Longtime Guerneville resident Alby Kass, one of the founders of the Russian River Jazz Festival, succumbs to COVID-19
News comes that Alby Kass died peacefully from respiratory complications of COVID-19 on March 31 at Kaiser, San Leandro. He was 89 years old. For some time, Alby had been living in the Bay Area and struggling against a number of dire conditions. His great voice is stilled, but his rare spirit remains with us who knew him as a force in our world. Here is what his son Larry writes about his father’s remarkable life:
Alby was born in 1931, in the Bronx, NY. Alby’s father, a roving locksmith from Romania, died when he was nine, and as the third of four children, Alby was in charge of taking care of their small apartment and of his younger sister while his mother, from Bialystok, Poland, was working in the garment industry and his two older siblings worked at other jobs to help the family survive the Great Depression.
One of Alby’s household jobs was taking all their beds apart and slamming the boards on the street outside until all the vantzn (bedbugs) were gone, and he could assemble the beds again.
Alby’s first language was Yiddish. He learned many Yiddish songs while helping his mother in the kitchen, though his mom tended to skip the darker, brooding verses that often became Alby’s favorites later in life. As a young boy, Alby sang in the temple choir and was often chosen to sing the blessing Vi Male at weddings, making 25 cents each time.
Alby joined the Air Force at 18 and was stationed at Travis Air Force Base. Afterward, he moved to Los Angeles and took various jobs, including working at a furniture factory and hammering serial numbers into engine blocks at GM. He got his teaching credential at LA City College, where he met David Rabb. David introduced Alby to his sister, Wallie, and a romance ensued. Alby taught sixth grade for 20 years, mostly in LA city schools, but also in Japan, Germany and the Philippines at schools for the children of military personnel.
After traveling the world, Alby settled down with Wallie who was then studying child development at UCLA. In 1974, Wallie and Alby and their two children, Jonathon and Larry, moved to Guerneville as proprietors of Riverlane Resort.
Wallie and Alby helped launch the Russian River Jewish Community and were also among the founding members of Sonia Tubridy’s River Choir. They went on to perform in many local plays, eventually starring as Tevye and Golde in River Repertory Theater’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. Alby went on to play Tevye in almost every local Fiddler on the Roof show for many years.
Alby was active in PATRIOTS (People Against Terrible Rates In Our Town), the class action suit against high concentrations of sewage in the Russian River, the Sonoma Arts Council and the Russian River Jazz Festival founding group, among other community projects.
He became the Yiddish vocalist for Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble, performing throughout Sonoma County and beyond. Even during this health-challenged final year in the Bay Area, Alby performed with Jubilee Klezmer when he could at libraries and elder care homes.
A celebration of Alby’s life will be held when it is possible for people to gather.