Family joins musical tribute to memory of Yekutiel Zeevi
Music always filled the Zeevi household at all hours of the day. On Sunday, it filled the Unitarian Church and the hearts of listeners who were there to honor Yekutiel "Kuti" Zeevi, the Westport jeweler who was murdered last December during a robbery at his Post Road East jewelry business.
Kenneth Kuo, a family friend and the founder and president of the Westport-based Connecticut School of Music, organized the chamber music All-Star Faculty Concert as a tribute to Zeevi, whom Kuo called "one of the most memorable people who walked in Westport. Since he died Westport has lost color."
"This is an occasion to celebrate Kuti's life," said Kuo, who has known the Zeevi family since shortly after he arrived in America from Taiwan as an 11-year-old boy. In fact, Kuo referred to Nava Zeevi, Yekutiel Zeevi's widow, as his "Jewish mother," and of Kuti he said, "To me he was like a father."
"We're lucky to have good friends to commemorate my dad through music," said Neeri Zeevi, Yekutiel Zeevi's son. He added that most people knew his father as an Israeli commando or as a fearless soccer player. "But he had a gentle side," Zeevi recalled. His father was a lover of soul and R&B music, but came to love classical music through his family, he said.
One of his father's favorite spots was in the music studio he built for his wife Nava, "where he relaxed and soaked in the musical offerings of the day, often while petting his dog Fozzie and providing feedback on a note or two which were off cue."
Neeri Zeevi and his mother performed in the second half of the concert, which featured classical and jazz compositions.
Kuo said he put the concert together because "We need to take extra special care of the ones who are living," the ones left behind to deal with the emotional aftermath of a tragedy. "We want to share our beautiful music with you the community, the Zeevi family, and most of all to remember someone who is very, very, very special," said Kuo.
Kuo said if he were to give music as a gift to Kuti "these are the pieces I would give him ... I know Kuti is listening to this right now."
Nava Zeevi, who is part of the Staples High School music program, said after the concert that she was bolstered by the support of the community as she has been since her husband's murder. "The music, I draw strength from it, and from the love of people," she said tearfully. She played piano in an andante from Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major" with her son and Kuo both on cello, and again in Mendelssohn's "Song without Words," which she performed with Kuo.
Kuo said they had originally planned to perform a Requiem but Nava Zeevi said that was not typical of Kuti's tastes, who was a fun-loving man. In fact, the concert concluded with more contemporary pieces -- "Take the A Train," "Georgia on My Mind" and "Hit the Road, Jack," in tribute to the late jeweler's wide-ranging musical tastes. A temporary band of faculty members from the Connecticut School of Music, led by trombone player Vinny Nobile, was organized only hours before the concert for that purpose.
The Zeevis' daughter Tali, who died several years ago, was also remembered during the concert when soprano Rachel Matz of New Haven, a member of the faculty at the music school, sang Puccini's "O Mio Babbino Caro," a piece selected by Kuo because it is a daughter singing to her father about the man she loves. Matz also sang "How Glory Goes" by A. Guettel.
Kuo said the concert was meant to give "a sense of hope and a sense of peace" to the Zeevi family. Many in the audience of about 160 people said they experienced the same.
"Everybody is here because we love Kuti. It's a sign of affection and respect," said Larry Sherman of Westport.
Saralee Robins of Fairfield said her family has been friends with the Zeevi family for 30 years. "I taught with Nava at Temple Israel and our children grew up with Neeri and Tali. The concert is so fitting. Nava gave our daughter Joan her first piano lesson and our daughter Susan gave Neeri his first cello lesson," Robins said.
"We came to honor the memory of Kuti. I felt like it was a very respectful event. We had a beautiful time; love for the man, love for the music and love for the community," said Rina Nof of Stamford, a friend of the Zeevi family.