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San Francisco trumpeter and educatorby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2006 Todd S. Jenkins
As a longtime Bay Area educator, trumpeter William “Billy” Catalano enriched the lives of thousands of young music students. Catalano, a fixture of San Francisco’s nightclubs and theater productions for decades, died of cancer on July 15, 2005, at the age of 71. He passed away at home in the company of his wife, saxophonist Amelia Catalano.
In 1945 his father, jazz drummer Bill Catalano, won a silver trumpet in a card game and gave it to young Billy, who had been wanting to play trumpet in his middle school band. He became an avid student of music, and graduated from Balboa High School and San Francisco State University. Offered a position with the city symphony in 1957, Catalano opted instead to join Stan Kenton’s jazz orchestra.
With the Kenton band, Catalano toured for several years and performed on the albums Rendezvous with Kenton (1957), Back to Balboa and The Ballad Style of Stan Kenton (1958). Although Catalano was primarily used as a high-range lead trumpeter, in the spirit of Cat Anderson, he was also more than capable as a tender ballad player.
In the 1960s, Catalano left Kenton and went back to San Francisco, where he performed on the nightclub circuit and contracted musicians for stage tours and local productions. Among the many musicians he backed over the years were Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte and Marlene Dietrich. Catalano also worked with the Joffrey and American Ballet Theater, and the San Francisco Civic Light Opera. In 1978 he became Balboa High School’s band director, and later directed the band at Denman Middle School as well. He retired from teaching in 2002.
Billy Catalano is survived by his wife, Amelia, and three brothers: Thomas, of Pleasanton, CA; Joseph, of Pacifica, CA; and Robert, of Surprise, AZ.
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.