The Troy Street Observer

Hal Galper Live at the Stable, 1962

Pianist Hal Galper was a busy guy in Boston in 1962. Much of that activity centered around the Stable, the cellar club on Huntington Avenue, where Galper practiced his craft almost every night. Tuesdays and Thursdays, he played with Herb Pomeroy’s big band, while on weekends he worked with Varty Haroutunian’s small groups. On Mondays, he was a regular in trombonist Gene DiStasio’s Quintet, and their music is the subject of today’s post.

Photo of Hal Galper in about 1980
Hal Galper in about 1980

In April 1962, everyone knew the Stable had a date with the wrecking ball. The Commonwealth was razing the building to make way for a turnpike on-ramp. The musicians played on, though, and one Monday night, an unknown person captured DiStasio’s Quintet on tape. That recording ended up with Ray Santisi, and is now the fourth installment in my Santisi tapes project. It was Hal Galper, by the way, who replaced Santisi in the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra in 1959.

After transferring the music from the original 1/4-inch tape to a digital format, I sent a copy to Galper, knowing full well that musicians often take a dim view of being asked to listen to the way they played “back then.” But he was game, and in January 2017 we talked by phone about the music and his time in Boston.

“I left Berklee in 1958, because the schoolwork was getting in the way of my practicing. And I needed that time. I was studying with Madame Chaloff, and practicing six hours a day, six days a week. Up to that point, I’d been playing a lot but my chops were getting slower and slower, and my hands were getting stiff, and basically she saved me technically—really helped me get my chops together. I studied with her for about three years.”

“By 1962, the year of this recording, my chops sounded pretty good. So it must have been working! In fact, I was listening to my solo on “The Blues,” and at one point I start playing what appear to be double-time lines, for two or three choruses. I’m still playing that!”

The tenor saxophonist in the DiStasio Quintet was Sam Rivers. DiStasio, Rivers and Galper were all members of the Herb Pomeroy big band, stepping out of it on Monday nights to explore different sounds. The quintet’s other long-time regulars, bassist Phil Morrison and drummer Tony Williams, were Bostonians from outside the jazz “establishment” represented by the Pomeroy/Berklee contingent. The blending of talents produced exciting music, and other musicians around town took notice. “Gene’s was one of the hip groups in Boston,” recalled Hal.

Rivers and Galper: a Creative Pairing

Hal Galper and Sam Rivers shared a long history. “I had been hearing about Sam Rivers for years, and I just had a feeling that when he came back to town, we were going to be a match for each other, and it ended up being true. We loved playing together, and we were both very critical of the music that was going on in the scene. In our opinion it was very conservative, and we were trying to break out of it. By the time of this recording, I had already been playing with Sam for quite a while.”

Neither Morrison nor Williams were on stage at the Stable this particular Monday night, but their substitutes were more than capable. The bassist was John Neves, also a Pomeroy regular. Recalled Galper: “He played completely by ear. He didn’t know any theory. Sometimes if you asked him to play a chorus of blues in F in front, you had to give him the F first. And once you gave him the F, he could play anything under the sun. He was amazing. He was one of the people who taught me how to play free—he was a great free player. Nobody knows that. He didn’t do it too often, but he did it with me!”

Peter Littman, a former Chet Baker sideman, was the drummer, and Galper remembered him playing with great intensity. “The saying at the time was, there are piano players who still bear the scars of playing with Pete Littman.”

Galper exited the Pomeroy orbit just a few months after this date. (Hal tells the whole story in his 2007 Cadence magazine interview.)  That September, Down Beat referred to him as a “former Pomeroy sideman” when he worked with Rivers and Williams at the Atlantic House on Cape Cod. Hal scuffled after that, eventually catching on with Chet Baker in 1964. He reunited with Rivers in the mid-1960s at Connolly’s in Boston and the Club 47 in Cambridge, joined by Steve Ellington on drums.

The collaboration with Sam Rivers reached a high point in 1966 with Sam’s Blue Note album, A New Conception, also with Steve Ellington, and Herbie Lewis on bass. It is a sometimes-radical reinterpretation of familiar standards such as “I’ll Never Smile Again” and “Secret Love,” and shows the flexible approach to rhythm that Sam and Hal developed, and that is still present in Galper’s playing today.

Hal Galper has covered a lot of ground since his nights at the Stable—two years with Chet Baker, three with Cannonball Adderley, three leading his own quintet with Michael and Randy Brecker, ten with Phil Woods. Since 1990, he’s led his own trios, first with bassist Jeff Johnson and Ellington, then with his current lineup of Johnson and drummer John Bishop. To my ears, this trio’s recent recordings on Origin Records are exceptional, with Galper playing with assurance in his rubato style, and the trio tinkering repeatedly with the tempo.

So, on to the music played April 9, 1962. Galper credits Red Garland and Wynton Kelly as early influences, and there are traces of both here. (For a time, Galper led his own “pseudo-Miles” quintet in Boston, inspired by the Prestige-era Davis band, which included Garland.) This tune was labeled “Blues (Theme)” on the tape box, and it features Hal Galper all the way. This track started side 2 on the tape and we join it in progress. Galper kicks it up a notch just past the three-minute mark with some outstanding play, which is exuberant throughout. As he told me: “The only reason to play is to have fun, you know? If it isn’t, go do something else.”

I’ll be featuring more of this session in another installment of the Stantisi tapes.

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