David Molinari and The New Dimensions trio, 1967

Photos by Michael Broschat


David—the piano player, his brother Jim (bass), and various drummers (this one’s Mick Pontier, unless I remember incorrectly) played just what it looks like they’re playing: straight-ahead jazz. The location for at least one of these shots, and probably both, was the Catalyst, a converted hotel dining room that had become a coffee house in Santa Cruz, California, probably when the University of California campus opened there in 1965.

I never heard that anyone got paid playing at the Catalyst, and you could certainly hear some different kinds of music. I even played there once, but that story a bit later. The most memorable performance I can recall was a no-name group from out of town that played amplified acoustic instruments, more or less in a style we might call “fusion” today. In general, it was a place people went to hang out, just past the time when people hung out in bars. Everyone still smoked, you’ll see beer bottles on the tables, but you could also get some great tea and assorted “modern” goodies. More the coffee house of the 1950s than a bar, but I think its large size gave it a sense of purpose it might not have had otherwise. Anyway.

So, there was a lot of the 50s in the place, and a lot of the 60s. The 70s hadn’t come yet.

The best relevant story about Dave and the boys, considering just the musical side of things, occurs in a book—Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The book follows the antics of Ken Keasey and his Merry Pranksters as they travel around bringing the world into the 60s, whether they want to come or not. In the last chapter of that book, the Pranksters (who also played what was called ‘music’) had a gig at a place (not the Catalyst—and that’s a whole other story) where the Molinari Trio was playing. Wolfe builds up to a fight between Jim, the Molinari bassist, and probably the whole Prankster band (remembering Jim), by telling his readers that the trio represented old music, and therefore old times. The Pranksters, playing God only knew what, represented new times, the modern world. Although Dave is no longer with us, how proud I am that he stood for something that so outlasted the Pranksters or Dumpsters or Jokesters that we no longer remember them. The 60s having moved into the 70s, 80s, 90s, and whatever we call the new century.

The excerpt from Wolfe’s book that concerns the trio is here...

Oh, so who’s the babe (and the guy with her)? The night I happened in with the camera, there were Pam and Doug, two acquaintances from high school (I was a couple years out of high school, and Pam had probably just graduated). I hadn’t known they were a couple. And, it turned out, they were only a couple for the week. In the spirit of the times (free love and all), they’d taken some kind of motel or whatever for a few days (Santa Cruz is over a small mountain from where we all went to high school and where they still lived). We knew each other, but could hardly be called friends. Still, they were so desperate for some kind of acknowledgment of what they were doing that they insisted I come to a home-cooked meal the next night. I had absolutely nothing against what they were up to, and certainly envied Doug, but didn’t feel close enough to them to want to do that. They (probably Pam) were adamant, and I agreed to go. It was a good, simple meal, and was over “too soon.” Instead of trying to think of things to talk about, I took them on a ride around the Santa Cruz hills in my small sports car, and especially to the new college, Crown, being built at UCSC. I was to start there as a transfer student, the next fall.

I hope they’ve had good lives.

Oh, and my debut (and final performance) as a musician at the Catalyst. Well, it came about like this.

Nancy and Dave had a piano in their house, of course, and more nights than I can remember, some of us ended up at said house and piano. Somehow, I’d gotten to playing with a guitar. Notice that I said playing ‘with’, not playing. I was doing some strange things (even to my ears) with a couple of the high strings, more or less influenced by the Indian music that was making its presence known in those days. One night, Dave said, “Mike, bring that thing to the Catalyst for our gig tomorrow night, and let’s see what we can do with it.” I was so young (we all were, really) that I did it. Whatever “magic” Dave thought he heard on his living room floor those nights disappeared about the time I walked in, and I’ll never forget the silence that followed upon my attempts to make some sounds come out of that guitar. I have a moving list of Most Embarrassing Moments of My Life, and that one gets up there often enough.

We had some good times, and David helped us grow up at a time when we needed someone a bit more mature but still with us, know what I mean? I can’t listen to “Since I Fell For You” without thinking of him. RIP.