ROCKPORT – Stan Catell may consider himself an old dog, but he’s still one hep cat.
The 79-year-old jazz clarinetist has been a part of the region’s jazz scene for more than four decades.
Catell and his band, Stan Catell & Friends, have been packing them in on Sunday nights at the Samoset Resort for 20 years.
His band specializes in jazz and swing standards. The Sunday night scene at the Breakwater Lounge is cool and mellow, with just enough kick to get the place swinging.
Sitting in his studio, with a piano against one wall and shelves filled with records and tapes of legendary jazz bands and players, Catell explained something of the outright joy of playing before an appreciative audience of music lovers.
“I call it psychic income. You don’t get any money for it, but you do get a lot of enjoyment,” he said. “It’s been really fun and I think it keeps me young. There’s nothing like being out in front of the public doing something you love.”
The band has had a number of sidemen over the years, but the basic component is Catell on clarinet, his son, Brian, of Bangor on piano, Francis Bates of Rockland on drums, Spike Hysson of Rockland on bass, Jimmy Winters of Bangor and Roy Swanholm of Thomaston on trombone, and Al Nadeau of Bangor on trumpet.
“We have a lot of fun together and we have a great sound,” Catell said.
Catell never planned on being a jazz musician, although he picked up the clarinet as a child in Bangor and played in the American Legion and Bangor High School bands back in the 1930s. He put his instrument down after joining the service and did not pick it up for years.
For most of his adult life he was on the road as a factory representative.
It wasn’t until he moved to Camden in 1962 that he got back into music. Catell and his wife, Elsie, had established Village Real Estate and Catell was looking for something to do in his free time. On a whim, he picked up a second-hand clarinet and began playing along with jazz records.
He quickly realized that he still loved to blow that stick.
“I realized I had a pretty good ear,” he said. “That’s the way I play today. I don’t read anything. I improvise and play by ear.”
Catell started jamming at the home of his late friend Mort Quantrell. Quantrell was a founder of the Downeast Jazz Society and a pretty good trumpet player in his own right. One thing led to another and all of a sudden the informal jam sessions had evolved into gigs at the long-gone but legendary Farmer’s Wife Restaurant in Rockport and the Camden Harbor Inn.
“At some point somebody said, ‘We need a host, we need a leader,’ and they picked me. That’s how it started. I started hosting it and we wound up calling it Stan Catell and Friends. We kind of crept before we walked, and walked before we ran. … It started with a love for the music, and that’s how it’s stayed. All for the love of the craft.”
Catell got to know the late Marcel Lacasse, the Samoset boss, through Rotary. Lacasse persuaded him to move the band to the Samoset. That was in 1985 and they’ve been playing there ever since. The band took on a new feel when son Brian started sitting in a few years ago. He soon became a regular.
“I needed a piano player one night and my wife suggested Brian,” said Catell. “It’s revitalized my role. Having your son in the band is great. He kind of looks after me and he’s a marvelous player.”
Besides the Samoset gig, Catell and the band play private parties. Catell is president of the Downeast Jazz Society and will play at the group’s annual Swing Into Summer dance. He also does a lot of work with the society’s scholarship committee. That committee has memorial scholarships in honor of old friends and members Mort Quantrell, Gil Harmon, Bruce Wentworth and Elaine Storer.
Catell admitted that playing a three- and four-hour gig can take it out of you, but his only concession to age has been his decision to play from a stool rather than standing with the guys as he did for so many years.
“When I come home at night after a gig, I’m really pooped,” Catell said. “But when you’re playing, you don’t even think about it.”
Stan Catell & Friends performs at the Samoset’s Breakwater Lounge from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sundays (except this March 6 and 13).
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