Jazz pianist, composer, arranger and conductor Page Cavanaugh, whose trio played in films and on Frank Sinatra’s radio show, died Dec. 19 of kidney failure in Granada Hills, Calif. He was 86.
In the late ’40s and early ’50s, The Page Cavanaugh Trio was popular as a nightclub act, on recordings and in feature films such as “Romance on the High Seas” with Doris Day.
Born in Cherokee, Kansas, Cavanaugh founded his first band while still in high school, then joined the popular Kansas Ernest “Ernie” Williamson band. He moved to Los Angeles at the age of 20, where he joined the Bobby Sherwood band, touring the country until he was drafted after seven months.
While serving in the U.S. Signal Corps during WWII, Cavanaugh formed his trio with guitarist Al Viola and bassist Lloyd Pratt. Cavanaugh developed his own unique whispering vocal style that became the trio’s signature.
After military service, the trio appeared on the Kay Kyser radio show and were booked in Los Angeles night clubs like Ciro’s. Sinatra heard them and took them to New York to appear at the Waldorf-Astoria and on his Old Gold Tobacco “Songs of Sinatra” radio show;, where they also accompanied Jane Powell.
The Page Cavanaugh Trio was featured in films including “A Song Is Born,” “Big City,” “Jingle, Jangle, Jingle” and “Frankenstein’s Daughter.” He was a frequent guest on TV shows including “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show.”
Cavanaugh and his trio recorded with Day, as well as with Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Johnny Desmond and Connie Haines. The trio’s chart hits included “The Three Bears” and “She Had to go and Lose It at the Astor.”
Both Viola and Pratt left the trio in the late ’40s, Viola to work with Sinatra, with whom he was associated for more than 30 years.
Cavanaugh continued to tour and perform in Los Angeles clubs, including his own nightclub in the early 1960s. He played with a number of different musicians, most recently with bassist Phil Mallory for the past 18 years.
His last recording, “Return to Elegance,” was released in 2006.
Bobby Troup, the composer of “Route 66,”once said, “Page Cavanaugh swings more than any musician I know.”
He left no immediate survivors.
— Pat Saperstein