In 1968, Katz received an invitation to play during a two-week long festival in Barquisimeto, the fourth largest city in Venezuela. He traveled with 65 members of the East Meadow band, all at the country’s expense. “When we got there they treated the band like rock stars.” he said. “It was like the Beatles were arriving.”
And in 1992, just before he retired, Katz enrolled the band to perform in the Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan. They placed first that year, and have since accumulated 11 first-place victories at the parade, with the most recent occurring this past Columbus Day.
“He’s the one who started this program,” said Joel Levy, the current chairperson of the East Meadow High School music department who was hired personally by Katz in 1986. “He’s one of the most knowledgeable musicians and teachers I know on the face of the Earth.
“He’s been teaching 60-something years and he still does it with passion and energy,” Levy continued. “It’s just unparalleled.”
A legacy recognized
Katz’s students have gone on to do great things. One of them, Billy Sherman, is the musical director of Sesame Street. Another one, Tom Breckline, is the drummer for musician Kenny Loggins.
According to Gloria, Katz recently created a Facebook account, and by the following morning, 179 students had reached out to contact him on the social networking site. “I always felt that whatever I did wasn’t worth one year of what he did because he reached kids and changed many kids’ lives,” said Gloria, who, originally from Brooklyn, worked as an associate television producer for quiz shows such as Concentration and 21, and later worked in public relations. “I couldn’t be more proud.”
Abby Behr, the current director of music and art at East Meadow High School, has known Katz since 1989. “Bill is one of the most special music educators I’ve ever come in contact with,” she said. “I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him. His impact upon hundreds and thousands of students through the years is unparalleled. He’s a master teacher and a special human being.”