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Vince Cattolica: 1923-2004
Vince Cattolica

Born: 1923 in San Francisco, CA
Died: February 18, 2004 in CA

San Francisco clarinetist

by Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2005 Todd S. Jenkins

Swinging clarinetist Vince Cattolica was an inspirational figure on San Francisco's jazz scene, an amiable and gifted musician who never let blindness stand in his way. Tutored by Benny Goodman and championed by columnist Herb Caen, Cattolica had long been one of the city's most beloved jazzmen when he died of a heart attack on February 18, 2004, at the age of eighty.

Born in San Francisco in 1923, Cattolica was one of seven kids in his Italian-immigrant family. He was born with cataracts and went completely blind by the time he was eighteen. At the California School for the Blind in Berkeley, Cattolica learned to play the clarinet and became an impressive musician. He was so passionate about music that his teachers finally relented and let him arrange his other studies around his music classes and practice sessions. After graduation Cattolica became a professional clarinetist, playing in swing bands at local clubs and on San Francisco television shows.

While Cattolica never did much recording or work outside of his hometown, he soon became one of the Bay Area's most respected jazzmen. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen loved the man's music and often referred to Cattolica in his column. In 1972 Caen arranged a meeting in New York between Cattolica and Benny Goodman, the younger man's idol. They hit it off well; Goodman not only provided Cattolica with free lessons, but even gave him a clarinet as a token of honor.

Pianist Larry Vuckovich frequently worked with Cattolica, and in the late 1980s he arranged a regular gig for the clarinetist at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. In 1991 the two played together on Vuckovich's CD, The Good Old Days Are Right Now. The two men remained regular playing partners until Cattolica retired from the business in 1993.

Cattolica met his future wife, Barbara, after a gig at the Embarcadero. Barbara's brother, also a clarinet player, had seen Cattolica on a local TV show and brought her along to the concert. She became a regular attender at his shows and they were married in 1968. Vince Cattolica is survived by his wife and a sister, Mary Piazza of Vallejo, California.

Donations can be made in his memory to: The Parents and Friends Association, California School for the Blind, Vince Cattolica Music Fund, 500 Walnut Ave., Fremont, CA 94536.

Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.


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