Gerald Borsuk, who died on Saturday in Milwaukee at age 95, was in the front row of Madison’s music scene for more than 60 years, tuning pianos, teaching students and playing music at every sort of venue, from the city’s biggest concert halls to smoky jazz bars and golf club lounges.
He started early. In January 1928, the Madison newspapers featured the 7-year-old Borsuk as a Longfellow School student who would be playing his first composition, “Ice Skating, in the Key of C,” at the Junior and Senior Music Clubs of the Wheeler Conservatory of Music.
In 1935, at age 14, he soloed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra at its Beethoven festival.
By 1976, he had “graduated” more than 1,600 private piano students in 25 years, tuned many of the city’s parlor pianos and taught the popular UW-Extension’s “Beginning Jazz for Adults.”
As he noted in a 1976 profile in the Wisconsin State Journal, it was impossible for a jazz musician to make a living for a family in Madison, but he was always promoting the music, playing it in city clubs and teaching it. He had his own band, the Jerry Blake Orchestra, for many years. His music school was called the “Jerry Blake School of Popular Piano.”
“He got a job at WKOW as the music director and the boss there said everybody in the business needed a snappy one-syllable name. So he got ‘Blake.’ A lot of people in town thought that was his real name,” said son Richard.
Borsuk and his wife, Lorraine, moved to Milwaukee several years ago. Survivors include his wife and three sons: Paul, Alan and Richard.
“He was still playing piano in Milwaukee up until a year ago,” said Richard. “It was real important for him.”