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Vince Cattolica
San Francisco Swing Clarinettist

Vince Cattolica (b. 1923-d. 2004) was a clarinet player with a love for the Swing clarinet sounds of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw popular in the San Francisco jazz scene.

Born blind to an Italian-immigrant family in San Francisco where he spent his life, Vince became one of the Bay Area's best-loved and most respected musicians.

(Photo: San Francisco Examiner, 1964)

In the 1940s, '50s and ‘60s Cattolica played, worked or recorded with pianist Burt Bales, trombone player and bandleader, Jack Sheedy, Earl 'Fatha' Hines (piano),  pianists Wally Rose, Joe Sullivan and Ralph Sutton, Buddy De Franco (clarinet), Marty Marsala (trumpet) and vocalist Lizzie Miles to mention a few.  During the 1970s and ‘80s Vince worked with piano player Jimmy Diamond’s Nob Hill Gang, and with Larry Vukovich. 

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen loved Cattolica’s music and made reference to him in his columns.  Caen helped arrange Vince’s audience with Benny Goodman.  When they hit it off, Goodman gave him free lessons and a gift clarinet.

His long partnership and gig with mainstream jazz pianist Larry Vukovich provided Vince’s last regular venue in San Francisco during the 1990s.  Said Vukovich:
If he was in New York, he would have been playing all the time . . .  He just had the natural talent . . .   He had a beautiful tone.  He had great rhythm and a wonderful ear and a talent for melodic lines and ideas.

Pt. 1 -  Saluting Vince Cattolica

Vince recalls his early days, visits to the jazz clubs of San Francisco, performing with Jack Sheedy (1949).  Exclusive unissued recordings with Jimmy Diamond’s band (1984) and the  Molasses Brothers (1993) are featured.

Vince Cattolica Pt 1A.mp3
SIX APPEAL  --  Molasses Brothers, private studio session, 1993
DOWN IN JUNGLE TOWN  --  Jack Sheedy Dixieland Jazz, Cornet 78 rpm, 1949
GAMBLER’S BLUES  --  Jack Sheedy Dixieland’s Jazz, Cornet 78 rpm, 1949
BLUES IN THE NIGHT  --  Jack Sheedy Dixieland Jazz, Cornet 78 rpm, 1949
OLD GREEN RIVER  --  Jimmy Diamond’s Nob Hill Gang, Live, San Francisc,o 1984
ALLEY CAT  --  Jimmy Diamond’s Nob Hill Gang, Live, San Francisco 1984
I’M IN ANOTHER WORLD  --  Molasses Brothers, private studio session, 1993

Vince Cattolica Pt 1B.mp3
8, 9 & 10  --  Molasses Brothers, private studio session, 1993
WASHINGTON & LEE SWING  --  Jimmy Diamond’s Nob Hill Gang, live, San Francisco 1984
GEORGIA ON MY MIND  --  Jimmy Diamond’s Nob Hill Gang, live, San Francisco 1984
DAYDREAM  --  Molasses Brothers, private studio session, 1993

San Francisco newspaper man Herb Caen was a good friend of both Cattolica and Benny Goodman. This item from his chatty and popular column was included in The Best of Herb Caen: 1960-1975, Chronicle Books, 1991 p. 237:

“Let’s go say hello to Vince,” BG [Benny Goodman] suggested, so we went into the New Orleans Room,
where Vince Cattolica, the blind clarinetist pays nightly homage to Goodman as part of Jimmy Diamond’s band.  (Vince recently visited Benny in New York and returned to report solemnly “I have met God.”)  The crowd roared for BG to play, but Jimmy interrupted “he just flew in from Australia and he’s tired.” “I am not,” grinned Goodman.  “I feel great.”

With that he grabbed Vince’s beatup old clarinet and swang “Jada,” followed by “Georgia Brown,” while I sat in on Johnny Markham’s drums, playing impeccable triplets on the ride cymbal at the wrong tempo.  Vince Cattolica sat in the audience , tears streaming down his cheeks.  Later, Benny confided “I played awful, but that’s one awful clarinet.  Still, Vince makes it sound pretty  good and that makes me feel even worse.  

Before he left town yesterday, Benny was on the phone, arranging with a clarinet manufacturer to provide Vince with a new one.

Pt. 2 - Saluting Vince Cattolica

Vince spins more tales of playing jazz in San Francisco during the 1940s '50s and '60s with Burt Bales, Marty Marsala and others.  More of his rare and unissued recordings with The Molasses Brothers, Jimmy Diamond and Clancy Hayes.

