It is commonly stated in the jazz press (both critical and historical) that the post Be-Bop piano jazz tradition was established by the cats……..Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and to a lesser extent Cecil Taylor-in so far as the modernistic vocabulary. Where if at all do you see your own playing and influences against this history?

I’ve never felt I was anything but highly derivative of everyone you’ve mentioned. I doubt that I’ve added any original vocabulary to the genre nor do I feel that I’m anything more than a stylist rather than an originator like Chick, Herbie and McCoy. I wanted to be able to play anything anybody else could play so I copied everybody except (contrary to popular opinion) Bill Evans. My roots are the Post Be-Bop generation.

Coleman Hawkins, in an recorded interview (I think on a Prestige Record), said you had to go to New York City twice. The first time to get the lay of the land (learn the streets, subways, parts of town, etc.), meet musicians, go to the clubs to hear what was going on and assess your abilities and what you need to work on to be competitive in NY. Then you go home and practice until you think you’re ready to return. It took me three times.

When I got there the first time I had been working on my Pentatonic improvising, a style just becoming fashionable.

I lived on a Ave. C just around the corner from Slugs and spent ions hanging out there and when I could, sitting in. This was when Slugs had only an upright piano and the bandstand was on the left side wall of the club. The piano’s mid range keys were mostly broken so pianists were relegated to playing in the high register. I’d be playing my solos, trying to work my way through this new vocabulary when I noticed that the other piano players in the club, who were also trying to figure out Pentatonics, were sitting on my right side where they could see what my right hand was playing. I was shocked because, in all humility, I always thought I was playing “catch-up” with what was going on, not that I had a jump start on it. From that point on I played my solos in the bass range where my body blocked the keyboard from view.

When I returned to NYC for my third time I had a pretty good grip on Pentatonic playing and started my quintet with my old friends Mike & Randy Brecker. The band was a workshop where I could fine tune the concept by composing and playing in the genre with others who liked to play the same way. The genre did take me away from my post be-bop roots for a while but once having gone through that period, Pentatonics just became another element of my “post-bop” vocabulary and conception.

I had, over the years, avoided listening to Bill Evans. When I first heard a record of his I was chagrined as I believed we both had a similar stylistic bent. I stayed away from him but if he came to Boston to play I‘d be there every night, soaking it up, but I never tried to copy him. Any stylistic similarity between Bill and myself is purely coincidental. It has only been since I broke up my touring trio in 2000 that Bill’s music began to call me to it. His live recordings Consecration and The Last Waltz simply blew me away. His playing was so intense, so packed with musicality, ideas and prodigious pianist technique I had to take a break from listening to the collection because he was beginning to intimidate me. Not having been intimidated in years, it was a welcome but disturbing experience. I’m a pressure player, the more the better. This recent hiatus from 30 years touring on the road was the first chance I had to practice and I began to study Bill but not to play like him. In my youth, I’d though that the reason I picked this pianist or that pianist to model was that I wanted to play like them. Eventually I realized that the reason for selecting a model to study is not for what they can to show you about their playing but for what they can to show you about your own playing. The message he was sending me finally got through to me, to clean up and develop my harmonic concept. I’ve been since working on counterpoint, which they didn’t teach at Berkee and studying the way Brazilian composers harmonize their tunes.

Let s go back to two recordings from your past both on the now defunct Inner City Records label.Please talk about “Reach Out!” (L/P Inner City #2067) featuring the Brecker Brothers and the session (also released in 1977) “Now Hear This” (L/P Inner City #3012). The question is two fold I want you to talk more in depth about your work with that particular band (featuring the Brecker Brothers);this is a lead in to the other session which came out in 1977 with Cecil McBee-etc.The date “Now Hear This” with the great Cecil McBee and drummer Tony Williams….

After the early 60’s Mainstream albums “The Guerilla Band” and “Wild Bird“ with Mike & Randy, we each kind of drifted off to our separate fates. I, to eventually play with Stan Getz for a year. Then Bobby Hutcherson/Harold Land Quintet for a year and my three year stint with Cannonball’s band. Randy hit the studios as well as B,S &T and Mike became the busiest rock and roll funk saxophonist on the New York studio scene. Eventually they morphed into their own killer fusion/funk band “The Brecker Brothers.“

The years after leaving Cannon’s band was another sparse period for me. I assumed that once I’d had the “Cannonball-Seal-Of-Approval” the phone would be jumping off the hook but for almost three years after I left his band I got few calls as a sideman. I’d heard about a rumor going around that you shouldn’t hire Hal because he’s to strong and eventually takes over a band, musically, that is. I’m not so sure how true the rumor was but after playing three years, fifty weeks a year, six nights a week, with the strongest band I‘d ever played with, I was playing the strongest I have ever been or would be. Liebs has written about how difficult it is these days to achieve and maintain that high a performance level because the scene had changed so much from the days where we had the then commonplace opportunity to play three years, fifty weeks a year, six nights a week, on the road with the a strong band. One can only get and maintain that level of strength by playing an extensive amount of time in an intense and continuous musical environment. In all humility, by the time I left Cannon’s band I was so strong I could carry a band just by myself. It’s quite possible that when working as a sideman, my strength was working against me.

