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Obituaries

David L. Abell, 75; `Piano Dealer to the Stars' and Supporter of Music Programs

February 14, 2006|Jon Thurber | Times Staff Writer

In a city where seemingly every businessman and merchant professes to have some sort of link to Hollywood's elite, David L. Abell really did.

For more than 40 years, Abell sold pianos from his showroom on Beverly Boulevard to a veritable who's who of A-list film and music figures. The list was endless and transcended at least two generations.

The clientele spanned musical styles and eras. From old Hollywood, there was Tony Bennett, Benny Carter, Quincy Jones, Gene Kelly, George Shearing and Frank Sinatra. Representing rock and soul were Jackson Browne, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and members of the Eagles and the Moody Blues. From the classical world, Emanuel Ax, Andre Previn and John Williams bought from Abell.

Abell, the piano dealer to the stars, died of lung disease Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to his family. He was 75.

An astute businessman with an excellent musical ear, Abell is credited with being the first Bosendorfer and Yamaha dealer in the area. And if a piano was needed for an event at the Greek Theatre, Hollywood Bowl or Royce Hall, it generally came from Abell's store.

A native of Los Angeles, he was the son of immigrants from Lithuania and Russia who owned a leading auction house in the city. Abell graduated from Los Angeles High School and UCLA. He served in the Army during the Korean War.

He opened his piano business in 1954 on Beverly Boulevard, and it became the boutique location among the Hollywood set for its custom designs and specialized service.

In addition to surviving economic ups and downs, the business also came back from a fire that destroyed the store on Sept. 30, 1990, the day of his daughter Jami's wedding. Abell rebuilt the business almost immediately.

When he sold the business to Keyboard Concepts in 1999, Abell recalled special moments in the store.

"John Williams came in one day and spontaneously played the Prokofiev Third Sonata, and it was one of the greatest performances I've ever heard," Abell told writer Don Heckman for an article in The Times. "If I had heard it in concert, I would have been standing in my chair and cheering."

Another special moment was provided by Rock Hudson, who came in and played the "Pathetique" sonata, Abell recalled.

Beyond his musical acumen, the self-effacing Abell's efforts to support music programs in Southern California were well-known and highly regarded.

He was a longtime supporter of the UCLA jazz studies program, and established a musical scholarship there last year in his name. In 1995, he spearheaded a drive to replace the music department of Washington Preparatory High School, which was destroyed by fire. After he helped raise more than $250,000 to replace the losses, the department was renamed the Barbara and David L. Abell Music Academy in his and his wife's honor.

"David was always quietly doing things to help others while not wanting or needing any acknowledgment for the deeds," Kenny Burrell, head of the UCLA jazz studies program, told The Times on Monday. "Deservedly, he is much loved, respected and appreciated."

In addition to his wife of 48 years and daughter Jami Abell Patterson, Abell also is survived by daughter Laurie Abell and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. today at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles. Instead of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to the CARES Foundation, 189 Main St., Milburn, NJ 07041, or the UCLA Foundation, David L. Abell Endowment, Friends of Jazz at UCLA, 1237 Murphy Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1419.

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