Vince Cattolica Pt 2A.mp3
CLARINET DUET  --  Cattolica, Steward & Marham, private tape
GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND  --  Jack Sheedy Dixieland Jazz, 78 rpm, 1949
HINDUSTAN  --  Marty Marsala’s Band, Jazz on the San Francisco Waterfront, 1958
TIN ROOF BLUES  --  Marty Marsala’s Band, 1958
CHARLIE’S DREAM  --  Molasses Brothers, private studio session, 1993
AC-DC CURRENT  --  Molasses Brothers, private studio session, 1993

Vince Cattolica Pt 2B.mp3
ACE IN THE HOLE  --  Jimmy Diamond’s Nob Hill Gang, Live, San Francisco, 1984
BLUES FOR YOUSE  --  Larry Vukovich and his San Francisco Jazz All-Stars
BALLIN’ THE JACK  --  Wally Rose and Clancy Hayes, c. 1955
DOIN’ THE RACCOON  --  Wally Rose and Clancy Hayes, c. 1955
E-FLAT BLUES  --  Jimmy Diamond’s Nob Hill Gang, live, San Francisco 1984
A LULL AT DAWN  --  Molasses Brothers, private studio session, 1993

Download profile of Vince Cattolica by Richard Hadlock, 1964:

San Francisco Examiner, 11.15.64.pdf

Courtesy of
Richard Hadlock

Cattolica is as pure a San Franciscan as anyone in this culturally variegated city can be.  His father came here from Palermo and worked as a 'bow man' in the fishing fleet.  Vince was born in 1923, handicapped by congenital eye cataracts . . .

A list of clubs where Vince has played here over the years reads like an obituary of Bay area night spots . . .  Some of the names still remembered are the Down Beat, the Crystal Bowl, the Chinese Cellar, the Say When, the 316 Club, the Italian Village ("we played there for eleven nights and then it burned down"), the Tin Angel, the Jazz Showcase and the Kewpie Doll.

Vince married Barbara Cattolica in 1968 after the two met at Pier 23 on the Embarcadero.  Her brother, Jack Wiard, who also plays the clarinet, had seen him on a local television show and took her to see him play.  She said: "He sat at our table, and I swear it was love at first sight, and I started going every week with my brother."

After his death in 2004, his ashes were scattered on San Francisco Bay, where his father was a fisherman:  "Some of his happiest days were spent just going fishing with his dad," she said.  "He just laid on his back and listened to the water and the seagulls and to them casting out."

Vince Cattolica was a superb and highly talented clarinet player though he remained little-known outside the West Coast Dixieland scene.

I’ve always loved the sound of Jack Sheedy's Dixeland Band.

Vince was with this swinging Dixieland outfit when it was the first to play San Francisco's famed Club Hangover in 1949.

Jack Sheedy's Dixeland Band, c. 1950

Jack Minger (trumpet)
Cattolica (clarinet)
Jack Sheedy (trombone, vocal)
Paul Miller (guitar)
Bill Erickson (piano)
Vernon Alley (bass)
Bill Dart (drums)

A Good Man is Hard to Find - Jack Sheedy.mp3
Blues in the Night Jack - Sheedy.mp3
Down in Jungletown - Jack Sheedy.mp3
Gamblers Blues Jack - Sheedy.mp3

Vince with a
Dick Oxtot band, playing at the Rajax in San Mateo, 1950s

L to R:
Burt Bales, Cattolica, Oxtot trumpet, Bill Dart, Jerry Butzen

Oxtot collection

Polecats on the Peninsula

Oxtot’s eagerness for gigs took him to the communities of the San Francisco peninsula.  One of his “Polecats” bands had a successful run at Rajax in Millbrae, c. 1952. 

Oxtot Collection

The Polecats band at Rajax consisted of Burt Bales (piano), Vince Cattolica (clarinet), Jerry Butzen (trombone), and Bill Dart (drums), c. 1952.

Oxtot collection.


Piano Player Joe Sullivan's band at the Tin Angel, 1961

Joe Sullivan was dwelling in besotted obscurity in San Francisco during the 1950s and ‘60s.  But he still ‘had it’ when playing a residency at the Tin Angel on the Frisco waterfront in 1961 or ‘62. 

Never previously published or posted, these tracks seem to have been recorded at the Tin Angel.  Bob Mielke told biographer Jim Goggin that working with him in “a red-hot band . . . was a delight.” 

