They say, "It's not the years in your life that count; it's how you live the years." In Joe's case, he lived a full life on both counts!
Born into a long Czech line of musicians and artists, Joe took up clarinet, saxophone and piano at an early age. By the time he was a teenager he was beginning his professional career and-joining his father, uncles and brother Edgar-became a member of the Detroit Federation of Musicians, Local 5. At that time, his idol was Rudy Vallee and the Big Bands were in full swing.
Joe attended Wayne State University on a band scholarship. In addition to playing gigs on the weekends for spending money, he marched in the band that played the college football games on Saturday and the Lions games on Sunday. (He loved to tell the story of a particularly tired Saturday when he stood out on the field, dotting the "i" in "Lions," only to find out it was the Wayne game!)
Soon after graduating in 1939, Joe took a job teaching band and orchestra in the Detroit Public Schools…first at Hutchins Junior High downtown, and later at Lessinger Junior High in the City's northwest. Hutchins was a school of immigrant children in the 40's and Joe took several of them under his wing, starting them on their instruments and helping them find their way in the new country. Some of his pupils went on to achieve stature as professionals-e.g., concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra; others simply discovered, with Mr. Krejci, a lifelong love of music. Some wrote him letters many years later, as did Vincent:
"I have thought of you often through the years…I am very grateful to you for starting me on the clarinet…I cherish very much those early years of study of the clarinet with you…Not only did you give me a good foundation, but inspired my devotion to music…" (1980)
The most important person Joe met at Hutchins was Rita Morrison, a young social studies teacher. They married in 1942, and began a family with the birth of son Joe Jr. in 1943. At the time of his son's birth, Joe was playing the Sonja Henie Ice Show. When Joan was born in 1947, Joe was engaged with the Roy Rogers Rodeo. And, when son John came along, Joe was playing that evening's Detroit Concert Band program!
Early in his married life, Joe completed his masters degree in Music Education from Wayne and then studied organ privately. He began his long tenure at Scovel Presbyterian Church as organist and choir director (over 25 years) and filled his nights with professional engagements in every major venue of Detroit. His date book of jobs in the later 40's, 50's and 60's was remarkable: in addition to teaching school every weekday, he was busy every night except Monday! He had regular engagements with Del Delbridge, the big automakers' shows, events at the Olympia, Fox Theater, Book Cadillac, Detroit Yacht Club and many other sites. When the Big Band era came to a close, Joe switched to small bands; his Joe Karr Trio was a fixture at the Detroit Boat Club for many years. For 15+ summers he was a mainstay of the Detroit Concert Band, under the baton of Leonard B. Smith.
In 1955, in the midst of this busy professional life, Joe and Rita bought a lot on Lake Huron, at the tip of the Thumb and built a log cottage where their children enjoyed their summers and brought their own children for 50 years. Joe was a prolific "do-it-yourselfer." Every summer, there was a major project-putting up the interior walls, digging the beach well by hand, adding doors and ceilings, plumbing the place, enclosing the front porch, adding a utility room/bath, keeping the septic line clear. Fishing and boating and golfing were always part of the fun. Good friends and neighbors called him "the musical plumber."
After 34 years of teaching, Joe retired in 1976. (He had so many unused sick days that he gained credit for an entire additional year retirement!) Within a couple years, he and Rita joined many of the Krejci family who had already moved to Pompano Beach, Florida, and lived there for 35 years. For 17 years he served as organist and choir director of the Sunset Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale; he continued playing keyboard/piano in several big bands in the area for the rest of his days in Florida.
In 2000, Rita suffered an illness that left her frail and in a wheelchair. For the next seven years, until her death in 2007, Joe devoted himself to being her primary care giver and organizing gatherings with family and friends for her. He was a model of love to us all. Joe moved to Maryland in January 2015 and spent his last months with family and continuing to enjoy his music. There is no doubt he has found a band in eternity!