In the Jan/Feb 1992 issue of JazzTimes by David Zych

It was a growing compulsion that led pianist Hal Galper to eventually leave the Phil Woods Quintet after 10 years to form his own group.

“As an accompanist for a total of 35 years, it was my job to be a professional and flexible,” he said at his home in Cochecton, New York, a dot on the map in the Catskills. “But somewhere, in the back of my mind, I always wondered, when is the time going to come when I don’t have to compromise at all?”

Galper‘s desire was to communicate his music, and he knew that the piano trio was the way to go.

“Phil was a very generous leader,” he said. “He was giving me trio features every night, and the reaction from the fans was always the same – they said they didn’t know I could play that way!”

The compulsion finaly took root in May 1990 when Galper’s trio was born, with Steve Ellington on drums and Todd Coolman on bass.

“It took me a year to decide on the trio members,” he added. “It’s a tough decision, because you’re not just picking instruments – you’re selecting personalities and character. Remember that trio John Scofield had with Adam Nussbaum and Steve Swallow? It was one of my favorite groups in jazz, and it worked because of the chemistry between its members. You could have had any other drummer and bass player, but it wouldn’t have been the same. That’s why I took my time. I was looking for that same kind of magic.”

Ellington, 50, played with Galper in the Sam Rivers Quartet in Boston many years ago. “Steve and I know each other’s playing extremely well, even though we haven’t played together in 30 years,” said Galper. “Todd, 37, is a younger bass player with older verities. He’s not just playing the amp – he has a percussive attack and a bottomy, full and rounded sound. There aren’t too many around like him today. Both are very undervalued. They also believe in the trio and it’s music, and they want to make things happen. That’s why these cats are with me.”

So, everything is in place. Galper’s trio is playing to standing ovations and recording to rave reviews; his latest, Invitation to a Concert (On Concord), demonstrates the personality and the communicative skills of the group.

The seeds for all this were planted a long time ago. The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s classic album, Jazz Goes to College, was an influence that eventually led Galper into jazz, as was an early recording by George Shearing called Changing with the Times. He tips his hat to that early Brubeck album on his Concord CD with a bluesy version of the Brubeck/Desmond classic, Balcony Rock.

Which trios influenced him? “Ahmad Jamal, Ahmad Jamal and Ahmad Jamal,” he immediately replied. “Ahmad was one of the major forces in contemporary jazz – much like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, though he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. His trio approach is something I’m not copying, but every time I hear him, the ring of truth occurs, and I feel he has shown me a way for what I want to do.”

Galper has worked with meny others, including Chet Baker, (“The guy had a lot of problems, but I learned from him. He was a master improvisor”), Stan Getz (He taught me how to communicate with my instrument to other band members”), and Cannonball Adderley (“He worked my ass off.”)

When it comes to practice, Galper admits he’s not a disciplinarian. “My chops are at a certain level now, and as long as I keep playing, they’re OK. I don’t practice for technique any more. I practice for information and new ideas. Now that I’m in a trio setting, I can play more orchestrally, and I’m revamping my harmonic structures, making them fuller and more intense. Whenever I get a break from the business of the trio, I go to the piano for an hour or two to work on new voicings and arrangements for the trio.”

His solo recording, part of Concord’s Maybeck Piano Series, was downright fun for him. “You know, every piano player has to do a solo album,” he said, “and, after 35 years, it was my turn. Even Ahmad’s never done one!”

But if you want to get a rise out of Galper, start talking about the business of jazz. Ask him if he’s upset that more people haven’t heard of him, or if he believes there is no money in jazz.

“Hey, I’ve done almost 60 recordings. I’ve had 14 albums under my own name, and yet people say they don’t know me? My itinerary says that’s not true. We’ve been busy and I’ve grossed more in the first year with the trio than in the three years I had my quintet with the Brecker Brothers. America is a jazz nation, anyone who says it isn’t is perpetuating a myth.”

Galper believes there is nothing wrong with jazz – just with the business of jazz. “The business is in terrible shape; it’s mishandled, it’s inefficient, and it’s antiquated,” he charged. He points to a 1982 study published by the National Endowment for the Arts showing that 54 million Americans like jazz.

“Admittedly, there are some people who don’t know about me – quite a few- but I’m taking some very concentrated steps to correct that,” he said. “I’m maintaining my own mailing list, and I’m using a lot of contemporary marketing techniques with the trio.”

What Galper wants is for musicians to regain control of their destinies and tap directly into the huge jazz market he feels is now ripe in America, as well as internationally.

“People who say there is no money in jazz don’t want you to know the truth. What kind of business person stays in business if he or she is not making any money? All this is a myth propagated by those in power to keep musicians out of control – to make them feel like there’s nothing they can do about it themselves.”

Check out his math: “Let’s say that my goal is to sell 20,000 albums per album release. If I get 20,000 worldwide to spend $40 a year on my group once a year – for one CD and a live performance – that’s $800,000 – almost a million gross for a group that has 20,000 fans. And if there are 54 million fans in the USA, how many of them are there in the world? And if your record label has 100 albums that sell 1,000 copies each, how much money is that?” Jazz, he asserts, is a big bucks industry and it’s time the music stopped pleading poverty.

“Any record producer or promoter who says he’s not making any money is either telling lies or is a lousy businessman.”

Galper, a faculty member at the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York, is equally outspoken about jazz education. In the July/August issue of Letter from Evans, he said that “There are thousands of music departments in the U. S., and a lot of people are making their living teaching notes and the theories behind the music. But, you see, what these people don’t realize is that anything you can write down on a piece of paper is going to be the easiest part of the music to learn…there is so much more that cannot be written down.” Galper says he can teach a person in one year all the theories he or she need to know to play all the genres of jazz. “It does not take four years to learn all the easy parts of the music. It takes 15 or 20 years to learn all the hard parts.” Galper, beyond any doubt, has learned all those hard parts of the music, and he is having more fun playing than he’s ever has before. “I was just telling the cats that, after the last tour, I knew that some of the fun we’re having is rubbing off onto the audience.”

Plans for future releases from Concord – and Galper says’s he’s “deliriously happy” recording for that label – including an album of previously unreleased tracks with the Brecker Brothers, an album with the Airmen of Note, with whom Galper has been appearing, a trio album at the beginning of the year, and, perhaps, another solo album as well.

He’s not doing as much writing as he did with Phil Woods; the trio isn’t performing original tunes. “My outlet now is arranging standards, and I’m sensing a real freedom with the music. The trio is reading each other and playing at a deeper level.”

And what of the future? “Today, Cochecton. Tomorrow, the world,” Galper says jokingly. But his art and the business of his art form are, in truth, no jokes. He’s serious about his future, the future of all the others who make a living playing jazz, and he’s serious about stripping away the antiquated business techniques that keep the light of jazz shielded from view.

Through jazz education, aggressive marketing, and the kind of music he’s playing today, Galper is clearly on the right course for bringing the music home to those 54 million Americans.