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Epilogue | Gregory Walter Komar

Violinist found sweet spot on Broadway, Radio City Music Hall

SEMINOLE — The minutelong YouTube video shows a man in his mid 80s practicing the violin. Five years after a stroke numbed one side of his body, including his bow hand, Gregory Komar can still play.

The fingers of his left hand, unaffected by the stroke, still find every note with utter assurance.

But a certain snap is missing. His bow hand can no longer react to the vibrations pulsing through it.

Instead of mastering the music — as he did in concert halls across the country in a brilliant career — he is guessing at it, albeit very well.

And he knows it.

Once, Mr. Komar aspired to play like Jascha Heifetz and came closer than many. The career musician worked at top venues for more than 55 years, including Broadway and Radio City Music Hall for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti and Sammy Davis Jr. The stroke ended his career 10 years ago but did not kill the humor that defined him as much as his music.

Mr. Komar died Sept. 14 at Hospice House Woodside of a blood disorder. He was 91.

He grew up in New York and learned to play on a violin made by his father, an Austrian immigrant. He soared quickly, landing a job in the orchestra pit for the 1945 opening of Carousel. He was 25.

That same year he married Helen Sobko, a budding professional animator who would draw Popeye cartoons. Over the next 50 years, he played at the Diamond Horseshoe nightclub; other Broadway shows including Hello, Dolly; a five-year run with the American Symphony Orchestra; and his mainstay, a 28-year engagement with Radio City Music Hall.

He squirreled himself in empty rooms to find places to practice between four daily shows at Radio City, and was once surprised by Cary Grant and Sophia Loren, who were touring the hall.

He took time off to play with the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler and in outdoor concerts. He used a Gagliano violin made in 1751. Around the house he played Ave Maria and romantic waltzes.

For the last 15 years of his career, Mr. Komar played for the Long Island Philharmonic.

He was still playing at age 81 when he suffered a stroke in 2001. Unable to speak or use the right side of his body, he began a slow march back.

The Komars moved to Seminole in 2002. He strengthened his fingers by typing. He returned to practicing the violin in less than a year, and got enough of his old ability back to impress his neighbors at the Mission Oaks condominium complex.

"People would say, 'Sounds good to me,' " said Cathy Outlaw, his daughter, 55. "But he wasn't at his best, and he knew it."

After a couple of attempts at performing with other retired musicians at his complex, Mr. Komar limited his playing to inside the walls of his condo. He continued to play there for the rest of his life, using the violin his father had made.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

.Biography

Gregory Walter Komar

Born: May 27, 1920.

Died: Sept. 14, 2011.

Survivors: wife Helen; son Greg; daughter Cathy Outlaw.

To see video of Gregory Komar playing the violin after his stroke, go to links.tampabay.com.

Violinist found sweet spot on Broadway, Radio City Music Hall 09/21/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 9:13pm]
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