Chatting with a masterful teacher, pianist extraordinaire and family man...
I first met Ed Kaizer on a golf course when he was my opponent in a city golf tournament. Truth is, I missed hearing his last name accurately—I thought he said “Kahler.” But Ed’s first name was easy to remember, and as we played along, we talked a bit. He was a friendly, courteous man with a passion for golf, the same fervor he once had for chasing his baseball dream. Funny, all I remembered was that he was at one time a baseball player—a pitcher, I think. Wrong.
I mentioned him to my wife Gloria, who worked at Bradley University, and she was ashamed that I wrongly called him a “baseball player.” Of course, Ed wanted to be precisely that. I bet you will agree with her after reading this story about Professor Edward Kaizer, an amazing gentleman, a masterful teacher, a world-class musician, and a wonderful husband and father. Ed has brought fame and honor to himself, to Bradley University, and to his wife and wonderful family. He is indeed among Peoria’s top ambassadors.
Just Being a Boy
Ed lived in Cramer, Pennsylvania, with a large, rather unique family, considering his father and many uncles were all musicians and played in a band together. Young Ed enjoyed listening to them, and would often play around on the piano. This did not go unnoticed, so the guys decided to teach Ed how to really play. “You know, Norm, all I wanted to do was be a normal boy, and to me that meant playing baseball… not the piano. I did it, but once I realized it meant a lot of practice, I found it tough sticking with the piano.”
Ed did play baseball at Ambridge High School and in college at Duquesne University, becoming a well-rounded pitcher and outfielder. He also managed to continue his interest in music, and even took time during “The Berlin Crisis” to serve in the Army from 1960 to 1962. He served in the Special Services, the military’s entertainment branch, playing baseball there as well. While working on his master’s degree at Duquesne, he gave up baseball and devoted his life to his music. Once he completed his doctoral degree at Indiana University, he joined St. Norbert College as an assistant professor.
Dr. Kaizer, when first asked to come to Bradley University, refused the position. However, after four years at St. Norbert, he finally agreed to come to Peoria. Ed remains at Bradley University today as professor of music and professor of keyboard studies. He is a busy, popular teacher, touching the lives of all the students who have chosen music as the major part of their lives.
“My wife Janet and I raised five kids,” Ed explains, “four of which are musically inclined. When our family plays together, we call it an interaction.” At one time or another, Ed, Janet and the kids traveled together, and each of the children went on to be educated in their chosen fields. “We traveled over most of the world, playing music in our sister city in Germany, and so many other cities in Europe. We were visitors more than tourists, playing concerts in Mexico, Italy, London, Czechoslovakia and across the U.S.A. We were such an energetic bunch, they started calling us ‘Those crazy Americans.’”
Ed has an office in Constance Hall at Bradley, and I was surprised to see how small it was. I remarked to him that I thought he deserved a suite of rooms. He laughed it off, content to have his piano next to his desk and a chair for his students to sit in—that is all this man needs. “We have a little over a hundred students majoring in music, and of course, it is not all just playing instruments,” he says. “I teach music in its historical perspective: piano pedagogy, piano literature and music appreciation, combined with several other duties.”
Just in the last five or six years, Dr. Kaizer has been involved with over 2,000 concerts and musical events that took him all over the world, including a very busy local commitment. When he’s not busy at his church, he is an accomplished composer, and still manages to find time for personal sessions with his talented students. Of course, he keeps one eye out for the local golf courses, and plays as much as he possibly can. Local folks have seen him perform with his classical jazz group on WTVP, and in November, a new series of shows will be aired.
A Fabulous Life
Ed is a classical pianist, but his love for jazz, especially classical jazz, is apparent as he talks, his fingers on the piano keys. He showed me how even a simple tune like “Happy Birthday” can come alive beneath his talented fingers. I pulled him up on my computer, and there was his entire musical family playing a rousing interpretation of “Boogie Woogie.” The joy on their faces tells a story of two marvelous parents and one enormously talented, happy family. Check them out: they have CDs available, and Ed welcomes you to call him at (309) 677-2598. He jokes about meeting you on the corner to sell as many as you can carry.
