Albert Biales, a jazz icon on the St. Kate's campus

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 15, 2012 - 5:12 PM
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Al Biales, University of St. Catherine music professor

Albert Biales played trumpet for Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne and other musical luminaries from the early 1960s Rat Pack era.

"He would talk about the different personalities," his daughter Ellen said. "I think he really enjoyed that period. That was his youth."

A jazz musician and composer, Biales is considered a musical icon at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, where he taught music for nearly 35 years. He also performed and composed orchestral music, operas, concertos and chamber music.

Biales, who lived in St. Paul, died from heart-related problems on Dec. 6. He was 83.

Born in Cleveland to Russian immigrants in 1929, Biales began playing the trumpet at age 12. He went on to earn an undergraduate degree in music education and a master of arts in composition and theory at Ohio State University.

"I think his love for jazz started very early in his life," said Ellen. "I think he liked the improvisational feel to jazz. He was kind of inspired by the jazz musicians of that time and really loved that."

In the 1950s, Biales was drafted into the Army and played trumpet in the band at Fort Knox, Ky. After his stint in the service, he received a doctorate in historical musicology in 1962 from the University of California, Los Angeles. He won a Fulbright scholarship and composed part of his dissertation in Europe.

While at UCLA, he played in local clubs and performed in bands at Lake Tahoe's Harrah's and Cal-Neva casinos, where he played alongside Sinatra and other Rat Pack icons.

"Some of them were friendlier to the band than others," Ellen Biales said. "He kind of regaled us with tales of that."

After receiving his doctorate, Biales got a teaching job at St. Catherine's. There he met his wife, Barbara, who taught psychology at the school. The couple married in 1965 and had four daughters, all of whom went on to graduate from St. Catherine's.

At the university, Biales served as music department chairman for 18 years and taught a variety of courses, from music history and theory to jazz. While Biales loved his time performing, "composing and teaching were also really key aspects of his life, all the way along," Ellen said.

Biales' opera, "Mozart in Manhattan," with libretto by Brian Fogarty, a sociology professor at St. Catherine's, was performed for the university's centennial celebration in 2005.

One of his last compositions will be premiered in May with the St. Catherine Choral Society, a group composed of community members and students.

Besides his daughter Ellen, Biales is survived by his wife, Barbara; daughters, Joan Frankel and Susan Biales; and two grandchildren.

Services have been held.

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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