Dave Catney, pianist and jazz musician, was born in Fairmont, West Virginia, on January 7, 1961. He was the son of Paul and Delores Catney. While several of his compositions made it into television and film, Dave Catney is best remembered for his promotion of the Houston jazz scene and arranging entertainment for various nightclubs.
Catney moved to Houston with his family at the age of five. He became interested in piano the following year after his family gave him a homemade xylophone. In addition to learning to play the piano, Catney played a variety of other instruments at an early age, including the clarinet, tuba, and electric bass. When he was only six years old, he taught himself how to read music. Catney’s early interest in jazz began during his high school career at Westbury High School, where he was encouraged by his music teacher Chuck Nolan. While attending the University of North Texas in Denton, Catney concentrated his formal studies on the tuba while playing jazz piano in jazz sessions off campus. Although he played piano with UNT’s award-winning jazz band, he was never admitted into the school’s piano department due to his lack of formal training. It was not until 1984 that Catney had his first, formal piano lesson. While spending two weeks in New York, Catney was able to take lessons from jazz professionals Hal Galper, Richie Beirach, and Joanne Brackeen. He later studied with Brian Connelly, a Houston classical pianist.
Catney played in hotel lobbies and on cruise ships for nearly a decade before he was able to concentrate on the music of his choice. After the music label Justice Records offered him a recording contract in 1990, Catney was able to concentrate on jazz professionally. In the early 1990s, Justice Records was Houston’s only full-service record label. This meant that the label signed its own artists while producing, pressing, promoting, and distributing its own releases on a consistent basis. Catney’s first album First Flight was released on October 7, 1990, and featured Catney playing lyrical, straightforward jazz piano, Marc Johnson on bass, and Ed Soph on drums. Catney recorded a total of three albums for Justice Records. Jade Visions was released in 1991, and Reality Road was released in 1994.
Along with his recording career, Catney was responsible for booking music entertainment at Cezanne, a small jazz room at the Black Labrador Pub in Houston. Because of Catney, the piano bar became a center for the city’s jazz community and was transformed into one of the finest jazz clubs in the country. Before the release of his third album, his health took a turn for the worse. While many of his friends and fans were aware of his battle with AIDS, Catney requested that the nature of his illness not be made public until the end was in sight. In September 1993 the Milt Larkin Jazz Society hosted a tribute concert for Catney to raise money to help pay the pianist’s medical bills. Despite his illness, Reality Road was released on April 14, 1994, which served as a metaphor for the artist’s battle with AIDS and featured Catney playing solo piano. In July 1994 Catney turned the music programming at Cezanne over to pianist and attorney Ken Ward.
On Thursday, August 11, 1994, Catney died at the age of thirty-three from complications with the disease at Twelve Oaks Hospital in Houston. A memorial service was held on Monday, August 15 at the Wyndham Warwick’s La Fontaine Ballroom and was followed by a jam session at the Museum Restaurant in honor of the musician. He was survived by his parents, sisters, and brothers. In honor of Dave Catney, the University of North Texas created the Dave Catney Memorial Scholarship fund for any jazz student or jazz arranging student.