Jazz musician Valentino E. DeCastris “Val Eddy,” 88, died Aug. 4, 2014. He was born at home in south Rockford on July 3, 1926, to Orlando and Amalia (Ludovici) DeCastris, immigrants from Ferentino, Italy, Rockford’s Sister City.
Orlando was a leader in Rockford’s Italian community, and died when Val was in high school. Amalia didn’t speak, read or write English, nor drive, so Val became the man of the family early. Strongly family- and faith-oriented, he graduated with West High School’s first class of 1944.
Val was a professional musician for more than 70 years, repairing a broken mandolin and performing his first concert at age 12. Self-taught, he was inspired by neighbor Gabriel Giorgi (father of long-time state Rep. Zeke Giorgi), playing mandolin on Cunningham Street. He was a World War II veteran and performed with the Army’s Dance and Marching bands. He married Arthur Murray Dance Instructor Patricia Macaluso, who was largely responsible for his success, traveling “on the road” with him and chronicling his career.
A consummate entertainer, Val played bass, mandolin and banjo, and any string instrument placed in his hands. He was a vocalist, band leader and music instructor, and happiest playing music — a “musician’s musician.” He performed regionally, nationally and internationally with notables Boyd Raeburn, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Del Courtney, Bob Vincent, Louie Armstrong, Lawrence Welk, Les Brown, Stan Kenton, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Danny Thomas, Jack Benny and Martha Raye.
Forming the Val Eddy Duo with Rockford pianist extraordinaire Homer Carlson, they were together for 50 years, recording for MCA. Dave Pitts (Lamond) joined them in the 1950s as the Val Eddy Trio. They performed live nightly for years on the TV show The Song Shop on WTVO. Locally, Val’s bands had extended engagements at the Town Lounge, Times Lounge, Red Garter, Playroom, Carriage House, Cart, Faust, Stockholm Inn, Riveria Ballroom, Manor, Gun Club, Shebanni’s, Trinacria, Maxson Manor, Stan Hack’s and Brandywine.
Val knew thousands of songs and remembered everyone’s favorites. He was beloved by everyone, his many fans following him throughout the years and miles. Val preferred progressive jazz and felt that jazz was America’s native legacy to the world. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rockford Area Music Industry (RAMI) organization, Special Recognition Award from the Greater Rockford Italian American Association, and an Illinois State House Resolution. He was Father of the Year at Ethnic Heritage Museum and, with Homer Carlson, received a Rockford Sesquicentennial Medal for their outstanding artistic contributions to the city.
Survivors are daughter, Valeri DeCastris; son-in-law, David Beccue; sister, Mary Zandonatti; brother-in-law, Jimmy Capicotte; nieces, nephews and cousins here and in Italy. Predeceased by wife, Pat, her twin, Connie, and brother-in-law, Richard Zandonatti. Visitation from 5 to 9 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 13 at Fitzgerald Funeral Home, 1860 Mulford Road. Catholic Mass at 11 a.m. with Visitation from 10 to 11 a.m. at Holy Family Church on Thursday, Aug. 14. Memorials to Val DeCastris c/o 918 Cunningham St., Rockford, IL 61102, for music scholarships for underprivileged youth. Share condolences and memories at www.fitzgeraldfh.com.
From the Aug. 13-19, 2014, issue