A shorter version of this article first appeared on page 30 of the June 2013 issue of Allegro. To read the full interview with Al Gallodoro in his own words, scroll down to about the middle of this document.)
Introduction and interview by Ted Hegvik, email@example.com
Al Gallodoro’s career spanned the scope and trajectory of 20th Century American music as that of no other. He was born in the year Thomas Edison made his first disc recordings (1913), the Six Brown Brothers were the rage of the vaudeville circuit with their Saxophone Sextet, and Rudy Wiedoeft had yet to make his first recording.
Those decades at the turn of the century gave birth to a unique brand of spectacular musician, incomparable even to this day. Most were from poor immigrant families, all faced hardship and poverty: Rudy Wiedoeft, 1893, the first member of the Wiedoeft Family Orchestra to be born in this country; Louis Armstrong, 1901, rising from the slums and bordellos of New Orleans to become the ultimate jazz icon; Benny Goodman, 1909, raised in the Chicago tenements where he said a meal was often just a cup of coffee; and Al Gallodoro, 1913, his short boyhood spent in the sun drenched marshes of Tickfaw, Louisiana.
Their practice habits were legendary. Arnold Brilhart said of Rudy Wiedoeft, “You just can’t believe how much he practiced.” Harry James said that Goodman practiced more that his whole band put together. But all agree, no one ever out-practiced Al Gallodoro.
They were prodigious performers by their early teens, yet lacked formal education. When Wiedoeft was asked what schools he had attended, he replied, “The School of Hard Knocks, just like you.”
Money haunted them their whole lives: Wiedoeft spent years searching for the Lost Dutchman gold mine of Death Valley; and both Goodman and Gallodoro provided endless fodder for band bus musicians telling money yarns coast to coast.
Looking back, after all these years, we can recognize these patterns as they emerge, the idiosyncracies, the unique personalities, the hard work. But their genius?
Ah, that’s the mystery.
Al Gallodoro was working vaudeville and the prohibition clubs while still a boy, and as a teen rode the Wiedoeft phenomenon with his own radio show (”I did the Wiedoeft solos – that’s all there was.”). At 15 he was an integral part of New Orleans jazz (“Papa Jack and I started the Dukes of Dixieland at the Orpheum Theater in 1928. They’re all dead now, and the Dukes of Dixieland is a forgotten thing.”). He thrived and soloed in the big band era (“We played every state in the Union.”), the rise of broadcast radio (“Every station had its own staff musicians.”), and the New York freelance scene (We did jingles, sound tracks, background music, you name it.”). The networks all had symphony orchestras and his amazing skills were in constant demand (“I worked with so many conductors I can’t remember them all.”).
His ‘Saxophone Contrasts’ album became a saxophone classic – no other saxophonist could have done it. He soloed everywhere (“I did the ‘Concerto for Doubles’ at ten universities that year.”), and left a legacy of school programs and clinics across the country (”In Indianapolis I did eight schools in two days, and then I did a concert on the second night. That was rough. But if you enjoy doing it, it’s O.K.”)
He saw the rise of Rock and Roll (“ABC started a live Rock and Roll show – four bands a day, starting in the morning. Before Rock there was just one ‘feel’ to pop tunes, your musical show, your movies. Now there were two ‘feels.’”).
He saw the demise of the network symphonies (“Antonini at CBS was the last to go.”) and, finally, the phasing out of staff musicians altogether. (“Today the music business is shot, actually shot. Believe me, things are rough. You don’t hear clarinets and saxes any more, right? You just hear singing, guitars, and so forth. That’s it)
What can you say to someone who has never heard Al Gallodoro? Beauty of tone, never sacrificed for technique, though the technique is beyond anything you had thought possible. Perfect intonation in all registers and circumstances. Warmth of expression, with a direct and immediate appeal. His altissimo range on saxophone has never been surpassed. He would rise and fall into that register with no hint of transition, tongued or slurred, every note right on the head and beautifully in tune.
To me, the closest comparison would be to Jascha Heifetz. They both stood out above all others, and not just for their total technical command. There was a kind of universal musicality, an always expressive perfection that set them apart. Even their tones and vibrato were very similar: beautifully focused, always contained, no matter what the technical demands, and a classic expressivity transcending style and era.
On the other hand, the clarinet, his first love, was surprisingly different: the sheer velocity of the technique, the tone leaping from the instrument in great sweeping cascades of sound. Where the saxophone was lighter, sweeter, more laid back – classic – the clarinet seemed heavier, fuller, packed with sound – more romantic. If the saxophone was Jascha Heifetz, the clarinet was Harry James, bursting with passion. He played clarinet under the world’s greatest conductors on the highest international level, yet such are the ironies of history that he will probably be remembered most for his saxophone playing.
