. Dugger. "He was a huge Ray Charles fan, and one of the most interesting things about Fuzzy was that he verbalized what he was going to play while playing it."

The trio's popularity made it a regular at such night spots as Lenny Moore's Club 24, Maceo's Restaurant & Lounge, Gatsby's, Embassy Club, the Sphinx Club, Knotty Pine Club, Sportsman's Lounge, Arch Social Club and the Bird Cage.

A critic writing in 1968 in the Afro-American described the trio as "one of the top musical aggregations in the city as a house band."

"The uncontested 'class' trio in Baltimore, Kane's Men are deemed an ideal complement of the new image of the club owned by retired Colt star halfback Lenny Moore," said the article.

Some of their other venues included the old Chesapeake Restaurant, Penn Hotel, Harborcourt Hotel, the Marriott Hotel in Washington, Sheraton Washington, James Brown Motor Inn, and Martin's West.

"He played at the Sheraton Washington in 1977 for Jimmy Carter's inauguration," his daughter said.

In recent years, Mr. Kane suffered failing health, and the last time he played was at his mother-in-law's 100th birthday party in 2008.

Mr. Kane was a member of Morning Star Baptist Church, 154 Winters Lane, Catonsville, where services will be held at 11 a.m. June 2.

He is survived by his wife and daughter.

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