Vince's bold and luminous clarinet lines of are thrilling. Backing Joe’s magnificent keyboard artistry were cats he was associated with at the time -- the elusive trumpet player Byron Berry, Pete Allen (bass) and drummer Bob Osibin who worked there when Kid Ory ran that club as On the Levee.

You’re Driving Me CrazyLove is Just Around the Corner
Sweet Lorraine
(What Did I do to be So) Black and Blue
Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home   

Sullivan set complete   

The Molasses Brothers (unissued)

The Molasses Brothers was a collaboration between Cattolica and the Siebert brothers: Chris (piano) and Charlie (guitar).  This unissued session was done just prior to Vince's retirement from professional music in 1993.  He'd had always wanted to play this kind of combo swing and Benny Goodman Sextet tunes.

8, 9, & 10_Molasses Bros.mp3
A Lull at Dawn_Molasses Bros.mp3
AC DC Current_Molasses Bros.mp3
Charlies Dream_Molasses Bros.mp3
Daydream_Molasses Bros.mp3
I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music_Molasses Bros.mp3
I'm in Another World_Molasses Bros.mp3
Killin' Jive_Molasses Bros.mp3
Six Appeal_Molasses Bros.mp3

Vince Cattolica Interview clips,
KALW-FM, San Francisco, CA 1993

Vince Cattolica Interview clip_A.mp3
Retirement/Chuck Tavis/Jack Sheedy/Club Hangover/Chez Paree (3:50)

Vince Cattolica Interview clip_B.mp3
Club Hangover/Jack Sheedy/Chez Paree club/Ralph Sutton/San Francisco in the Forties and Fifies/Barney Bigard/Albert system vs. Boehm system/Slim Gaillard (8:35)

Vince Cattolica Interview clip_C.mp3
Jimmy Diamond Society band/Pier 23/Jerry Butzen (3:45)

Vince Cattolica Interview clip_D.mp3
Vince discourses on the role of clarinet in the jazz band (6:20)

Vince Cattolica Interview clip_E.mp3
Influence of Benny Goodman / Playing strip bars during WW II (5:35)

Vince Cattolica Interview clip_F.mp3
Monterey Jazz Festival 1958/Peanuts Hucko/Jazz on the San Francisco Waterfront/Marty Marsala (4:13)

Vince Cattolica Interview clip_G.mp3
Vince on Artie Shaw/Meeting and taking lessons from Benny Goodman (3:48)

Vince Cattolica Interview clip_H.mp3
San Francisco in the Fifties/“. . . the day of the Rounders is gone”/Larry Vukovich/Lavay Smith (4:24)

Cattolica interview complete & unedited
KALW-FM, San Francisco, CA 1993:

Vince Cattolica Interview complete_no edit_1.mp3
Vince Cattolica Interview complete_no edit_2.mp3

Vince Cattolica and Jim Goodwin, 2.21.73

(Photo: Ed Lawless)


In this interview clip Vince tells of working with clarinetist Peanuts Hucko, trumpet player Marty Marsala, Burt Bales, and how the 1958 LP, Jazz from the San Francisco Waterfront was recorded.  Plus his fine solos on “Hindustan” & “Tin Roof Blues.”

Hindustan_Jazz on SF Waterfront_Tin Roof.mp3 (12:15)
Marty Marsala (trumpet), Cattolica (clarinet), Skipp Morr (trombone),
Burt Bales (piano), Cus Cousineau (drums)
[oddly, the album notes fail to name the bassist]

Cattolica with Wally Rose and Clancy Hayes,
from the live LP, Cakewalk to Lindy Hop:

Ballin the Jack - Clancy Hayes.mp3

with Bob Helm
c. 1990s

(Photo by
Mili Bardin-Rosenblatt)

Jimmy Diamond
(JAZZ RHYTHM exclusive)

This was a version of Jimmy Diamond's Nob Hill band playing at the Hyatt-Regency in the mid-1980s.  I taped these with Cattolica for local broadcast, c. 1984.

Bob Schultz (trumpet)
Vince Cattolica (clarinet)
Jerry Butzen (trombone)
Jimmy Diamond  (piano)
John Markham (drums)

Alley Cat_J Diamond JB.mp3 (Novelty clarinet feature)
E-Flat Blues_J Diamond.mp3 (Clarinet feature)
Georgia_J Diamond.mp3
Old Green River_J Diamond.mp3
Washington and Lee Swing_J Diamond.mp3 (Jerry Butzen, vocal)


Dick Oxtot
Clancy Hayes
Burt Bales

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