Yet, as if to top this astonishment of riches, he was also one of the great improvisers – ideas leaped from his horns at the speed of thought, melodic, inventive, and almost unplayable by any one else. His vocabulary was traditional Western music and the American Songbook, which is probably why he is not thought of as a jazz musician.
Some years back, I was at a dinner party in Tampa, Florida – an orchestra fundraiser – when Ruggiero Ricci, the internationally renowned violin virtuoso, appeared at the door, violin in tow. He was quest artist with the orchestra that week. He chatted a few minutes, took out his violin, tuned, secured it under his chin, and said, “What would you like to hear?” Someone said, “How about the Bach Chaconne?” and he was off. He did this for an hour, anything we asked, done to concert perfection.
That’s Al Gallodoro. He would stand before music professionals at national conventions, universities, school clinics – everywhere. “What would you like to hear?” And he meant anything: concertos, orchestral excerpts, the literature for three instruments, songs, improvisations; he talked, explained, demonstrated chords, techniques. He stood in a room with the woodwinds of the Marine Band and dazzled them for two hours. “What would you like to hear?”
He once played a Klose clarinet etude for a friend of mine, then said, “That’s not easy, but here’s what’s hard” and proceeded to play it through a half step lower. Never a falter. Never a misplaced tongue.
There was a Paul Whiteman retrospective concert in Philadelphia in the late 70’s organized by Dick Sudhalter. It was a large aggregation featuring many of the original members. The Academy of Music was packed. For some reason, the lead alto chair was on the far right, and I couldn’t help but think how awkward it would be to get to center stage when it was time to solo. But when he was introduced, and the announcer finished with, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the World’s Greatest Saxophonist – Al Gallodoro!” he leaped from his chair and danced to center stage, his feet hardly touching the ground. It was a mini-ballet. He proceeded to play ‘Oodles of Noodles’ better than anyone ever has, took his bows to thunderous applause, and danced back to his seat. I have never seen anyone enjoy performing that much. Perfect.
I called him the next day. I was in the middle of interviewing the last of relatives and musicians who had known Rudy Wiedoeft, and it struck me that Gallodoro himself, his thoughts and experiences, should be recorded for posterity – it never dawned on me that he would still be playing 30 years later. We set up a time to meet at his home on Long Island, and early morning, a week later, I headed out to East Islip.
He greeted me warmly. He was direct, unassuming, and so genuine he seemed like an old relative I hadn’t seen for years. His voice and manner of speaking are quite unique and never forgotten. There is no trace of egotism in his manner in spite of his icon status – he knows his own worth but has everything very much in perspective.
We headed directly into the kitchen and our first pot of coffee, talking over our mutual acquaintances in the music business: Alfredo Antonini, his first contractor and pianist at WINS and later conductor of the Tampa Philharmonic where I was principal clarinet; Irving Levin, my friend and avid Wiedoeft collector who had worked Atlantic City when Al was starting out – they walked the Boardwalk between jobs and spoke of their hopes and dreams: Gale Sperry, with whom he had done the ‘Concerto for Doubles’ at the University of Minnesota and I had done the Creston Concerto at the University of South Florida; and Mike Guerra, Philadelphia’s master woodwind artist/teacher and Selma, his saxophone prodigy daughter. The world of musicians always seems like a close-knit community – just spread out over great distances.
I put the recorder in the center of the kitchen table where it was soon forgotten as his passion for music, his instruments, life itself, took over. He spoke with enthusiasm of the many fine players he had known, had a clear idea of their abilities, and was unstinting in his praise of the great players. He never criticized anyone by name, but only addressed the problems or flaws themselves. For some reason I was surprised at how logically he spoke about his own instruments and technique, I had expected something more intuitive.
Later, we walked and talked in his back yard. It was a hot, muggy day on Long Island, but the yard was shaded, cool, and beautifully kept, for which he credited his wife.
He spoke in complete thoughts and paragraphs, so I have simply taken his own words, unedited, and arranged them chronologically and by subject.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the World’s Greatest Saxophonist – Al Gallodoro!”
AL GALLODORO SPEAKS
By Al Gallodoro, edited from an interview by Ted Hegvik
I started when I was seven. We lived on a farm in Louisiana – Tickfaw, a swamp town north of New Orleans about eighty miles. They grow a lot of strawberries there, sugarcane. We lived…oh,man…out in the jungle you might say. Snakes, this and that – everything.
