``He was a great sight-reader. He would play for anybody, anytime. He always said yes, and cheerfully,'' recalled the orchestra's former principal hornist, Mason Jones.
``He played so many, many concerts - he was Mr. Piano,'' said a longtime friend, cellist Orlando Cole.
From 1938 to 1950, Dr. Sokoloff was the pianist for the Philadelphia Orchestra.
From 1936 to his retirement in 1994, Dr. Sokoloff's life revolved around his family and the Curtis Institute. His association encompassed the tenures of all the directors in the institute's history from legendary pianist Josef Hoffman through composer Randall Thompson, Zimbalist, Rudolf Serkin and current director Gary Graffman.
Dr. Sokoloff graduated from Curtis in 1936. The same year, he married his younger colleague and pianist Eleanor Blum, who is still an active member of the Curtis piano department.
He was born in New York on Feb. 21, 1913, to Russian Jewish parents. His father was a painter who emigrated to this country in 1899.
Vladimir Sokoloff began piano at age 6. As a youth he won a spot on the Uncle Don Talent Show, which he remembered with a chuckle late this summer during an interview at the Logan East Care Center, where, following a series of strokes, he had spent the last two years.
He entered Curtis in 1929, five years after the conservatory was founded.
Dr. Sokoloff studied chamber music with violist Louis Bailly. But it was his accompanying coach, pianist Harry Kaufman, whom he credited most.
``Kaufman had a reverence for beautiful tone. He was the greatest influence on my playing,'' Dr. Sokoloff said during a 1996 interview.
It was as an accompanist that Dr. Sokoloff made his artistic mark. ``Billy had the most beautiful touch,'' said Billie Watts, a cello teacher at Temple University's Center for Gifted Youth.
As a student, he accompanied many virtuosos, particularly the violinist Zimbalist and Zimbalist's students, violinists Oscar Shumsky and Felix Slatkin. Slatkin, father of conductor Leonard Slatkin, went on to form the Hollywood String Quartet.
The Zimbalists were very fond of ``Billy,'' as most of his friends called him, recalled Cole. Mrs. Zimbalist, - Mary Louise Curtis Bok, the school's founder - wanted the Sokoloffs ``to go on the road as a two-piano team. They were going to be a big deal,'' Cole remembered.
But World War II intervened and, as the couple began a family, touring was nixed.
Dr. Sokoloff performed with the Curtis String Quartet, which recorded for the Westminster label.
His many responsibilities at Curtis included classes in accompanying, vocal repertoire, supplemental piano and chamber music.
In 1942, the year his daughter Katharine was born, Dr. Sokoloff and the Curtis String Quartet founded the New School, with the late violist Max Aronoff as its first director. It was intended as a professional training school for would-be orchestra players; it was later taken over by Temple University as New School Institute at Temple.
In 1950, Dr. Sokoloff organized a chamber music series at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts that ran until 1972. In those days the Curtis recitals were closed to the public, and Dr. Sokoloff's wanted to give these emerging artists wider exposure.
In the interview last year, Dr. Sokoloff reminisced about the days when he gave concerts with Zimbalist. Dr. Sokoloff's description of Zimbalist sounded a bit like the way he himself struck many colleagues.
Zimbalist, he said, was ``a kind, mild-mannered man. He was a gentleman; he never lost his patience and he had a lot to contend with.''
Dr. Sokoloff recalled his youth in New York City. When he was 16, he had a brief job as a waiter at Schrafft's. ``Until he was fired for taking the brownie,'' said his daughter Katharine Sokoloff McLaughlin. She is the director of development at the Settlement Music School. Another daughter, Laurie, plays piccolo in the Baltimore Symphony. He is also survived by a brother, Beryl Sokoloff.
Donations in Dr. Sokoloff's name may be sent to the Curtis Institute or to the Bay Chamber Concerts in Camden, Maine. A memorial service at the Curtis will be announced at later date.