Around Town

Strings Attached

Violin Virtuoso Has Worked With Heifetz, Streisand, Sinatra … And On Hundreds of Movie Scores
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Violinist Ron Folsom in his memory-filled living room in South Pasadena. Photos by Henk Friezer

THE memories were coming at me as fast as Ron Folsom, his wife Kathy and his son Rob could think of them.

Rob had a list of some of the more than 1,300 movies his dad played in during a more than 45 years as a freelance studio musician.

How about these:

Titanic.

Indiana Jones

Back to the Future.

Home Alone 1, 2, 3.

And for somebody who plays the violin, he sure found himself around a lot of famous pop singing stars.

Let’s see — there was Michael Jackson, Elton John, The Eagles, Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra.

Oh, and if you are into the classics — Folsom was in a master violin class taught by the legendary Jascha Heifetz.

That’s a lot of memories to unpack in one interview at the Folsom’s home in South Pasadena.

Not bad for a guy who quit violin during his high-school years so he could “go out with the guys.’’

It was only after high school, when he was driving auto parts from Ford Motor Co. to dealerships, that he thought maybe it was time to resume those violin lessons he had started when he was seven or eight years old.

“By the time I was 18, the only thing I could think of that I wanted to do was play violin again, but I thought it might be too late,’’ Folsom, now 77, recalled.

I thought it timely, and ironic, that while Folsom was telling his story, his wife Kathy opened a residual check for playing on a record by Gloria Gaynor, called, “I Will Survive.’’

Folsom gets a small check every time a piece that he is involved in is used in a different way, Kathy explained.

Photos of a young Folsom at work … and playing a replica of the kind of violin played by his musical hero, Jascha Heifetz.

Folsom started taking violin lessons again after making a deal with his father, who had been a

part-time musician in the 1940s, that he would get free rent at home in exchange for taking lessons and practicing.

So he began to put in the time — and hours piled up each day.

“I spent six to eight hours a day taking lessons and practicing,’’ he said. “I worked my tail off. I felt that perhaps this was just meant to be.’’

Music brought him together with a bass player named Kathy when both of them were playing in an orchestra. They married in 1963 and had two children.

By his sixth year back with the violin, Folsom got a job with the L.A. Philharmonic as a substitute in the second violin section, but he was thrilled to be playing under the direction of conductor Zubin Mehta.

“Why not be thrilled, considering my late start working toward being in this profession?’’ he said. “This was heavenly, even just being a sub.’’

He remembers that in 1969 or 1970, he heard about auditions for a master’s class at USC being taught by Jasha Heifetz.

He was already 27 or 28 years old. He admits he was definitely not a childhood prodigy, but he applied and found himself auditioning for the Man himself.

“When I auditioned, I was so nervous that I wasn’t even shaking,’’ Folsom said with a laugh. “I actually had good control. I played for 1 ½ hours, and afterward, I even asked him if I was in and he made it sound as if I was.’’

He was in, and for a year, he went to class four hours a day, two days a week, while making money as a freelancer. The time with Heifetz has become something he treasures.

“He didn’t act like he was famous, but you had to come prepared, because you never knew when he might say, ‘I am going to play with … you, and point.’ He could be very stern. You had to be on time and you had to wear a shirt and tie — and no facial hair.’’

Folsom took the class for only a year. He decided to be a freelance musician, but photos of Heifetz surround him in his study. He had a replica of Heifetz’s violin made for him, and he bought Heifetz’s violin case at an auction.

His memories are as diverse as the types of music he played.

Folsom points to a photo of one of his thousands of gigs — this one, a campaign bash for Richard Nixon in 1972 in San Clemente.

Folsom remembers that, in the studio, Sinatra was a hard worker who shared Folsom’s love of Heifetz because of that violinist’s phrasing.

There was that session with Streisand when Folsom began at 8 a.m. and went until 3:30 the next morning. “She was very pleasant to work with, and wanted to make it so the music would be special,’’ he recalled.

Folsom was in the orchestra when Neil Diamond and Streisand teamed on “You Don’t Send Me Flowers,’’ and he was there when Natalie Cole sang a duet along with her father Nat’s voice doing, “Unforgettable.’’

He remembers being over at the Eagles’ house when a salesman came over to sell them something; and playing along with Ray Charles, who praised him for the way he was playing.

He played in the orchestra that accompanied Diamond’s 1972 “Hot August Night Concerts’’ at the Greek Theater, a gig that led to an album of the same name.

“Believe me, those were hot August nights,’’ Folsom said.

In addition to playing on some 1,300 movie scores, Folsom played chamber music, ballet, opera, and even found himself doing the solo while filling in on the musical, “Phantom of the Opera.’’

“When I look back, it is hard to believe all the things I was involved in,’’ he admitted.

All those hours and years of playing finally took a physical toll on Folsom, who retired 10 years ago.

Folsom and his wife Kathy, an orchestral bass player, married in 1963.

Ron wasn’t the only Folsom involved in this world of music. Being available for work was a must for him, and Kathy remembers that in the years before cell phones she often had to be close to a phone in case another job came in. If no one was home, the contractor went to the next person on the list.

Their son Rob has been teaching orchestra at the San Marino Middle School for 20 years, and recalls waking up when he was a boy to the sound of his dad practicing violin.

One of the nicest memories they shared didn’t involve Heifetz or Sinatra or Streisand. It was when the trio — dad, mom and son — played me a recording of dad and son playing a duet to the music of “The Prayer.’’

There wasn’t a word spoken. The music said it all.

My email is ALippman@gavilanmedia.com. Please write if you have any story ideas about people, places or things of interest to South Pasadena residents.

Andy Lippman

A former Los Angeles bureau chief for the Associated Press, Lippman writes weekly about some South Pasadena person, business, issue or trend.

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