So I started clarinet with my father. He taught me all the basics. He played Albert system and that’s what I started on. He was a very good clarinetist, played in bands in Chicago, Birmingham. He’s still alive, by the way. Ninety four years old, lives in California.
When I was five years old my father would be out in the fields and I would take his clarinet and try to play it. Now he could hear me – squeaking and squawking – so he’d run in and he’d say, “Son, you can’t play the clarinet, you’ll break my clarinet.” So he’d hide it – Oh, he wouldn’t hit me – he’d hide it. Two or three days later I’d find it, and the same thing… He says, “But you’re too young to start.”
Well, when I was seven, we moved to Birmingham, a suburb of Birmingham, and while we were moving in, I sat on the mattress and he said, “All right, I’m going to teach you the clarinet now.” And that’s the way it started – sitting there on a mattress. He handed me the clarinet and he started me off. They had put the mattress on the frame and I’m sitting there and he’s showing me this and that. From then on, that was it. He never once had to tell me to practice – never.
I was going to school, you know, but I would practice two or three hours a day even then – third grade. I can tell you something that’s really true. Before going to school I used to sit on the toilet with the clarinet – honest to goodness – this is a known fact. I loved the instrument so much, I was always at it.
Then, when I got to going pretty good, he’d have me come to some of the feasts – I must have been eight or nine. He had his own group, an Italian group: guitar, mandolin, bass. He’d have me play a few little ditties, I forget what they were, mostly Italian tunes. I was faking of course, everything by ear, tunes of the day, like ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.’ I forget them all right now.
At ten I was playing fairly good, still Albert system. But in those days, forget it, you had no radio – unheard of – all you had were records. You had to listen to records – there were always neighbors around who had a phonograph. I don’t think we ever owned a phonograph. I came from pretty poor family.
Now the saxophone was becoming popular in the dance bands, you couldn’t play in the bands if you didn’t play saxophone – it was compulsory. I’ll never forget my first saxophone. My father bought it in a music store that was half music store and half pawn shop. It was a C Melody – nickel plated. Wiedoeft was playing C Melody so that’s what I played. Then around the late 20’s the Alto became the lead instrument.
When I was twelve I started with the Romeo Band in Birmingham, a little high school band. Frank and Al Romeo, brothers, formed this little group, rehearsals on Sunday. Al played drums, Frank played sax. We got an offer to do a week at the Lyric Theater in Birmingham. This was big time vaudeville then, five acts and so forth.
Two saxes, trumpet, Sousaphone, piano, drums, guitar, maybe trombone. We did three shows a day. The Romeo’s father used to come to my school, pick me up at 3 o’clock and rush to Birmingham to do the first show. Then he’d take me back at night – the whole week.
Then in the Spring of 1927 I went on the road with George Evans band. We went to Jacksonville, Gainesville, and ended up in a Florida town about 12 miles out of Pensacola – twenty-five dollars a week plus room and board, which was pretty good money then.
While I was in Florida my folks had moved from Birmingham to New Orleans. They had opened up a grocery store. So when we finished up in Florida I went to New Orleans and within a few days I was working in a night-club with Howard Vorhees, a famous trumpeter there. He must be about 70 now, a very fine man and a fine teacher.
The scale was thirty-five dollars. Howard picked me up and brought me home. A night-club then was 10 at night until 5 in the morning, gambling and so on. The gangs used to come in – you know, Al Capone, the Purple Gang – but they didn’t bother anyone, they loved musicians. So that first night, riding home, Howard said, “Kid, you play fine. I’m going to give you fifty dollars a week.” Well, man, this was big money, honest to God. I was fourteen years old.
We worked there for many months, and finally Howard said, “I think we can go into the Orpheum theater.” Now this goes to November of 1928. He got me into the Orpheum as 1st sax; there were only two saxes, two trumpets, trombone, drums, piano and bass. Big time vaudeville, three shows a day.
And then I went into another nightclub in downtown New Orleans, six blocks away, the Follies. I used to go in there from 11 until 5 in the morning. Well, I couldn’t take it, it was too much. I just loved music so much that I quit school – first year high, that’s all I went. I’ve been sorry since, but that’s the way life is, you know.
