Downbeat Magazine said of Frank Catalano’s playing: “full throttle front and center, a modal rocker that suggests John Coltrane energy in the 21st century.” High praise for the Chicago saxophonist, who began playing at age 7. He severed his right middle finger while working on a car engine when he was 16, but forced his hands to relearn technique following reconstructive surgery.
Catalano toured with Santana at age 18, and holds a degree in classical composition from DePaul University. He volunteers for the Off the Street Club, where he runs the after-school jazz program. He engineered a unique sampling keyboard attachment for the saxophone which was patented in 2001.
My husband and I have seen the soulful Frank play many times at his home-base club, The Green Mill in Chicago. The vibe is always super-hot, bordering on frenetic, whenever Frank takes the stage. He usually has young, excited players with him, as he holds down the center of the action. In a club the size of The Green Mill, a patron can really feel every note from any seat in the house. We’ve been there at times when you have to wait for the next show, or, it’s SRO at both shows. Frank has a reputation for great live shows, and fans pack in to experience him.
This past July, Frank released LOVE SUPREME COLLECTIVE – EP, featuring Smashing Pumpkin’s former drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, and that record went to the #1 spot on iTunes jazz chart. If you have not heard any Frank Catalano yet, I suggest starting with his latest. This killin session is full blown mayhem from A to Z.
Frank plays and endorses Yamaha Saxophones, Rico Reeds, JodyJazz Mouthpieces, and Reunion Blues Leather gig bags.
He was kind enough to answer FIVE QUESTIONS, via email.
1) You play at The Green Mill often. Do you ever wish that beautiful, intimate space was just BIGGER? Where else do you like to play locally? Nationally?
FC– I like the Green Mill exactly like it is…I wouldn’t change a thing.
Longtime Smashing Pumpkins drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin, and I co-lead a
band together and we have played the Green Mill twice this year and he
loves the Mill. He is used to playing large venues. There is a special
sense of history there. I love playing Andy’s Jazz Club and Martyrs in
Chicago. Just did a mini tour supporting the new recording which
included the Blue Note and the Iridium in New York, Jazz Estate in
Milwaukee and the Earshot Jazz Fest in Seattle. I played yesterday in
St. Louis at Saxquest Saxophone Museum. I like playing the Blue Note in
Milan, Italy and in Tokyo, Japan. I love the Baked Potato in LA. I
think venues that are 200-300 seats are my favorite as far as being
intimate and fun.
2) You play with many young musicians, and they seem to work well for
your vibe. Who are the young cats you’re loving right now and why? Any
older mentors you like to play with also?
FC– I like playing with younger guys, middle aged guys and older
guys/gals as long as they have positive energy. Some people lose that
good vibes type energy as they get older and some are able to keep it.
Louie Bellson, Von freeman, and Charles Earland were my main musical
mentors/employers when I was a teenager and I would love to still be
playing with them but they have passed away. Ironically, I am starting
to find myself in the mentor role as I am nearing middle age:)
3) When you were coming up, who helped you learn how to play? How old
were you when you made your breakthroughs in practice, and how did they happen? How do you practice today? How long and how often?
FC– I listened to a lot of music and was always eager to go to jam sessions
to play. I started playing piano at age 2 and Saxophone at 7. By age
10 my friend Mark was taking me to sit in with Von Freeman. My band
directors and teachers helped a lot but real playing experiences are
what made me work the hardest. I can’t say I had any actual
“breakthoughs” when it comes to practice, I just tried to work on my
sound everyday and incorporate as much melody and harmony as possible. A
saxophone players sound is what separates them from the others and is
the most important thing to get together. Learning songs, chords,
scales, chops etc comes from slow and steady daily practice. Playing
chords on the piano or singing scales help me more than actually having
the saxophone in my hands. I don’t have a set practice routine. Today,
i wrote some new material for Me/Jimmy Chamberlin’s upcoming PBS
filming/Concert at Mayne Stage and tried some reeds. Tomorrow, I will
probably run some scales and do an hour of longtones to keep my fingers
nimble and my embouchure flexible. I have performances the rest of the
week and I don’t like to do more then 15 minutes of warm ups on those
4) What other kinds of music besides jazz do you like and listen to?
Other artists that you dig?
FC– My degree from DePaul University is in Classical Composition so I
love classical music. I have played with Seal, Beyonce, John Legend so
I love R and B. I have been listening to some older Smashing Pumpkins
stuff ever since me and Jimmy started playing together. Salsa Music. I
like all music that has passion in it.
5) What goals for the future do you have for your career? Where would
you like to play and with whom? What venues? What types of recordings
are you looking forward to creating? How would you like to release them
in this digital day and age?
FC– My newest recording for Ropeadope Records debuted at #1 on the iTunes
Charts a couple months ago and it was only going to be “Digital” unlike
my Savoy/Columbia and Delmark recordings. The demand for CD’s was
higher than I thought so we had a limited CD pressing of 5,000 which
sold last month so we might do some more. I received emails requesting
Vinyl so we are doing a limited Vinyl pressing of 500 and they will be
for sale next week. This is the first time that I will have Vinyl
available so there is a definite shift towards Digital and Audiophile
Vinyl with a smaller percentage of music fans listening to CD’s. Me and
Jimmy are working on our next recording now and I think it will be
released on all 3 mediums as well. I still like CD’s the best and they
are fun for me to sell and sign at shows. I feel lucky to have
performed with tons of legendary people and I am very happy with where
everything is at. I had my right middle finger cut off and put back on
when I was 16 and 3 years ago I sustained a lot of injuries to my neck,
shoulder, back and wrist when I was hit by a drunk driver so at this
point my main goal is to have my body hold out:)