Louis Hecht

Louis Hecht ( )

Louis G. Hecht, an owner of the Triangle Sign Co. and an antiques appraiser who immersed himself in Baltimore's classic jazz scene, died of congestive heart failure Saturday, his 92nd birthday, at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Hospital. He lived in Pikesville.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Bancroft Road, he was the son of Julien S. Hecht and Ruth Gerstley Hecht. His grandfather was Emanuel Hecht, one of the founding brothers of the Hecht Co. department store.

A 1939 McDonogh School graduate, Mr. Hecht also attended the Hun School of Princeton in 1940. During World War II, he was an ordnance supply sergeant.

Mr. Hecht joined Triangle Sign Co., an Erdman Avenue business founded by his father. His early years at Triangle overlapped with the firm's construction of Locust Point's Domino Sugars sign, as well as other landmark outdoor advertisements in Baltimore.

After selling the sign business, Mr. Hecht became the administrative assistant to the trustee in the reorganization of the planned community of Joppatowne in Harford County nearly 40 years ago.

Mr. Hecht collected Pennsylvania folk art and American antiques. Family members said he turned his love of antiques and his avocation of collecting them into his vocation, opening a small antiques shop in Pikesville and founding Louis G. Hecht Associates Ltd., a firm specializing in appraisal services of American and Continental decorative arts.

"His specialty was ceramics, and when he didn't know something, he found someone who did. He really taught himself. He kept a voluminous collection of auction catalogs," said Stiles T. Colwill, an interior designer who lives in Lutherville. "Louis always had a twinkle in his eye and was a great raconteur."

Family members said Mr. Hecht was introduced to jazz while in high school and never surrendered his passion for the musical form. He acquired early recordings and used family connections to get backstage at the Hippodrome Theatre. In a 1991 Baltimore Sun article, he said that "jazz is the one true American art." While at the Hippodrome, he met piano player and entertainer Fats Waller. He once brought a member of the Duke Ellington orchestra to play golf at the Suburban Club.

"My father saw jazz as a mental attitude rather than a style," said one of his sons, Louis G. Hecht Jr. of Bethesda.

Mr. Hecht was a founder of the Baltimore Jazz Foundation and helped to support a pilot jazz education program whose goal was to bring jazz into schools across Maryland, family members said.

"Louis was a fly on the wall for all of his life with the best of any kind of jazz, classical music and art," said Edward R. Goldstein, a friend who is music department chair at Loch Raven High School. "He told me about attending [jazz artist] Chick Webb's funeral and could remember every little detail about the day.

"You could mention almost any early jazz recording, and even if he hadn't heard it in decades, he would start singing it back to you with the correct melody, words and inflection. Louis was not trained as a musician. If he had been, he would have been formidable."

In 2010, Mr. Hecht donated nearly 3,700 78-RPM shellac records and LP recordings from the 1920s to 1960s, along with his books, journals, photographs and other materials about jazz that he began collecting in 1937, to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland and African American History & Culture.

"He told me that he wanted younger African-Americans who might not know of their jazz legacy to appreciate its depth and richness," said A. Skipp Sanders, the museum's executive director. "He was a delightful person. His knowledge was astounding."

Mr. Hecht was also a trustee of the Maryland Historical Society and of Historic Hampton Inc. He served on the Gallery Committee at the Maryland Historical Society and the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland Inc., where he was a former chairman. He was a member of the American Ceramic Circle and of Friends of the American Wing of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

"There was not a morning my father didn't wake up, happy to see the new day," said his other son, Julien A. Hecht of Annapolis. "He was optimistic that everything would work out. ... He was a go-getter. God forbid you were on his tickler list. He'd hound you till you got it done."

He was president of the Associated Placement and Guidance Bureau, now part of Jewish Community Services of the Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Services were held Tuesday at Sol Levinson and Bros.

In addition to his two sons, survivors include his wife of 67 years, Shirley Fineman Hecht, a Baltimore School for the Arts administrator; and three grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com