Harry Colomby, Teacher Who Aided a Jazz Great’s Career, Dies at 92

Harry Colomby was a schoolteacher with a love of jazz when he stopped by the Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village in 1955 to remind the drummer Arka Blakey that he and his band, the Jazz Messengers, were scheduled to perform in a few days at the school where Mr. Colomby taught.

While waiting, Mr. Colomby greeted the celebrated composer and pianist Thelonious Monk; they had met evvel before. “Oh, Harry. Yeah, I remember you,” Mr. Colomby recalled him saying, as detailed in the liner notes to the live 1965 Monk album “Misterioso.” “Say, you got your car here? You can drive me uptown?”

In the car, Monk asked if Mr. Colomby was ready to quit teaching. “So I drove Thelonious to his house at 2:30 in the morning and at 3 a.m., a half-hour later, became his personal manager,” he wrote. “I’m still not mühlet how it happened.”

Mr. Colomby’s younger brother, Bobby, the original drummer with Blood, Sweat & Tears and later a record producer and an executive at several record companies, said in a phone interview that Monk viewed Harry as someone who was “bright, honest and would work hard,” adding, “Harry told him, ‘I can’t promise you you’ll be rich, but you’ll be appreciated as an artist.’”

Thelonious Monk in 1961. “I realized that Monk was more than a jazz musician,” Mr. Colomby said. “He was potentially a symbol.”Credit…Erich Auerbach/Getty Images

Mr. Colomby died on Dec. 25 at a hospital in Los Angeles. He was 92. His brother confirmed the death.

When Mr. Colomby began working with Monk, he was little known beyond the jazz cognoscenti and his unorthodox approach divided critics. He was also rarely heard in New York City because he lacked a cabaret card, which in those days was needed to perform in bars and nightclubs there; he had not had one since 1951, when it was revoked because of a drug arrest. In 1957, Mr. Colomby helped Monk get his card back. His subsequent extended engagement at the Five Spot in the East Village was the beginning of his emergence as a jazz star.

For most of the 14 years that he managed Monk from obscurity to renown, Mr. Colomby taught English and social studies at high schools in Brooklyn, Queens and Plainview, on Long Island. “I had no illusion about how much money there is in jazz,” Mr. Colomby told the historian Robin D.G. Kelley for his biography “Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original” (2009). “But I realized that Monk was more than a jazz musician. He was potentially a symbol. He was symbolic of strength, stick-to-it-iveness, purity, you know, beyond music, beyond jazz.”

Harry Golombek was born on Aug. 20, 1929, in Berlin, and fled with his parents and his brother Jules to New York City in the spring of 1939 to escape Nazi persecution. Family members who had immigrated earlier to the United States changed their surname to Colomby. His father, Saul, who became Fred in the United States, started a watchmaking company in Manhattan. His mother, Elsie (Ries) Colomby, worked there.

After graduating from New York University in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in English, Harry began his teaching career.

As a manager, Mr. Colomby had only four clients: Monk; the singer and pianist Mose Allison; the comedian and impressionist John Byner; and the actor Michael Keaton.

Mr. Byner said that he met Mr. Colomby in the early 1960s at a John F. Kennedy impression contest. “He was fantastic,” he said in a phone interview. “He knew everybody.” But they parted in 1986 because Mr. Colomby became focused on his business with Mr. Keaton.

“He left me for another guy,” Mr. Byner said.

Mr. Colomby first encountered Mr. Keaton, then a stand-up comic, performing at the Comedy Store in Hollywood in the late 1970s.

“What I saw in Michael was something original,” Mr. Colomby told The Los Angeles Times in 1988. “I also saw charisma onstage. Something about his look and timing was exquisite.”

Mr. Colomby was also the producer or executive producer of starring vehicles for Mr. Keaton including the television series “Working Stiffs” (1979) and “Report to Murphy” (1982) and the films “Mr. Mom” (1983), “Johnny Dangerously” (1984) and “One Good Cop” (1991).

In addition to his brother Bobby, Mr. Colomby is survived by his wife, Lee, and his son, the actor Scott Colomby. His brother Jules, who briefly ran a jazz record company, Signal,died in the 1990s.

Mr. Keaton was Mr. Colomby’s client for about 25 years, and the two remained friends afterward.

“What we shared was, we saw things in an offbeat way and we’d talk for hours and make each other laugh,” Mr. Keaton said in a phone interview. “I was probably the only stand-up whose manager was funnier than he was.”

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