Sam Pilafian, tuba maestro
Oct. 25, 1949 – April 5, 2019
Sam Pilafian, a virtuoso tuba player who performed an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, pop and rock music, died April 5 at his home in Tempe, Arizona. He was 69.
His wife, Diann Pilafian, said the cause was colon cancer.
As a busy soloist, a founding member of the Empire Brass quintet and partner to acoustic guitarist Frank Vignola in jazz group Travelin’ Light, Pilafian expanded the tuba’s possibilities.
James Samuel Pilafian was born Oct. 25, 1949, in Miami. His father, James, was a lawyer, and his mother, Rosa, was a paralegal.
Sam switched from the accordion to the tuba at age 11 and within a few years had joined the musicians union and was playing in hotel orchestras that backed headliners like Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli.
He had a summer fellowship at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts where Leonard Bernstein heard him play and enlisted him in the orchestra for the premiere of the Kennedy Center in Washington in 1971.
In addition to his wife, Pilafian is survived by sons Alexander Sarkis Pilafian and Zev Levin-Pilafian, and his sisters, Marni Pilafian and Nerisa Gay Pilafian.