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Published: Sunday, 10/27/2002

Keyboardist entertained at restaurants in Toledo

TEMPERANCE - John W. Sage, an organist and pianist who was booked for a six-week engagement at a Toledo restaurant in the early 1960s and stayed for 17 years, died of kidney failure Friday in the Hospice of Northwest Ohio, Perrysburg Township. He was 77.

He had been in ill health, his partner, Sylvia Jones, said.

Mr. Sage played organ for 17 years at the former Willows restaurant, most often with a guitarist and drummer, although his trio sometimes included other instruments.

“It was very definitely easy listening, the type of music people would like to dance to and the trio would sing to,” Ms. Jones said.

He played organ at the former Charcoal House restaurant from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s with Carole Spicer - her professional name was Pat Carroll - as vocalist.

“We did the old standards - the war music, the early '40s, `You Made Me Love You,' Judy Garland stuff,” Mrs. Spicer recalled. “The people used to sing along on the dance floor.”

Mr. Sage sang some too, and the duo often harmonized.

“We just worked so well together, it was like a meant-to-be thing,” she said. “He had a way with people. He never forgot a birthday or an anniversary of people who came in as regulars. When a regular came in, he'd play their favorite song.

“He practiced every day. He loved to play. He loved seeing people happy,” she said.

Mr. Sage, of Temperance, lived in West Toledo for many years.

He landed in Toledo by chance. He had hired a booking agent in the early 1960s and was playing the Midwest when he won an engagement at the Willows.

“That booking was for six weeks, and it was extended and extended until he played for them for 17 years,” Ms. Jones said.

During semiretirement in the 1980s, Mr. Sage was a driver for Cleveland Plant & Flower Co. in Springfield Township, making deliveries to florists.

Mr. Sage, born in Normal, Ill., was a graduate of University High School, Bloomington, Ill. He was a Navy veteran of World War II, serving in the Seabees in the South Pacific.

He learned to play piano by ear, and was performing with local combos in his teens.

When he returned from the war, he attended Illinois Wesleyan University.

He played in the New York City area with the Ray Robbins Big Band.

Later, he was band pianist and did arrangements for trumpeter Clyde McCoy, best known for his hit recording, “Sugar Blues.” With the McCoy group, Mr. Sage toured the Midwest.

Mr. Sage continued to play piano and organ as long as his health allowed, Ms. Jones said.

He liked listening to classical music, swing, and jazz.

And he was recognized often.

“We'd be in a restaurant, and people would walk up and say, `Aren't you John Sage? I remember listening to you. My wife and I used to dance to your music,'” Ms. Jones said.

Surviving are his sisters, Ruth Smith, Margaret McAlpin, and Betty Phillips.

There will be no visitation or local services. Memorial services will be scheduled later in Bloomington, Ill.

The family requests tributes to the Hospice of Northwest Ohio in Perrysburg Township, or a charity of the donor's choice.



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