July 13, 1926 – September 5, 2019
No funeral services will be held, but a casual, public get-together to celebrate Matthew Lincoln Utal, 93, of Bandon, will be held at 5p.m., Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. Please visit the Facebook group “For the Love of Matt Utal” for more information, to post memories, and share stories.
Matt was born July 13, 1926 in Brooklyn, N.Y. to Eunice Blum and Louis Wattel. He passed away Sept. 5, 2019 in Bandon.
Eunice later moved to California and married Michael Utal, who adopted Matt in 1931. He began to study piano as a little boy and by the age of 10, Matt began to prepare himself for a career in music. While attending junior high, in Sacramento, he started to play the clarinet and loved the music of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. At CK McClatchy High School, he learned alto sax and met a girl named Lee, whom he would marry later in life.
As a teen, he visited the world famous Hollywood Palladium, listened to Les Brown and his Band of Renown, forming a dream to one day play with them, Benny Goodman, travel the world and become a studio musician. He was playing professionally by his junior year. After he graduated from high school, the family moved to Southern California and Matt attended UCLA, but in 1944, he enlisted in the Maritime Service to assist the country at the end of the war. Placed in a band on base, on Catalina Island, he was surprised to learn the band was made up of studio musicians with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Several became his mentors and advised, “Practice, study, and always try to play with the very best musicians.”
In 1946, Matt enrolled in Westlake College of Music to prepare for a career in commercial music. He graduated in two years and began playing with a variety of bands, including Earl Spencer, Henry Busse, Ted Fio Rito, Leighton Noble, Jerry Gray, Xavier Cugat, Stan Kenton, Cy Touff/Richie Kamuca Octet, Red Ingle, Bill Clifford, Dick Pierce, Skinnay Ennis, Alvino Ray, Benny Goodman, Billy May, and Gordon Jenkins.
In 1952, Matt married Lolita Hill and soon after, auditioned for Les Brown’s Band, securing a job that lasted 33 years. Their daughter Melinda was born in 1955. Matt also played for seven years with the NBC Staff Orchestra. During these years, he traveled the world with the Bob Hope USO shows, performing at different armed force bases to entertain troops during the Vietnam conflict, as well as playing concerts, and command performances for royalty. He played for the Dean Martin Show, Jerry Lewis Show, Laugh In, Andy Williams Show, Name That Tune, Peggy Lee TV shows, Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennet, Sammy Davis, Jr., Doris Day, Perry Como, Barbra Streisand, Rosemary Clooney, Dinah Shore, and others. Les Brown’s Band also played dance music at Disneyland during the summers, and played on cruises to Mexico, the Bahamas, and Alaska. Matt and Lita divorced in 1980. Matt then married his high school sweetheart, Lee. They lived in Glendale until they retired to live in Bandon in 1989.
Matt and Lee were introduced to the vibrant music and arts communities on the Southern Oregon Coast. After living in Bandon for several years, they moved to Coos Bay and Matt played with local groups It’s About Time and the Sweet and Low saxophone quartet, and for local theatre productions. He instructed students on the saxophone, clarinet, and flute. He loved reading in his “Thought-a-Torium,” visiting local libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops, and marveling at natural beauty.
In 2005, Matt was honored as “Festival King” of the Southcoast Dixieland Clambake Jazz Festival. Matt always had a twinkle in his eye, a kind and inquisitive question for others, and a hearty, contagious laugh. Open-minded, open-hearted and gracious, he delighted at getting to know others, no matter their age or background. In his later years, he lived in several local assisted living homes, still finding rich enjoyment in everyday life.
Matt is survived by his daughter, Melinda Utal and Brian Cornelius of San Pedro, Calif.; stepdaughters, Nancy and Rick Antle of New Haven, Conn. and Linda and Steve Gerner of Kaysville, Utah; niece, Kimberley Wolf and Jeff Wolf of Cherry Valley, Calif.;grandsons, Shoghi and Heidi Castel de Oro of San Diego, Calif. and Pablo Castel de Oro of Los Angeles, Calif.; step-grandchildren, Elizabeth and Ryan O’Donnell, Benjamin Antle, Joshua Gerner and Laura Gerner; step-great grandsons, Oliver O’Donnell and Walker O’Donnell; extended family members, Sylvian Castel de Oro and Gerardo Martinez; dear local friends, Margo Jackson, Dale and Judy Snyder, the Jensen family, Aaron Johnson and the Verger family, as well as a world of friends, musician colleagues, and music students.
Matt was preceded in death by his wife, Wilma Lee Utal who died in 2017, his first wife, Lolita Hill Bissell, his mother, Eunice Utal, his adoptive father, Michael Utal, and his birth father, Louis Wattel.
In lieu of flowers, friends might consider a contribution to Southern Poverty Law Center, https://donate.splcenter.org/ which Matt supported for many decades hoping to make the world a kinder and more just place.