Barbara J. Bazilian, 88, of Philadelphia, an accomplished pianist and artist who published books with imaginative illustrations and sold handmade clothes, died Friday, Jan. 15, of pneumonia at Paoli Hospital.
A child prodigy on the piano, Mrs. Bazilian later mastered painting, writing, fashion design, and advanced mathematics. She showed such aptitude at the keyboard as a youngster that she was admitted to the Curtis School of Music when she was 9.
“She was a Renaissance woman,” said her son, Eric Bazilian. “She was curious. She had an amazing mind, and she wanted to know everything. "
In the 1990s, Mrs. Bazilian became interested in watercolor painting, and turned her love of self-expression into art. Her work was intricate and fantasylike, and she and her younger sister, Judith Fine, collaborated on two children’s books. One of them, The Red Shoes, is the 1997 retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fairy tale. It inspired a 2014 photo essay in Vogue by Annie Leibovitz.
The other book, Princess Lily, is a 1998 original fairy tale written by the sisters.
“When she decided to do something, she went and did it,” her sister said. “She was a hard role model for me to follow. As children, she would play the piano three or four hours a day, and I would sit under it with my toys, and the music just thundered around me.”
Mrs. Bazilian was born to musical parents on Jan. 9, 1933, and the sisters grew up at C Street and Wyoming Avenue in the Feltonville section of Philadelphia. Mrs. Bazilian studied at Curtis for a few years under acclaimed Beethoven interpreter Rudolf Serkin. But she missed a broader curriculum, so she enrolled at Olney High School and graduated at 16.
She attended the University of Pennsylvania on a music scholarship, and met a young medical student, Stanford Bazilian. They were married in 1952, and their son was born a year later.
The family relocated to Fort Hood, Texas, so Dr. Bazilian, a psychiatrist who had been drafted, could fulfill his military obligation. They moved back, to Norristown, in 1957, then to West Oak Lane in 1958. Mrs. Bazilian, shy despite her talent, preferred playing piano with singers or other musicians to performing alone. So she worked as an accompanist and was part of a chamber music group.
It was during those days that her son recalls their home being filled with music and exciting conversation as friends of his parents visited and sang and hashed over topics of the day. “It was a wild assortment of people,” Eric Bazilian said.
Always interested in crafts and fashion, Mrs. Bazilian became an accomplished seamstress and clothing designer, selling some of her work to local shops. In 1965, the family moved to West Mount Airy. In 1967, she and Dr. Bazilian adopted their daughter, Maura Bazilian, who died in a 1994 automobile accident.
After a divorce from Dr. Bazilian in 1975, she moved to Oak Hill Estates, where she met Stanley Zawadowicz. They married in 1977. In 1980, she returned to Penn and earned a bachelor’s degree in physical anthropology. She was accepted into a master’s program at Penn but moved to California when her husband got a new job.
The couple returned to the Philadelphia area in 2005, and Mrs. Bazilian became fascinated with mathematics and physics, her son said. She taught herself calculus, linear algebra, and gobbled up books on advanced quantum theory and relativity.
Mrs. Bazilian liked to stay up late, and hated to travel. She liked to talk on the phone but never took to computers. She loved children, and told her sister countless original stories about fairies when they were kids.
Eric Bazilian, a singer, songwriter, and a founding member of the Hooters rock band, sat with his mother shortly before her death and played Bach on his mandolin. He said he knew she could hear him.
“She was a joy,” Judith Fine said.
In addition to her husband, son, and sister, Mrs. Bazilian is survived by daughter-in-law Sarah Bazilian, four grandchildren, and other relatives. Her ex-husband died in 2017.
A private service is to be held later.
Donations in her name may be made to Musicians on Call, 110 W. 40th St., Suite 702, New York, N.Y. 10018.