Bob Dransite, a well-established Long Island musician and passionate music educator who once performed for a president and played in backup bands for the famous, died Monday after a brief illness. He was 86.
Dransite, of Old Bethpage, died at Plainview Hospital Northwell Health, his son Brian said.
For 57 years, Dransite taught music at schools at all levels across Long Island, including in the Carle Place school district, Stony Brook University, Hofstra University and Nassau Community College.
Along the way, and throughout his life, he took his instrument — usually a tenor sax or clarinet — and played it as much as he could on and off the stage. And he was very, very good at it, his family and a friend said.
One time, someone had requested Dransite join a reggae band, which wasn’t his forte, said Jenni Zepnick, who managed the Al Miller Big Band when he led it.
“So you have this 70-year-old guy with 20-year-old guys with dreadlocks playing onstage,” she said. “But he was so musically talented, he could play . . . anything.”
It was one of the many times Dransite impressed with his music.
“People would always call me and ask, ‘Can you get Bob Dransite?’” Zepnick said.
Dransite, born May 10, 1933, in Export, Pennsylvania, found his love for music at an early age, studying the clarinet in Pittsburgh. In the seventh grade, he began to play club dates, making money off his music on the side.
He later graduated as a salutatorian from his high school and went off to work at a steel mill to save money for college. He attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, where he met his wife of 62 years.
“I was singing at a concert recital, and I needed a clarinet player,” said Jane Dransite, who was also an Eastman student. “They recommended him because they said he was the best I could get. It was the start of my life with a caring, kind person.”
Soon after graduating in 1956, he was drafted into the Army, where he played with the U.S. Army Band across the country, serving as a morale booster for troops. Around 1960, after leaving the Army, he settled on Long Island.
Alongside teaching, Dransite had numerous performances, playing at countless venues and concerts. He did a solo performance for President Ronald Reagan, met with musical legend Frank Sinatra and even performed on the bandstand for the night scenes of the 1995 movie “Sabrina.” He played in backup bands for notable performers including Neil Sedaka, Chubby Checker, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughan and Vic Damone.
He was the lead saxophone player in the Al Miller Band, Zepnick said, before he took on the role of leading the band in 2000, picking what pieces to play, dealing with clients and managing the many personalities in the band.
“He was reserved, and he did what he had to do. He was very professional,” Zepnick said. “As gifted and as creative as he was, he was very serious about the business side of it. That’s the mark of a bandleader.”
He had a good sense of humor, she added. His music, though, was beyond good.
During a three-week trip to China, there was a karaoke night, and the tour group was encouraging him to go up and sing, son Brian said. They didn’t know he was a professional musician.
“When my father started singing, everybody was captivated. They never heard anything like this,” he said. “All the help from the kitchen, the cooks, the waiters started lining in the back just to hear him sing.”
Zepnick was also similarly taken aback by his music.
“I remember a solo that he played, and it was so amazing, I went and listened and listened over again to a recording of it, that I even started memorizing the solo,” she said.
Outside of music, family was the center of Dransite’s life. He would go boating and on walks with his family, and enjoyed traveling as well. He worked to make sure his children attended the best schools, Brian said, and stressed the importance of education.
Besides his wife and son, Dransite is survived by his daughter, Geraldine, of Old Bethpage, and his other son, Edward, of Concord, New Hampshire; his brother, Jerry, and sister-in-law Joy, of McDonald, Pennsylvania; his daughter-in-law Linda Creighton of Lake Grove; and two grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be said Thursday at 11 a.m. at St. Pius X Church in Plainview.