Former Rice staff member Larry Slezak remembered

Lawrence “Larry” Slezak, a former staff member at Rice’s Shepherd School of Music, died July 28. He was 71.

Larry Slezak


Slezak was an instructor in jazz studies at Rice from 1980 to 2016. He taught MUSI 345, a course in jazz improvisation for nonmusic majors, and MUSI 540, a course in applied jazz improvisation for graduate music majors.

“Larry Slezak was a valued member of the music community at Rice,” said Robert Yekovich, dean of Rice’s Shepherd School of Music. “The Shepherd School benefited immensely from his widely respected expertise, particularly in jazz. Larry tutored both majors and nonmajors and played an important role in the development of many young musicians. We will miss him greatly.”

For decades Slezak led the Rice University Big Band, aka the Rice Jazz Ensemble. Chuck Throckmorton, director of university bands, worked with him for nearly 15 years.

“When I arrived in 2002 as director of bands, one of my biggest influences and favorite mentors was Larry Slezak,” Throckmorton said. “His love for our students, and devotion to their learning, set a standard for me that was high and clear. He admired our students, challenged them and showed them the magic that is in the art of jazz if only they were to seek it out. That spirit still sets the standard for our band department.”

At a young age, Slezak decided he wanted to be a musician and began playing tenor saxophone at the age of 10. He eventually mastered all of the reed instruments and began playing professionally at the age of 14. He performed with well-known artists, including Ray Charles, Bob Hope, Natalie Cole, Nancy Wilson, Burt Bacharach and Tony Bennett, throughout his career.

Slezak enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967 and was deployed as part of the 7th Infantry Division to Camp Casey, South Korea. He served in the Army band as a clarinet player.

He moved to Houston in 1973, where he became widely regarded as a vital and enduring part of the jazz community. He performed with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Grand Opera orchestra, the Theatre Under The Stars orchestra and his own jazz ensemble and organ band.

Slezak is survived by his son and daughter-in-law, Joseph and Melissa Slezak, brother and sister-in-law, Ed and Caroline Slezak, and many other relatives. He was preceded in death by his wife, Annie Slezak, and parents, Edward and Anna Slezak.

A visitation was held Aug. 4 from 1 to 4 p.m. and Aug. 5 from 9 to 10:30 p.m. at Earthman Resthaven Funeral Home, 13102 North Freeway, in Houston. Funeral services were held at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 5 at the funeral home, and interment followed in Earthman Resthaven Cemetery. More information is available at

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.