Ernest James "Jim" Torok was a physicist with more than 40 patents to his name, as well as the leader of a Dixieland jazz band with more than 400 songs in its repertoire.
He was a pioneer in the computer industry, with a 30-year career starting in 1960 at the Univac division of the Sperry Corp. A talented musician, he founded one of Minnesota's best known Dixieland bands, the Pig's Eye Jass Band, in 1961, which became a staple at the Minnesota State Fair parade each year.
He shared his love of music by mentoring two generations of Dixieland players, including teaching high school students the art of improvisation.
Torok, 80, died Nov. 8 at his home in Shoreview.
"Jim was a wonderful musician, a wonderful physicist," said Garry Peterson, retired Hennepin County medical examiner and longtime Pigs Eye band member. "His work was groundbreaking, and he had his name on many patents.
"But I think he'll be best remembered by his music. He was a great captain of the ship."
Torok, the son of Julius and Rowena Torok, grew up in Corning, NY. He earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Pennsylvania State University and a master's degree in physics from the University of Minnesota, where he also completed Ph.D. courses except for the dissertation.
From 1960 to 1989, Torok worked at Univac in St. Paul, which later became Unisys Corp. Fred Hewitt, a physicist colleague, said they worked on the magnetic process of computer memory storage, optics technology and solid state light deflectors.
Torok was very involved in national professional organizations, he said, and their peer-reviewed journals.
"I think he was highly respected in the field we worked in," said Hewitt.
Torok later helped launch two small tech start-ups in the Twin Cities — Key Innovations and Integrated Micro Transducer Electronics Corporation.
Outside the research lab, Torok was conducting other investigations — namely into early New Orleans jazz, said his wife, Nancy Hite. That meant the toe-tapping music of Kid Ory, Sidney Bechet and King Oliver. Torok posted a sign at Univac looking for musicians to start a jazz band in 1961, she said. He led that band, with a changing cast of musicians, until last month.
"He often talked about the connection between music and math," Hite said. "His concept was that people who are strong in math tend to be good musicians."
Torok loved Dixieland because it allowed musicians to improvise continually, said Hite, and because it was one of the country's original art forms.
Over the years, the Pigs Eye band performed in many Twin Cities clubs and outdoor venues. For the past seven years, it played monthly at the Eagles Club in Minneapolis.
Torok, who played clarinet, soprano saxophone, and trumpet, performed with other local Dixieland bands as well. He taught jazz at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis and Columbia Heights High School, said Hite, developing a manual on how to teach improvisation jazz to high school students. Torok also served in the Twin Cities Jazz Society.
"He was one of the key figures in keeping traditional jazz alive in the Twin Cities and Minnesota," said Dick Parker, a band member and retired journalist.
Torok was also a lifelong sailor, a voracious reader of science fiction and history, and a man with a remarkable memory that "recalled facts, figures and statements, in a matter of seconds," Hite said.
Torok is survived by Hite; son Michael Torok of Plymouth; daughters Miranda and Melissa Torok, of Oakland, Calif.; son Orion Torok of Minneapolis, and stepson Zack Ellison of Minneapolis. Services have been held.