LOS ANGELES - Page Cavanaugh, 86, a pianist-singer whose trio was a popular nightclub act and recording group in the late 1940s and '50s and who became one of Southern California's most enduring lounge jazz artists, has died.
Mr. Cavanaugh, who also was a composer and arranger, died Friday of kidney failure at a skilled nursing facility in suburban Los Angeles, said Phil Mallory, his bass player for 18 years.
During the early days with his trio, Mr. Cavanaugh appeared with Frank Sinatra, played for NBC Radio's
The Jack Paar Show,
and appeared in several movies, including
A Song Is Born, Romance on the High Seas, Big City
Lullaby of Broadway.
"He was always a creatively fascinating artist throughout his long career," music critic Don Heckman said. "What he did with his most famous group in the '40s and '50s was to develop a new style, in which all three members of the group would sing in unison in a whisper fashion."
It was a time, Heckman said, "when jazz and popular music were in much closer sync than they are today, so that groups like Nat Cole and George Shearing and Page Cavanaugh could play with a distinctly jazz flavor and still reach large audiences and sell a lot of records."
The Page Cavanaugh Trio had chart hits such as "The Three Bears" and "She Had to Go and Lose It At the Astor."
In the early '60s, Mr. Cavanaugh formed a seven-piece group, the Page 7, which recorded for RCA and appeared on
The Ed Sullivan Show.
Around the same time, he opened his own club in Los Angeles. But Mr. Cavanaugh, who performed solo in Las Vegas for a number of years in the '80s, had his share of career downturns.
"At the end of the '50s, when rock and roll came in, prices went down, and you couldn't get arrested," he told the Los Angeles Times in a 1992 interview.
Still, he said, "a life in music was a good choice for me. It's been a damn roller coaster, flying high one day, poor as Job's turkey the next. But I can't think of anything I'd trade it for."
Walter Page Cavanaugh was born Jan. 26, 1922, in Cherokee, Kan., and grew up on his family's farm. His parents played ragtime piano, and he switched from ukulele to piano when he was 9.
He later won high school solo piano competitions four years in a row and earned a scholarship to Kansas State Teachers College. But he stayed less than a semester and joined a Kansas band.
At age 20, Mr. Cavanaugh moved to Los Angeles and joined the Bobby Sherwood band, with which he toured until he was drafted during World War II.