Jazz pianist Galper bebops
By Lazaro Vega, The Grand Rapids Press, 1991
Call jazz pianist Hal Galper nowadays and he won’t be talking about his next gig with Phil Woods.
“No, no. We have parted. We got a divorce in August,” says Galper, who was Woods’ sideman for 10 years.
And don’t expect the 51-year-old jazz veteran to describe the urban portrait outside his window.
“After 20 years in New York City, I got my purple heart and got out. It was the smartest thing I ever did because it really has increased my productivity and creativity and lowered the stress in my life considerably.” Said Galper.
Today, Galper lives in a historic Victorian home in the Catskill Mountains north of New York City. As the money comes in from his jazz playing, he works toward completing restoration of the place.
The inventive bebop pianist doesn’t hesitate to talk about his trio, with bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Steve Ellington.
“My approach is orchestral,” says Galper of the conception behind his year-old group.
Like the Nat King Cole or Ahmad Jamal Trios, Galper attempts to blur the line between improvisation and composition. Galper says he attempts this by employing hooks, repeated rhythms and themes, to help the audience know where the band is in the tune.
“There’s a mixture of predetermined and un-predetermined stuff and hopefully the audience doesn’t know which is which. It keeps the interest going,” says Galper.
He believes that each tune must have a particular sound that is easily recognizable.
“If you take a record player and put it on in the middle of a cut, you can tell what band it is – or you can tell what tune it is, anyway. And that’s what I try to go for in my recordings,” he says.
“With this band I feel like I’ve come closer than I ever have in developing the trio style that I’m looking for,” he says.
The new trio had what Galper calls its “kiss and make up” gig last May. They toured Europe last August, and cut the new Concord CD “Invitation To A Concert” in November.
For the recording session, Galper sent out 50 invitations to the large Clinton Recording Studios in New York, set up a buffet with wine and then went about creating the music.
“That’s the way we used to record with Cannonball (Adderley). “You make a party out of it,” he says.
“It’s different when you’re playing for people than when you’re playing in a studio.” He says. “It helps me, for sure, in making those intuitive decisions about what to play when. When to get loud, when to get soft, when to get active, when to leave space, and the whole thing. How do you surprise? All the dramatic effects become easier to use when there’s an audience.”
Galper debated for a year about the sidemen he’s like to use in this working band and says, “Of course the drummer… In a trio is going to be the key. I thought, well, any drummer that’s going to be in New York City I’m not going to be able to get because everybody’s going to want him. Steve Ellington lives in Atlanta, and I love the way Steve plays…his spirit and his freedom, what can I say?” Galper recorded with Ellington in 1996 with the Sam Rivers group for the Blue Note LP “A New Conception.” They worked together for several years.
Bassist Todd Coolman is on the faculty of William Paterson University. He’s recently worked for James Moody and the Art Farmer/ Benny Golson Jazztet and plans to tour japan leading his own group with Renee Rosnes and Lewis Nash in September.
“He’s one of the rare individuals in terms of a bass player who has the old verities: who was brought up on Paul Chambers and Isreal Crosby and that ilk.” Says Galper of his bassist.
As for Galper, he’s on the faculty at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City, will spend a week teaching at Stanford University this summer and plans to visit Estoril, Portugal, soon.
He says he’s fortunate that Concord Records is backing him, because club owners like to know that there’s support for “what they laughingly call an emerging artist,” says Galper.
The ‘emerging artist” label is ironic when applied to Galper, who’s career began in Boston in 1959, has accompanied singers Joe Williams and Anita O’day as well as jazz musicians Tony Williams, Chet Baker and Stan Getz.