Hal Galper: All the things you are (or aren’t)

27 Jan

Playwright George Bernard Shaw said “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” But sometimes he who can, teaches in addition to doing.

The two are not mutually exclusive as New England’s  Hal Galper demonstrates any time he puts fingers to a piano. Yes, Galper, now 72, teaches in the classroom — he’s taught at the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music and Purchase Conservatory — and with the pen — he’s authored several articles for the magazine Down Beat, one for a scholarly journal on  stage fright, and a book on the touring musician.

But in between the writing of words and teaching of notes, he’s written plenty of notes, too. He’s led more than 20 albums and worked as a sideman for many more from Chet Baker to Phil Woods to Cannoball Adderly to the Brecker brothers and Nat Adderly and Lee Konitz and John Scofield. All told, he’s been involved in more than 80 albums.

Fortunately, Galper is not easily discouraged. Years ago his parents aspired for him to take over the family grocery store, and he might have. But because of a disability (eye), he qualified for a scholarship to Berklee. After graduation, a well-regarded Boston-area pianist told Galper, in his second lesson: “Forget it, kid. You’ll never play.” A decade later, Galper had that teacher’s job, and his respect (the pianist in question was magnanimous and promised Galper to never pre-judge an aspiring musician again). 

There was a brief time Galper actually didn’t play — when he went to Paris in 1960. He got few gigs, came home “discouraged” and didn’t play, by his own account, for two years.

We’re glad it was temporary, and that he plays and teaches. Said Galper: “Forgive the poor paraphrase, but, ‘Give a man lick and he’s just got a lick. Give him a concept and he has a million licks.’ When you change the way someone thinks you put into effect global, not incremental change.”

Here’s an example of Galper doing:


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