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Monday, December 22, 2014

This Music Teacher May Have Retired, But He Hasn't Stopped Playing

Ken Foltz may have retired from teaching music, but not from music itself./Provided

by Kara Gebhart Uhl
FTM Contributor

Ken Foltz grew up an only child on Sheridan Ave., and music, as it does for many, became a companion.

His parents liked music, but didn’t play, and he remembers spending Saturday nights watching The Lawrence Welk Show as a child.

Foltz attended Woodfill Elementary and in the fifth grade he began playing a clarinet, which his parents purchased at the Ray Lamber Music Store in downtown Cincinnati. Foltz’s love of music grew, and in high school he switched to the saxophone—“a very seductive instrument,” he says—and he played in a rock ‘n’ roll band with friends.

Upon graduation his parents gave Foltz, a self-proclaimed “car guy,” a choice—a car or a piano.

Foltz chose the piano.

“You’ve got the whole orchestra at your fingertips,” he says.

Foltz studied music education at the University of Kentucky, graduated in 1975 and then earned his masters in music theory in 1977. He talks about sneaking into a music room that held a harpsichord, playing until 3am.

Foltz taught music for 32 years. In his late 30s he decided he needed a challenge and he went to law school at night, graduating from Chase College of Law in 1992. “It was a fascinating thing to study,” he says, “but grueling to practice.” So he went back to music education, teaching mostly choir.

Foltz was a loved teacher. He says one of his biggest honors was being asked to be the grand marshal in Ludlow High School’s homecoming parade last fall. Seniors select the grand marshal each year, but these seniors had been in the fifth grade when he taught them. “I couldn’t believe they actually remembered my name,” he says.

Foltz says a music teacher’s success lies not only in practice and competence, but identifying where the students are coming from—connecting with them psychologically, as well as educationally.

Foltz retired June 1st, 2013.

Today he’s a member of several local bands, including Swingtime Big Band, which he owns. The band is a full-size, 17-piece big band consisting of sax (which Foltz plays), trombone, trumpet and rhythm sections along with vocalists. They play swing classics, smooth jazz, big band, ballads, waltzes and Broadway. They do weddings and events, and for more than 10 years they’ve played the first and third Saturdays of every month at York Street Café.

The Swingtime Big Band, Foltz seated front row, with red bow tie./Provided

“We have a pretty loyal following,” Foltz says. “It feels like home when we walk into the place.” 

Perhaps his favorite event is Augusta, Ky.’s Swingtime on the River, in which the band plays in front of the Rosemary Clooney House the second Saturday in September.

The band currently has 240 songs in its books, with hundreds more in its library. The band’s members, who range in age from late 20s to early 70s, practice in a member’s basement, in Independence, Ky. As owner of the band, Foltz creates the set lists, paying attention to the mix of songs, varying styles, tempos and keys.

The Swingtime Big Band, at York St. Café in Newport/Provided

Now that he’s retired Foltz plays music four to five hours each day. His great love is classical music on the piano—Bach, Brahms, Mendelssohn—he can’t name a favorite composer as he says it’s akin to choosing a favorite child.

He owns two pianos, an old Baldwin grand that’s more than 100 years old, which was a recent impulse buy at an estate sale, and his upright, gifted to him upon graduation, which resides in the dining room. He owns a harpsichord—a Zuckermann kit model that a music professor in Indiana built years ago. He also owns 15 saxophones, two clarinets and nine guitars. The guitars, however, belong to his wife and two now-grown sons, one of whom lives in Portland, Ore., and the other in Fort Thomas.

The Swingtime Big Band performs at events all around the region./Provided

Foltz also plays in Lee’s Junction Big Band; Swingin’ Shepherd Big Band, which is affiliated with First Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Fort Thomas; Jump ‘n’ Jive Swing Band, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to purchases instruments for local students who can’t afford them; and Cellar Sax Quartet.

“Cincinnati is chock full of great musicians,” Foltz says. And he is certainly one of them.

If you know of a Fort Thomas resident with an interesting story, please contact me at

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