Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Obituary: Ron McCroby's lips were his finest instrument

'Puccolo' player performed for Carson, Griffin and at Monterey

By Nicole Hamilton
Cincinnati Enquirer

        Sept. 16, 1982, was a defining day in Ron McCroby's life.

        At his Monterey Jazz Festival performance, his interpretations of “Body and Soul” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk” captured the attention of Concord Records and secured him appearances

        as a guest of Johnny Carson and at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic.

        The festival appearance was a first for Mr. McCroby, who spent most of his days working as an ad executive for Sive Advertising in Cincinnati. And it may have been the first time audience members heard Vivaldi's Piccolo Concerto in G Major performed without a piccolo — because Mr. McCroby preferred to whistle.

        Mr. McCroby died Aug. 5 at his home in Aurora of cancer. The longtime Batavia resident was 68.

        “That's the most fascinating thing I've ever heard,” said Johnny Carson of Mr. McCroby's whistling after his first visit to the show. “He could hold his own with any jazz instrumentalist in the country.”

        Raised in Morgantown, W.Va., Mr. Mc Croby's first instrument was the clarinet. But when a piccolo player fell ill before a football game, he set his clarinet down and whistled the piccolo solo in “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

        Fascinated with jazz from an early age, he studied music at West Virginia University and was able to play all woodwinds. But he called his instrument of choice the “puccolo,” (a term he copyrighted) and described it as a cross between a piccolo and a pucker.

        He told people it was practical — he could take it with him anywhere.

        But he did apply caution in some cases.

        “I avoid violent kissing, I don't get smart with guys that are bigger than I am, and I'm real careful when I go through revolving doors,” he told Smithsonian Magazine in 1986.

        He and his family moved to C incinnati around 1955 when his wife, Barbara, accepted a job with Ford Motor Co.

        Mr. McCroby went to work at Dualite, where he made signs, and then accepted a position with Sive Advertising as a writer. There, his music skills came in handy.

        Soon, he was writing commercials for major clients including Kenner Toys.

        Eventually he was named creative vice president of the company, whe re he worked until 1985, except for two years with Osmond Studios in Utah.

        For many years, Mr. McCroby did most of his singing in the car, for friends and family, and in the shower — until 1981, the year his wife decided to videotape him whistling and sent it to PM Magazine, a former Cincinnati evening news show.

        PM Magazine won an award for its segment on Mr. McCroby, and the whis tler was asked to perform on the Merv Griffin Show where he captured the attention of Monterey Jazz Festival founder Jimmy Lyons.

        The McCrobys moved to Chagrin Falls, Ohio, in 1985, when Mr. McCroby took a position in print advertising with Little Tykes Co. and then later with Step Two Toy Co. He retired from the advertising business in 1998.

        Mr. McCroby recorded four albums on the Concord Jazz label. His most recent album, Two Lips from Holland, recorded with a Dutch trio, was released in 2001.

        Besides his wife, he is survived by a son, Ronald Scott McCroby of Maineville; five daughters, Pamla JoWinther of Montgomery, Laura McCroby of Mariemont, Holly Cossey of Mantua, Pollyanne Savage of Mason-Montgomery, and Sarah Brady of Las Vegas; and seven grandchildren.

        Services have been held. Burial was in Friendship Cemetery, Jane Lew, W.Va.

        Memorials: Aurora Fire Department Rescue Squad, 65 W. Pioneer, Aurora, 44202.


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