Since no one was hiring me, it finally dawned on me that, if I wanted to play, I had to start my own band. With a $2,000 grant from The National Endowment For The Arts, I approached Mike and Randy with the idea of starting a band. We had an understanding that I’d create an opportunity for us to play some jazz together, write the music and book the gigs and they’d lend their Marquee Value to the band’s attractiveness. Each of us had spent the intervening years becoming accomplished in the current modal/intervalic style of improvising that was the fashion of the time so I wrote music that created that kind of sound.

My first attempt to book the band was with Max Gordon. I’d noted that the Village Vanguard was “dark” Sunday afternoons so I approached him in the club’s kitchen one night and offered to bring the quintet with myself, Mike and Randy, Wayne Dockery and Billy Hart in for four Sunday afternoons,gratis. I offered to pay the band if he paid for the promotion. He turned around and walked away without saying a word. That happens to me a lot.

Undeterred, I walked down 7th. Avenue to Sweet Basil’s and made the same offer to Blaise and Dwayne. Knowing a good thing when they saw it they agreed to the proposal. By the third Sunday we had lines around the block and in the three years that followed played very club in town, many of them twice, including, I might add, The Village Vanguard. For years after that we were the “sub” band at Sweet Basil‘s when they needed a fill-in band. Whenever we played there the bar was knee deep in musicians. One of our local NYC wags dubbed the us “Average White Trane.” I loved it! We were pretty hot in New York for a few years until we played the town out and had to go on the road to keep working.

During that period, around the mid-seventy’s, the director of Century Records, an audiophile recording company, heard us at Basil‘s and asked us to record. That was the first incarnation of the “Reach Out” recording. When Century went bust (I always have a reversion clause in my recording contracts so the rights to the masters came back to me), I sold the master to Inner City Records. They were trying to expand from their the play-along market into the real recording business. They went bust. Again, when the rights reverted back to me, Steeplechase Records bought it. They haven’t gone bust. Yet.

After three years together I broke the quintet up. The avarice of so many promoters, club owners and agents was becoming a threat to the friendship between Mike, Randy and myself, leaving a bad taste in our mouths. Potential clients began to see me as a conduit to get to the “Brecker Brothers” (a title I never used while the band was together). On one of the last gigs we played the club marque advertised “The Brecker Brothers Quintet featuring Hal Galper.” Before the first set I was out in the parking lot knocking the letters off their sign with a broom handle. When I got back on stage I announced we had been purposely mis-advertized by the club owner and anyone could all have their money back if they wanted it. The club owner was back stage shitting purple onions. We all began to feel uncomfortable from that experience. I guess it was a sign that we’d had a good number of years playing and recording together and it might be the appropriate time to part ways.

Also during this period ENJA Records‘s Matthias Winckelmann heard the band at Basils’s and asked me to lead the “Now Hear This“ recording with Hino, my home boy Tony, and Cecil. At the end of the date Tony asked me to join his quartet because organist Larry Young had left, but he wanted me to play electric piano. I was so adamantly committed to knuckling down to get the acoustic piano together I said no. Probably not the best career choice but definitely a worthwhile pianistic move.

I went on to record many albums for Matthias. He also reissued the first release (on Gryphon/RCA) of the quintet‘s live New Orleans recording “Speak With A Single Voice” with Bobby Moses on drums, who replaced Billy, who was so in demand I couldn’t always get him for gigs.

Many years later I found, hidden away in the back of one of my closets, the 25 track master tapes from that live session with killer tracks that had never been released, probably because I thought at the time my own playing sucked. Of course many years later, it didn’t‘t sounded so bad. The audio tapes were the old Ampeg brand and so old, when we tried to play them the first time they shed their covering, jamming up the studio’s machines. The tapes were finally resurrected by actually baking them in a specially designed oven, miraculously bringing them back to their original condition long enough to transfer the music to more modern recording media. When “Speak With A Single Voice” was reissued as “Redux 78” on Carl Jefferson‘s Concord Jazz label we found another never-released out take from the New Orleans recording (we recorded three sets a night for two nights) that were actually in the original masters to “Speak”. I got the out-take back and Doubletime Records’s Jamey Aebersold Jr. baked them again and added the albums title tune, “Children Of The Night.”

During the past few years we have seen the electric piano reclaim it s popularity. Any thoughts on how this came about?

I didn’t know it had. I’m not a fan of electronic instruments, mostly because I felt I didn’t have an aptitude for them. Never could make them sound as good as Zawinal or George Duke could, even though, little know as it is, I played a part in the development of the first performance version of the Moog Synthesizer. At the urging of my good friend and old schoolmate, synthesizer guru and fellow madman Chris Swanson, Bob Moog invited Reggie Workman, Bob Moses and myself to spend a week at his Trumansburg, New York factory to help develop the first keyboard performance model. Before that everything on the Moog worked by patch chords. At the end of the week we played the first ever live concert of the keyboard model of the Moog Synthesizer at the Trumansburg High School concert hall with Chris on lead Moog, myself on accompaniment Moog, Reggie on bass Moog and Bobby Moses on drums. I have a CD I burned of the cassette recording of the concert and it’s utter madness. The machines had a proclivity to go off and do things in their own. As a result of this week in Trumansburg the performance synthesizer was born. You can probably blame the following digital musical instrument revolution on us.

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