By Hal Galper

Published 2008 in The Note

Last March I was pleased to have been invited up to Boston’s Berklee Performance Center to play at a tribute for my old mentor Herb Pomeroy who passed away last year. While there I was reminded of an experience we shared together and I offer this as my little testimonial to his greatness.

We all talk about the demise of “School of the bandstand” created by the collapse of the apprenticeship system. I was lucky to have been of one of the last generations to experience it.

I “came up” in Boston and couple of years after leaving Berklee School Of Music, as it was then called, I started working around town with the its best musicians.

Alto saxophonist “Boots Mussulli,” of Stan Kenton fame, had a club called “The Crystal Room” in a town just outside of Boston where he’d feature a concert for the local luminaries from time to time. The bandstand was behind the bar and was only one person deep so the musicians had to set up in a row like it used be at the old Metropole in New York (for those old enough to remember it).

The set up was: myself on the far right at the spinet piano, next in line was bassist John Neves, then Herb. On the other side of Herb was drummer Jimmy Zitano and on the far left, alto saxophonist Charlie Mariano.

Charlie had quite a temper. His combos at Berklee were known for their acerbic content. He could be heard all the way down the hall yelling ” you no-playing MF’s don’t know s…t. Couldn’t swing your way out of a paper bag,” and so on.

In any case we were playing a song and it was Charlie’s solo. At one point he stopped, took his horn out of his mouth, turned, looking me at me yelling “!!!@%$&***!!!. He put his horn back in his mouth to resume his solo. Because he was so far away I couldn’t make out what he was yelling so I looked to Herb for some help as he was closer to Charlie. Herb looked back at me and shrugged his shoulders. He couldn’t hear Charlie either so I just kept on comping.

About a minute later Charlie stopped his solo, took his horn out of his mouth again, looked at me yelling “!!!@%$&***!!! with this angry expression on his face and resumed his solo.

I looked, questioningly, at Herb again seeking assistance. He walked over to me saying ” I think he can’t hear you and wants you to play harder.”

That made sense to me since Charlie was so far away from the puny little spinet that made hardly and sound at all. Trying to be the perfect accompanist, I played harder.

Charlie stopped again, twisted his face toward me in a furious rage and yelled “!!!@%$&***!!! and started playing again.

Still unable to fathom what Charlie wanted I looked to Herb again. He held both his hands out like playing the piano making the charade of someone pounding the keyboard, so I pounded the s..t out of the poor spinet.

The tune and the set finally ended. Overcome with curiosity and my desire to learn I fearlessly approached Charlie and asked him what he was yelling at me. Charlie said he was trying to get me to stroll. Never having heard the term before I asked him “what the f..k does stroll mean.” He explained, ” it means lay out.”

Thanks Herb. I’ll never forget you.


Hal Galper