Pianist Dick Meares, who had performed with such renowned Big Band leaders as Shep Fields, Larry Clinton and Eddy Duchin, died on Tuesday at Good Shepherd Hospice in Port Jefferson following a lengthy battle with cancer. Meares, who lived in Setauket, was 93.
“It was a peaceful passing. He was in no pain, and for that I’m very grateful,” said Pat, his wife of 47 years.
Meares’ love of the piano started at age 3 when his mother taught the basics at their home in Corona, Queens. He made his professional debut at age 8 on the NBC radio show “Coast to Coast on a Bus” and performed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
Through a friend’s father, Meares landed his gig with Fields who hired without an audition at a then-princely salary of $150 a week. “People would say to me, ‘You were in the big time, weren’t you nervous?’ I knew I could do it,” Meares told Newsday in 2016. Meares adopted the stage name Dick Style at the urging of his manager.
Rejected for service during World War II for nearsightedness, Meares toured USO bases. After the war, he started his own band and in 1947 joined Clinton’s orchestra. The demanding touring schedule was rough for Meares, who was then married to his first wife, Elsie. Stability was found with Duchin’s band, which had a residency at the Waldorf-Astoria. After Duchin’s death in 1951, Meares worked on music for NBC television pilots.
After moving to Northport in the early ’50s, Meares became a regular at Sunday service at the Union United Methodist Church in East Northport. One day, the organist got sick and Meares was asked to fill in. In 1958, he became the regular organist, a post he held for nearly six decades.
Despite losing his vision in 2013, Meares never lost his ability to play. In October 2016, he performed at The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook, and last spring, he did a concert at his church.
In addition to his wife, Meares is survived by three children from his first marriage, four stepchildren and five grandchildren. The memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday at Union United Methodist Church, 1018 E. Pulaski Rd.