Mel Dalton, Tenor Sax Live at the GR Zoo
Lloyd Price ‘ Where Were You (On Our Wedding Day?) Original 45 RPM w/Mel Dalton throwing in screaming sax breaks
Tenor Saxpphone player Mel Dalton was in
Forefront of West Michigan Jazz Scene
Published: Monday, April 14, 2008, 5:46 PM Updated: Monday, April 14, 2008, 5:51 PM
GRAND RAPIDS — Mel Dalton loved to play jazz.
It did not matter if the tenor saxophonist was playing a dance. He would sneak a little bebop into the set.
The only problem was, the dancing stopped.
“They’d just stop and listen,” said trumpeter Willie Singleton, a longtime colleague.
“I could tell he was having fun. His eyes would light up,” Singleton said. “And he’d say, ‘I don’t get to play these tunes.'”
Dalton, 77, died Saturday in Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital after battling cancer.
For more than 45 years, Dalton was a fixture in West Michigan’s jazz scene.
The West Michigan Jazz Society honored him as its Musician of the Year in 2002. But Dalton said he would rather be a sideman than the star.
“I’m not in (the music business) to have my name up there or to have my own group,” Dalton told The Press in 2002. “That never did appeal to me. All I want to do is play.”
A native of Pittsburgh, he went to Westinghouse High School, where his classmates included jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal.
Following military service in Korea, Dalton lived in New York City for 10 years and played with Lloyd Price, the early rock ‘n’ roll musician from New Orleans, who recorded such hits as “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Personality” and “Stagger Lee” in the 1950s.
Dalton appeared on TV’s “The Ed Sullivan Show” on a night that also had Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington on the same bill and toured with bands backing such entertainers as Bobby Darin, the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly.
But in 1960, Dalton moved to Grand Rapids for a steady gig at the Blue Note on South Division Avenue and decided this would be a good place to raise his family.
“Mel was a fun guy to be around,” said Elgin Vines, a local bass player who played with Dalton for 30 years. “And he also was a guy dedicated to his musical craft.”
Dalton played his last official dates in December, according to his daughter, Martine.
“He was very positive in spite of the fact of his illness,” Vines said.
Until illness stopped him, Dalton continued to work on his music, Singleton said.
“I would call him and say, ‘Let’s play some tunes,’ and he’d say, ‘OK, I’ll be right over,'” he said.
He is survived by Jeanne, his wife of 50 years; his daughters, Martine Dalton, Barbara Skanes and Frances Dalton; three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Visitation will be 1 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Gillespie Funeral Home, 1865 Eastern Ave. SE. Local musicians will play during the evening visitation.
Funeral Mass will be at 11 a.m. Thursday in St. Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church, 1213 52nd St. SE in Kentwood, with The Rev. Phil Shangraw officiating.
Singleton’s Gentlemen of Jazz will play this week in Dalton’s memory.
“But without the tenor,” he said.