Cancer claims Empire Brass founder at 69

Cancer claims Empire Brass founder at 69


norman lebrecht

April 07, 2019

Arizona State University has posted word of the passing of Sam Pilafian, co-founder of the Empire Brass Quintet and a legend on the uba.

Sam was selected by Leonard Bernstein to play in the world premiere of his Mass. He went on to record with Pink Floyd, the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony, patrolling the line between classics, rock and jazz.


  • Susan Bradley says:

    A great loss to the tuba world. He was an inspiration to many of us, with phenomenal technique, and great style in both classical and jazz worlds. A good man, too.

  • Peter Chester says:

    Brilliant player – will be sadly missed by all lovers of good music

  • josh says:

    I can’t believe it. Rolf and now Sam? 🙁

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Going to a huge hole in the Phoenix music world. Every time I played a gig he was in was memorable. RIP.

  • Tom McCaslin says:

    This is a devastating loss. Sam was the most positive, infectious soul. Love you Sam!

  • Bone says:

    So sad to read this. Inspirational performer and teacher – will be missed by pros and students the world over.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Sam Pilafian – a giant in the brass band world. A world-class tuba player, he proselytized for brass ensemble and band music of many styles and eras.
    Minak parov, Sam….

  • barry guerrero says:

    Sam Pilafian’s “Travelin’ Light” recording is one of my ‘desert island’ discs.

  • Dd says:

    I’m so saddened by this loss. Sam was a great person. Great musician.

  • Tromba in F says:

    Acknowledging Sam as a great tuba player is merely scratching the surface. He was a beloved teacher who, through his lineage of outstanding students in major performing and teaching positions, has left a legacy that will endure for many years. His energy, enthusiasm and musical curiosity were infectious. He will be greatly missed.

  • Kananpoika says:

    I remember Sam from when we were students at Interlochen in the summer of 1967. Sam was wanting to protect the rim of his tuba with a section of clear surgical tubing. However, he had no luck in procuring just the needed
    length, and had to purchase a VERY long section, perhaps thirty or forty feet.

    He hit upon the idea of inserting one end on a trumpet and
    the other attached to a tuba mouthpiece. My roommate, Maurice
    Steinberg, then put the trumpet inside a trench coat, with
    the bell facing outward and the near-invisible tubing extending behind
    him and around the corner of our dormitory door way. Completely
    out of sight, Sam began to honk away on the tuba
    mouthpiece, with the trumpet producing an horrendous
    blatting sound.

    Maurice then walked out onto the front steps of our dorm and began to plead in the most panicked manner at the
    astounded passersby: “Help!….Help!….! Somebody help me…! I’ve got this Magic Trumpet….I can’t make it stop…!!”

    It was all good fun and has been a cherished memory.

    Thanks, Sam. R.I.P.

  • Marty says:

    I was a student of Sam’s at Boston University in 1974. He was a great teacher and friend. We would have lessons at David’s before Empire Rehearsals at times.
    Will miss you Sam.

  • A. Douglas Wauchope says:

    I had the great pleasure of conducting for Sam in a performance of the Wind Ensemble version of the Vaughan-Williams, which he played with tremendous virtuosity and musicality. He donated his performance for a fund-raiser for the Boston Musicians Association, and followed with a latino encore which brought the house down. Great artist on a challenging and under-rated solo instrument.

    Doug Wauchope