“We have had a fabulous life here at Bradley University, and we love Peoria. It has been a wonderful place to raise our children, and a great opportunity for Janet and I to not only teach, but to travel and play our music all over the world. We have learned that as long as our children are happy, so are we. I often think of just how much we have right here in Peoria, and no matter where we travel, it is always nice to get back home.” a&s
Norm is a Peoria historian and author of numerous historical articles and 12 books on old Peoria. Contact him at [email protected]
PEORIA — A young Ed Kaizer had a chance to play professional baseball, but turned it down for music.
A person can only play baseball so long, while music is something you can do for a life-time, Kaizer once said. It was a decision that served him well – music was not only a profession for Kaizer, who was head of the piano department at Bradley University from 1970 to 2016, but also a truly enjoyable activity which held his attention for a lifetime.
Kaizer was 84 and still performing regularly in the Peoria area when he died April 9 of a massive heart attack. He was visiting one of his two daughters, Claire Kasamis, in the Chicago suburbs at the time.
"Every other time I talked to him, he would be excitedly explaining something he learned on new ways to voice jazz chords," his daughter Laraine Kaizer-Viazovtsev said Wednesday. “He was just always trying to get better and better at jazz. It just never got old for him.”
Kaizer was a prolific performer who was perhaps best known in the Peoria area for performing with his wife, Janet, who was also an accomplished musician. The pair developed a large following for their dynamic performances and unique programs, a combination of classical and jazz music. They wrote their own arrangements and played duets at two pianos set up on the stage. Programs often began with classical music, and ended with boogie-woogie, bebop improvisation and ragtime. The pair took the show on the road many times over the years, performing across the U.S., in Mexico and all over Europe.
“He was really a world-class virtuoso pianist who lived in Peoria and taught at Bradley University and, as a benefit, all of us in central Illinois were able to attend and enjoy live concerts and recitals by Ed and his equally talented wife and partner, Janet,” said Jeffrey Huberman, dean of the Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts at Bradley University. “His entire family, his children and even some of his grandchildren are wonderful musicians in their own right. They would often perform together as a family. It was really one of the great cultural features of Peoria, Illinois, to have Ed and his family of master musicians among us and playing for so many different occasions.”
In addition to concerts, the Kaizers also performed at countless community events, like weddings, and for many years they were a regular feature at the weekly Sunday brunch at Weaver Ridge Golf Course.
As a teacher, Ed was demanding but always gracious, said David Vroman, chairperson for the Department of Music at Bradley. Ed had a solid work ethic that provided a good example for students.
“Boy, he was relentless and tireless in his practicing,” said Vroman. “When he had a recital coming up, he was playing hours and hours on end both at school and at home. Everyone knew when it was coming up, because he was working really hard, which is great for young students to see. It’s not just based on talent – you have to have that work ethic. He really was a terrific example to students.”
Laraine recalls a house filled with music while growing up in the Kaizer household,
“We always had two pianos in the house, and at one point we had three, if you count the upright,” she said. “Mom and Dad were always either practicing or they always had students playing, so we constantly heard pianos going almost nonstop.”
Ed Kaizer’s passion didn’t stop with music, however. He loved life, and was quite passionate about a lot of things, said his daughter.
“He’s the kind of person who just loved to take the kids out, for whatever – golfing, bowling, ice cream. He really just loved to have fun with the family,” she said. “He really loved to go fishing, and he really, really loved ice cream – it was like a thing. He was crazy about it.”
Ed, who had five children from his two marriages, was devoted to his family. He would do anything for them, said Laraine. All through Janet’s long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Ed was determined to keep her at home.
“We were so grateful. Thanks to him, she never had to go to a care facility where she would have been miserable," said Laraine. “They were very close, like soul mates. They were really great together. He just took such good care of her and everybody.”
Janet Kaizer died in 2018.
Since Ed’s death, his children, none of whom live in Peoria, have been working as a team to clean out the family home and put the estate in order. Laraine, who lives in Finland, has been working to sell the things no one has room for, including two pianos, one of them 1930s Steinway grand piano. The family is also in in the process of creating a memorial scholarship in Ed’s name to help music majors, particularly those who play piano, at Bradley University.
“That’s what we are doing instead of having any kind of flowers or anything like that,” said Laraine. “It would go to a student who has a financial need. It’s our hope that we could help a music student at Bradley.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 270-8503 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.