Edward “Ed” John Herko, beloved friend, musician, brother, husband, father and grandfather, died at the age 84 in his home in Ossining, NY on March 7th from complications due to a stroke. Born to Mary Wallow Herko and Simon “Sam” Herko on November 4, 1937 in Manhattan, NY, Ed came to Ossining when his family moved in 1944. From that time on, he became an institution in the Ossining community as a friend, musician, and music teacher.
Ed joined the Ossining musical community early on after being given a saxophone by his uncle at the age of 10. While still a student at Ossining High School, he and his brother Freddy formed a band called “The Dreamers,” which performed at local proms and dances, and the tune “Harlem Nocturne” became his theme. Later he performed with the Musicats, along with Vincent Verdi, Happy Fox, June Rose, Frank Corda and Angelo Cavaliere. This ensemble preceded the “Vincent Verdi-Ed Herko Orchestra,” which created “music for your listening and dancing pleasure” to countless audiences and gatherings in the larger Westchester area for decades.
By the time he graduated from Ossining High School in 1955, Ed had learned clarinet, and he decided to try the life of a traveling musician, performing with the Bernie Cummins Orchestra. Work sitting in at the Stork Club in New York City led to his lifelong connection with dixieland music, including annual summer gigs on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
As part of his musical studies, Ed earned his bachelor’s degree at The Juilliard School of Music in 1963 where he studied both clarinet and saxophone with the influential Joseph “Joe” Allard. During that time, he decided to dedicate his career to teaching.
A series of life-changing decisions wove Ed into the fabric of Ossining life. He married Croton native Elizabeth “Betsey” Rummel on August 18, 1963. By the summer of 1964 they moved into their new home in Ossining, and soon thereafter he became the founding instrumental band instructor at Anne M. Dorner Middle School when it opened in September 1964. It was there that he guided generations of young musicians to discover the joy of making music as a past-time or career.
Always looking for additional ways to support musical excellence, Ed provided opportunities for Ossining students to participate in all-county, all-state, and all-eastern ensembles and festivals througn his participation in WCSMA (Westchester County School Music Association) and NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) and their band and evaluation festivals. In addition, he served WCSMA as intermediate festival coordinator in 1984-85 and in various presidential leadership capacities for two terms, from 1986-1992 and again from 1994-2000; he is the only person yet in WCSMA history to have been elected president twice.
Throughout his career, he remained a committed advocate for musicians in all contexts. He maintained a long-standing relationship with Kings and Manhattanville Colleges, serving as a mentor teacher to aspiring instrumental music teachers for many years. Outside of the school setting, he was part of the American Federation of Musicians Local 38-398 and even served on its Board of Directors. As part of this union, he performed in countless firefighter, Memorial Day, and Veterans’ Day parades throughout the Westchester, Putnam and Rockland areas.
Ed exhibited a constant drive to pursue his own musical and professional excellence. He completed his Master of Arts at City College School of Education in 1972, and for more than a decade of summers, he traveled to summer workshops around the country to improve both his technical musicianship and teaching skills.
When Ed retired as a teacher from Ossining schools in 1997, he continued a life of musical performance and teaching. He gave private lessons in his home, participated in the Westchester Symphonic Winds for more than 28 years, and maintained a steady stream of gigs in the pit orchestras of local high school musicals. He could be heard practicing in his studio multiple hours a day up until days before his stroke.
When not practicing, teaching or performing music, Ed loved downhill skiing, a sport that he even taught on weekends at Silvermine Ski Area in Harriman State Park in the early 1980’s. And even until his last days, he could be found repairing instruments or his cars or working on some other home repair project.
Ed is survived by his wife Betsey, their two children, Edward David (wife Michelle) and Suzanne Elizabeth (husband Mark Felton), three grandchildren –Olivia Maria Herko, Simone Herko Felton, and Nicholas Herko Felton– and his brother, Samuel Paul Herko (wife Linda).
In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations to the Westchester Symphonic Winds in memory of Edward J. Herko.