Dave Catney is dead.
I just learned of it today.
He died in 1994.
Dave Catney was a jazz pianist based in Houston. The first album I knew of his was First Flight, released on the tiny Justice Records, a hip independent Texas jazz label, in 1990. I’d gotten the thing for free for the jazz radio show I hosted and produced at the time (which was what allowed me to get killed on the basketball court by Wynton Marsalis and buy tons of porno mags for The Yellowjackets’ bassist Jimmy Haslip…ah…good times)
It absolutely blew me away. To be honest, I hadn’t expected much from it. I’d lived for a while in Houston and while there was (and still is) good jazz in Texas, Houston isn’t top of mind when it comes to jazz. What I didn’t know at the time was that Houston was busting seams with great new jazz.
And Dave was part of that.
I played that album quite a bit on the radio and fell more deeply in love with it every time I laid down a track. Piano, bass, and drums and don’t kid yourself, there was nothing simplistic in the simplicity of that group. Everything you needed to know about the history and heart of jazz was on that record.
A while after discovering him, I had the chance to bring him to Lubbock for a concert at Texas Tech University. Every year, the student association hosted various events. Concerts, speakers, lectures, art exhibits. A number of times I helped them land some jazz acts, including Spyro Gyra, The Yellowjackets, and lots of Texas jazzers of whom you’ve never heard.
Catney had always been my favorite. He and I, his bassist and drummer (who I think, for that show, was Ed Soph but some twenty year old details escape me) went to what was, at the time, a Lubbock joint for lunch. It was called, appropriately enough, Jazz, and while now it’s a chain with locations even in Omaha, at the time it was a tiny joint that played live jazz twice a week.
We must have been there for three hours. Eating Cajun food and discussing the very essence of music and literature, art and art commerce.
Not once during the entire afternoon did Catney ever make me feel like a kid siting at the adult table. He was gracious and wonderful and exuberant and modest.
The show that night was quite successful and went on for something like two and a half hours.
I had no idea that, at the time, he was already fighting AIDS and had been for roughly a year.
This was still early in the battle against AIDS. There were medicines, but all of them were toxic and none seem to be doing anything but delaying the inevitable and – from where I stood, it seemed – making the inevitable more painful.
But even with the diagnosis, even with the painful medications and the uncertainty, Dave kept gigging. And he traveled all the way to Lubbock from Houston to play jazz.
Huh? Jazz? In Lubbock? At a university?
I can’t imagine what he thought the gig was going to be. I can’t imagine he thought the rednecks would appreciate his music.
But they did. It was a standing ovation, if I recall correctly, and the audience asked and asked and asked for more songs.
Fairly soon after that, I left Lubbock and went to Denver. Dave faded to the background, though I never forgot how much I loved the First Flight album.
Somewhere between Lubbock, a small house in Denver, a larger house in Denver, then a house in Princeton, Illinois, I managed to lose my copy of First Flight.
Today I decided to replace it. I started trolling the ‘Net, assuming there would be – by now – a twenty year catalog of Catney’s music. I was anxious to see what he’d done and how he’d grown in the intervening years.
And that’s when I discovered he’d died.
August 11, 1994, when I was still working at D.J.’s Music Box, selling sheet music and talking to people about Dave Catney and his tunes.
After I learned of his death, I spent the day wondering how I could have lost touch with the artist. Not personal touch, I’d only met him the single time, but how I could claim to be a fan of a guy I’d paid no attention to for nearly two decades.
Seems selfish somehow to have never gone back to that well and tasted the water again. I could say I was busy with life, or that I was discovering too many other artists and genres, all of which I explore fervently, or some other reason.
And maybe those are all true. Or maybe I was just selfish.
But I prefer to think that I had Dave’s music. It was in my head and in my heart, and even though I never got around to replacing my CDs, I never lost the music because every time I thought of it, it made me smile and lightened my step a little.
And isn’t that what music is supposed to do? Beyond everything else it can do, shouldn’t touching the listener be one of the most fundamental things?
By that definition, I was never too far from Dave’s music.
I just wish there were more of it and that he’d been given the chance to see what he could do with that piano. Man, I’m telling you, it would have been a helluva ride.