But anyway, I couldn’t take the two jobs. I finally had to give up the nightclub, I just did the theater. And I did have a radio program. At that time I was playing a Conn sax – my first alto – and I had a weekly program on one of the radio stations advertising Conn sax. I’d play some of the old Wiedoeft solos – there wasn’t too much written at that time, nothing like today, you know. Just the Wiedoeft, that’s all there was. He was my idol. He was my inspiration. Oh yes, if it hadn’t been for Wiedoeft…well, there was just no one else you could go with. Clyde Doerr was famous, and a couple of others, but they were nothing like Wiedoeft.
The double and triple tonguing was taught to me by Howard Vorhees. When I went into the Orpheum we played five acts in each show: very hard to play gallops – you had to play fast things and it was impossible to single tongue these things. So Howard says, “Al, I’d like to teach you how to double and triple tongue on the alto.” Howard had played alto sax – something went wrong with his lips and he had to give up trumpet for a couple years and he switched to sax – so he transferred the double and triple tonguing to the saxophone, and he did it beautifully. And he taught me how to do it. Now all he did was show me how to do it: patient practice, very, very slow. Well, I used to put in two or three hours a day on it, and within a month I had it pretty good, within three months I had it as good as you’re ever going to get it. Once you’ve got it, that’s it, you don’t improve anymore. But you can go down if you don’t practice, but as far as being accomplished at it, in three months you’ll have it. But I put in hours – sometimes I put in five, six hours.
So he taught me the double and triple tonguing for those fast acts, and man, I was at it all the time – and every day in the pit – so by the time I came to New York it was beautiful, no problem at all. Guy’s would hear me doing this and they’d always be asking how I did it. My brothers do it also – Frank and Pete.
I left New Orleans on July 3rd, 1933. I’ll never forget it. I went to Philadelphia. Danny Ryan, a trumpet player from New Orleans, had come up a couple years before, and he had wanted me to come with him, but I said No, I wasn’t ready. I was afraid, actually, I was afraid. Perhaps the thought was in my mind that everybody in New York plays great, man. I may not be able to compete with them.
Then in the early ‘30’s – ’31, ’32 – the bands from the East were coming down to New Orleans, to the gambling houses: Roger Wolfe Kahn (with Artie Shaw, Charlie Teagarden); Guy Lombardo came down; Jan Garber, many bands. I used to go hear the bands; I wasn’t interested in the bands, I was interested in the sax players. And I’d hear some of these sax players, beautiful gold horns, and it did nothing to me. I’d think, My God, these guys are from New York, Chicago, you expected to hear big artists.
And that’s what gave me the inspiration. I says, Hey, I cut these guys ten to one – I’m not talking egotistically now, they just did nothing to me. And that’s where I got the bug. I changed my whole concept. I says, Man, I’m going to practice more and I’m going to New York because these guys are nothing – Artie Shaw was great, but he was jazz clarinet. And that’s what made me believe in myself.
So I left New Orleans July 3rd. I just said, Man, I’m going to New York, I have to make it in New York. If I told you how much money I had, you wouldn’t believe it: after my fare was paid, I had fifty dollars. The gambling houses…at that time they were legal, like Las Vegas, we must have had ten big gambling houses. That’s what they called them then, they didn’t call them casinos. Beverly Gardens was where I first worked with Howard Vorhees, and you’d get that gambling habit and you’d leave your money at the house. And, in all honesty, that’s why I came up broke.
So I went to this rooming house in Philadelphia to meet up with Danny Ryan, I forget if it was Chestnut street or Walnut street, knocked on the door and the lady said, “Oh, Danny was living here but he’s in Ocean City. He’s playing with Ray Duffy.” I never forgot that name: Ray Duffy. So I took the bus to Ocean City and there was Danny Ryan. He said, “You know Adrian Fresh is with George Olson (George Olson was a big name at that time), so I went to see Adrian Fresh in Atlantic City (he was a very good violinist from New Orleans), but the band had left the night before.
So I happened to look up at the marquee on the Ambassador Hotel and I see ‘Isham Jones.’ Oh man, that was a big name. So I took a shot in the dark, went into the hotel, went into the dance room and said, “I’d like to speak to Mr. Jones.” He said, “Well, he’s busy now, I’ll send his manager.” So I spoke to Arnold Frank, told him where I was from, what I did, and said, “I’d like to join the band.” He said, “Kid, come on up tomorrow, they’re having a rehearsal right now.”
I went there the next day, took out my sax and clarinet and played for him. He said, “Kid, you’re hired.” But it turns out he didn’t need me, he already had his sax section all set. He hired me just to do solos and double the lead parts on baritone. But the guys didn’t like it. They were asking Jones for a raise, Jones wouldn’t give it to them, yet he turns around and hires me when he really didn’t need me. This must have been July 5th or 6th, 1933, and I stayed with the band until October.
