Page Cavanaugh once told me that he was never happier than when he was at the piano making music.
In that spirit I am starting a new project, the release of 10 songs recorded with Page in 2005 with Phil Mallory on bass and Dave Tull on drums. These 10 songs feature Page’s own arrangements of what he called “supper club” jazz – bright, swingy, and accessible. The fact that he let me sing his charts is a source of great pride, as you can imagine. This is clearly important unfinished business for me and my sincere hope is to make this an archival tribute to the memory of a singular artist.
Page liked and needed to keep busy. I was certainly not the only singer who had the privilege of recording with him in his later productive years. Michael Feinstein, Stephanie Powers, Beryl Davis, and a handful of lucky locals like me had the pleasure. That we also followed in the tracks of Frank Sinatra and Doris Day was a fact that was not lost on all of us who were lucky enough to get Page into the studio.
A still from “Romance on the High Seas.” Page, Doris Day and Lloyd Pratt
Aside from my respect for his contribution and talent, I can say that Page was my friend. I remember picking him up one afternoon and driving him to Pasadena for a meeting of SPERDVAC (the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy) where Page sat at the piano and regaled us with tales of his days in early radio. I used to go to the Bicycle Shop Cafe in West Los Angeles for his regular Friday nights, getting there early so I could sit near the piano bench before the dinner crowd arrived. Page would talk to me about the people who wrote and performed the songs as he played them. Many of those people were his personal friends and colleagues. After I booked Page into the Sunset Tower on the strip, then called the Argyle, a large hulk of a man came up to me and said, “Thanks for getting Page a nice place to play.” That man was Sid Luft. Jimmy Webb said something similar to me when he shook my hand at Page’s first Chaya Brasserie show.
I spent many happy afternoons at Page’s house, singing and talking music. I was one among the many who loved him. Songwriter and animal rights activist Gail Allen, who toured with Page as a background singer, was always his champion. Bobby Woods, Madonna’s Executive Producer at Boy Toy, Inc., was a loyal fan and friend. It was Bobby who provided the baby grand piano for the first show I booked for Page at Chaya Brasserie in Beverly Hills. (We did a second show at Chaya the following December, “Christmas with Cavanaugh.”) Beautiful and stylish Susan Levitus produced Page’s last record, “Return to Elegance.” There were many others, including Bill Reed, who produced an excellent video for the birthday party Susan threw for Page at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Larry Canova was a true blue friend. And of course not least were Phil Mallory and his wife Laurel. Phil was Page’s trusted and talented bass player and his de facto manager during his last years, handling the business of his recording sessions and getting him to the gigs on time. And certainly Michael Feinstein, the champion of the Great American Songbook, was a true blue friend to Page, and profoundly helpful to him, especially in his last months.
There are far too many people who had a strong personal connection to Page to mention all of them here – he attracted those of us who saw in him the spark of something special. We all felt he was our own “discovery,” that being close to him brought us close to a kind of show business authenticity and esthetic that we wanted to be a part of, that we could all feel slipping away. The truth is we were seeing the handwriting on the wall. So many night clubs were closing, and our kind of music was moving into the salon, the house concert, the impromptu corner of a fancy restaurant. We were becoming dependent on patrons of the arts. We saw ourselves becoming the audiences at each other’s gigs. And yet there was Page, enduring, playing in the same energetic, entertaining way, charming us, making us laugh, impressing us with his technique and his knowledge and giving us a living connection to something we longed for. He could be as feisty as a banty rooster and was a hell of a lot of fun to hang out with in a night club. He was quick witted, keenly observant and did not suffer fools.
Page was an artist whose career spanned two centuries. He made music on early acetate records, in radio, nightclubs, television, film, on vinyl and cassette tape, CDs and into the digital age. This is an astonishing accomplishment. I hope to do my small part to support the memory of this amazing person with the 2016 release of “Remembering Page.”
Below: The Page Cavanaugh Trio – Al Viola, Page, Lloyd Pratt
Below: Page cuts up at the keyboard with Chico Marx.