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Obituaries

B. Rosengarden, 82; seasoned drummer, Cavett show bandleader

March 04, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Bobby Rosengarden, a versatile drummer who recorded with artists as varied as Duke Ellington and Jay and the Americans, and spent many years as an NBC staff musician before moving to ABC in the late 1960s as bandleader for "The Dick Cavett Show," has died. He was 82.

Rosengarden died of kidney failure Tuesday at a hospice in Sarasota, Fla., said his son Mark.

An Army band drummer during World War II, Rosengarden played with the Henry Busse band for about a year after the war. After moving to New York City, he played with the Alvy West band and was house drummer at the Copacabana and at Bill Miller's Riviera, a top nightclub in Fort Lee, N.J.

By the early 1950s, he had become a staff musician at NBC, where, among other things, he played drums with the NBC Symphony Orchestra and in the band on the "Tonight" show with Steve Allen, "The Steve Allen Show," "The Ernie Kovacs Show," "Sing Along With Mitch" and "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson."

During this period, Rosengarden was also a studio musician. As a percussionist, he played the triangle on the Ben E. King hit "Stand By Me" and bongos on Harry Belafonte songs. He later played conga on Jay and the Americans' "She Cried" and finger cymbals, triangle and tambourine on an Arlo Guthrie album.

He also played drums during a recording session with the Columbia Jazz Band conducted by composer Igor Stravinsky in 1965.

In 1968, Rosengarden moved to ABC as the bandleader on Cavett's daytime talk show and then, beginning in 1969, Cavett's late-night show.

Mark Rosengarden said that as a drummer, his father "always knew he was in the supporting role." But "the opportunity to be the bandleader meant he could pick the music, suggest musical guests for the show and use his sense of humor more and be the center of attention more."

And, he said, "he loved being the center of attention."

Rosengarden's band of top New York musicians played for an array of singers who appeared on the show, including Fred Astaire, who sang a medley of the tunes for which he was famous.

"Bobby made it a lot easier for us to book people on the show who were going to perform, because he was such a terrific musician that they knew that they would be given all the support that they needed," said David Barnhizer, the Cavett show's original director.

Rosengarden also became known for providing often-amusing entrance music for Cavett's diverse guests -- so-called "play-ons" for which, Barnhizer said, "he was justifiably famous or infamous, depending on how you look at it."

There was, for example, the time a sex therapist walked on stage, and the band played "I Can't Get Started."

When artist Salvador Dali appeared, the band launched into "Hello, Dolly!" Transsexual Christine Jorgensen was welcomed with "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?"

Then there was the guest who was an ant expert.

"Bobby played him on with the theme from 'Picnic' -- I mean, nobody but a few people got that joke," Barnhizer said with a laugh. "Paul Shaffer of the Letterman show does witty play-ons, but Rosengarden was the king of the play-on."

One of Rosengarden's memorable moments on the show came when rocker Jimi Hendrix was a guest.

"Hendrix said he wasn't going to play, but they had an amplifier and guitar there in case he changed his mind," Mark Rosengarden said.

Hendrix did change his mind, playing a song with backup from the show's bassist, George Duvivier, and Rosengarden on drums.

Whenever he was asked what it was like to play with the legendary electric guitarist, Rosengarden had a stock answer: "I just stayed out of the way, baby."

Born April 23, 1924, in Elgin, Ill., Rosengarden began playing the drums in elementary school and later took private lessons in Chicago.

He studied music on a scholarship at the University of Michigan before entering the Army during World War II.

In the mid-1970s, after his time on the Cavett show had ended, Rosengarden had a stint as the bandleader in the Empire Room at the Waldorf-Astoria. He was also a member of the World's Greatest Jazz Band, the Soprano Summit, the New York Jazz Repertory Company and Gerry Mulligan's combo, among others.

Dividing his time between his homes in Longboat Key, Fla., and New Canaan, Conn., Rosengarden continued to perform until about 2003. One of his last gigs was playing with the New York Pops.

Both of Rosengarden's sons are musicians -- Mark is a drummer, and Neil is a keyboard and trumpet player -- and Mark recalled that he and his brother did three concerts with their father in the 1990s at the Jazz Club of Sarasota. He said his father enjoyed performing with his sons.

"Quite frankly, he didn't care who he played with," he said. "He just loved playing."

In addition to his sons, Rosengarden is survived by his wife, Sharon; four grandsons; and his sister, Joan Meyer.

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dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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