We toured the New England states, but when we came back to New York, he says” “Kid, you don’t have a union card, and I have to let you go – you can’t work steady.” All the other guys had New York union cards.
So there I was, New York City. We used to hang out around 50th street and Broadway. There were two blocks between 48th and 50th where all the musicians used to mingle all day long looking for work. The Union was uptown at that time – 86th street in Yorkville, but for some reason this area was the hangout place.
You’ve heard of Ray Bauduc, the famous drummer. I had worked with his brother, Jules, in New Orleans – he was a hell of a banjo player. He had come to New York and he tipped me off to a couple of fellows to see: Lanin, and so forth. And Julian Woodworth was the first set band I worked with in New York. He was very good to me. Anyway, within a month or two I was doing club jobs, dances, going up to New England with Julian Woodworth – no heat in the car – jobs paid twelve dollars a night. I went into a small nightclub in Yorkville, I was doing a little of everything.
Then I was recommended for WINS, that was early 1934. Antonini was the contractor and pianist, Vincent Soley was the violinist and conductor – very fine. The scale then was $75 a week, six days a week. Antonini gave me $80, $5 over scale. That was good money, you know. We got along beautifully with him.
I did WINS until Spring of ’36. I was doing other radio work at that time. Some work was mine, some was substitute, but there was so much work then that a substitute could make a very good living just substituting for other people: late at night doing a continuous job 5 or 6 hours, then going to WINS the other day.
I did so many solos at WINS – Antonini and myself, and Selzini, who was a great accordion player – so many, 3 or 4 a week, 5 a week.
Now when Dorothy Kirsten came in – she was a young girl just starting out, she wore regular dresses, she was a nobody – she came in, and when she started to sing, well…it was fantastic. This girl really had it, like Mario Lanza when he first started (I sound like I’m 80 now).
So Dorothy Kirsten did something to me. She sounded like the alto sax, and I said that’s the way I’d like to sound on the sax – like a singer. And I just figured it out myself: practicing open throat, and keeping the pitch up, never down. That flat sound is no good. I worked with her for many months. She was on like once a week, and she was just branching out, and finally she became a big star. And I worked with her when I free-lanced from 1944 to 1947 on the Ford Hour with Robert Russell Bennett. By then she had become a big star – in 10 years, 13 years. She did the famous aria from ‘Louise,’ I even had it taped off. I spoke to her, “Do you remember me?” “Sure I remember you – WINS.”
And I’ve always said that you’ve got to sing into an instrument. We actually sing into an instrument, whether we realize it or not. Because a singer has no keys they have to do it all here [points to throat] and here [points to diaphragm]. Right? They make the notes. Actually, I don’t know why a singer should ever sing out of tune. We can say our horns are not in tune, we have to work harder. But for a singer, it’s all there. If they sing properly, there’s no reason to sing out of tune. And that’s why Dorothy Kirsten always sang beautifully in tune. Many singers do.
And from that day on, in all my clinics, that is what I preach. And I’ll demonstrate: I’ll play a note flat; I’ll play sharp I’ll bring it up and down, and then beam it. Watch this, Ted [turns on radio, adjusts tuning dial]. That’s off center [adjusts], that’s off center [adjusts again, the tone emerges clean and strong]. That’s centered.
How many times have you heard, “He plays with an uncentered sound; his sound isn’t centered.” You hear this with some oboe players. They cut, they sound sharp. They pull out and they still sound sharp, even though they’re flat. It’s a strained sound, and the tone must never sound strained. It must be right on the beam. It’s centering the note. You’ve got to find it all in the throat.
Anyway, the Spring of ’36 I got a tip off: Paul Whiteman needs a sax player. Ernie Watson, who was a famous arranger and sax player, called me. “Why don’t you go see Whiteman? I’ll set up an appointment.”
It was on the 3rd floor of NBC. I’ll never forget it. Early Spring of ’36. I met Whiteman and he offered me a job – Two and a quarter a week. Well, man…that was a lot of money. And when you join the Whiteman Band in the ‘30’s you join God. That was a big name: Paul Whiteman, Fred Waring. But Whiteman was up there because he was always considered the man with the biggest band and the all-around band: jazz, classical, everything. You had the Teagarden brothers, Frankie Trumbauer, Strickfadden – Bix was way before this.
So I told Whiteman, “No, I’m sorry. I need Two fifty.”
