Carl “Cal” Calcara (1920-2008) was my grandfather. He has always been an inspiring musical figure in our family. He was born in West Wyoming, PA, and came of age during the 1930s when swing music was the popular music everywhere. When I was first discovering this fascinating music, my grandfather would tell me stories of hearing the great Big Bands either in person or live on the radio: Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington. In high school he began to study the guitar, learning chords from a friend who played in the local radio station orchestra in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Grandpa had an excellent ear and singing voice and would learn to accompany himself “crooning” the latest tunes of the day.

After a heroic time in the US Marine Corps during WWII (1940-45, first Marine Division at Guadalcanal), he married Mary Ella Dickinson and settled in southern California. His musical ambitions came alive in the mid 1950s and decided to make a go in the music world. He formed the “Musi-Cals,” a fine dance combo that played many different styles – but focused on the classic swing music of his youth. The band became quite popular, performing all over the San Diego north county region. For many years the “Cal Cara Combo” was the house band at the Staff NCO Club at the Marine Corps military base at Camp Pendleton, CA.

Although he retired from the music world in the early 1970s, he would still on occasion pick up the guitar and jam. When I was beginning the clarinet, we had many sessions in which he would share with me many of the classic standards from the 1930s/40s. Care was given to the proper harmonies/chords, phrasing, tempo, and most important, the “swing” of each piece. “Always play as if people were dancing.”


“Cal” Calcara, rear center; with Tony Camerata (left), accordion, Dick Miner, trumpet, and Wes Nichols, drums. Early 1960s

Cal, holding guitar, with early incarnation of his band, at Felicita Park, Escondido, CA, circa 1955. Wife Mary peeking over his shoulder

Poster advertising dance with “Cal Cara”
April 1963, in the window of Oceanside Music Supply

Cal jamming at his sister Lillian's 90th birthday party, 2004. Fort Lee, NJ

Cal rehearsing for the party

With Tad's wife Lynn on violin

Cal with Lynn and Tad



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