He said, “Aw, come on, who you kidding?” He sort of got huffy.
Then he says, “All right, I’ll give you Two thirty-five.” And I said, “O.K., I’ll take it.”
When Whiteman first started, Ross Gorman was his lead sax player. After Ross came Chester Hazlett – a wonderful player with a great single tongue. Chester came into New York and felt he could do better free-lancing radio. Benny Bonacio took his place. After Benny left, I joined the band as first sax. Gorman is gone, Benny died about 3 months ago, and now Chet just died, so I’m the last one. So I call myself the last of the Four Horsemen.
When I joined Trumbauer was in the band (around 1938 he left the band and went to the West Coast). Charlie and Jack Teagarden (trumpet and trombone) were still in the band. The Kings Men, a fantastic quartet, was with the band. In other words, this was still the original band with a few changes here and there. We were on the road sometimes 10 months out of the year: Chicago, the Drake Hotel; the Ambassador in Los Angeles; name it and we played it. We played every state in the Union – small villages where people would come for a hundred miles.
Those years were rough, my home life was in and out. Sometimes my wife could join me: she was in Texas with me; she was in Chicago; she was in San Francisco; we were in Los Angeles a whole month.
But May 30, 1940, is when the band disbanded. Whiteman said, “Boys, May 30 is my last day. I’m going to take it easy for a year or two. He broke the band up. He bought himself a farm in Jersey. About a year and a half later he organized another band. He had been complaining about high salaries. He says, “I’m going to get myself $85 a week musicians.” Anyway, the band was a disaster: there was a lot of fighting amongst the men; the reviews were bad. They played in Chicago, the College Inn, they played in Florida, Hollywood – bad reviews. It was short lived, I don’t think the band lasted 6 months.
Yeah, he wanted the $85 dollar a week musicians instead of the Two and Two-fifty. It was short lived. After that he went out of the picture for a while.
So one night Paul Lavalle said to me, “Would you like to go with NBC – the Symphony?” I said, “Sure.”
“Well, you’ll probably have to take an audition and play for the Old Man [Toscanini].” So I said O.K.
I’ll never forget it as long as I live. 8-H is a big studio at NBC, and there I stood on that stage, all alone. In the audience were Toscanini, Dr. Frank Black, and H. Leopold Spitalni (two of the big conductors there at the time, Spitalni was the contractor).
This was mainly for bass clarinet and some clarinet. So I played a few things, some excerpts from Wagner, adlibbed a few things, switched back and forth, and that was it. I was hired.
But that was a tough job; believe me, it was a tough job. Toscanini was rough, he didn’t take much. But I’ll say one thing, it all depends. I was very careful, and that was it, he rarely ever said anything to me. He was all right. But he would throw the tantrums. Oh, God, he sure would.
We were working six days a week, and I was doing smaller programs around, and it was hard to do any outside work. Frankly, I couldn’t take it anymore. So after roughly two years and three or four months, I decided to give up on it and I went to freelancing.
I just got tired. Not physically tired, but I figured, What am I doing here? The scale is $150 a week; I can go on the outside and make anywhere from 3 to 5 hundred dollars a week doing records and so on. At that time we weren’t doing jingles, but we did a lot of movie dates – Pathe news, travelogues, etc. The record business was booming with Henri Reney composing, and so on.
So I freelanced. I left NBC in October of ’44 and I freelanced until the Spring of ’47. In that time I was doing the Percy Faith Hour (Carnation Milk), I was doing the Ford Hour with Robert Russell Bennett, and so many smaller dates – I couldn’t start to name them all.
Fritz Reiner did a concert at CBS and they called me in to do the Shostakovitch
6th Symphony. There’s a bass clarinet solo in it. We used to do the Metropolitan Auditions of the Air. American Broadcasting had that, and maybe three conductors from
the Met would come in – conductors like Fausta Cleva, the Toscanini of the Opera, a very fine conductor. There were symphony orchestras at ABC, CBS, NBC – we had so many guest conductors come in you forget them all.
In the meantime, out of a clear sky, Paul Whiteman had become musical director
of the American Broadcasting Company – it was called the Blue Network at that time.
So they said, “Why don’t you come on staff? We’ll give you all the solos you want. You
can do two on Saturday, you can do one on Wednesday…” So I went on staff – 1947. I
gave up all the outside work and I concentrated on the solo work. And that’s where it really got tough – practicing solos.
We had a show on Sunday morning called the Coffee Concerts. 8:00 in the
morning we were on the air live. So one morning I did the Creston Sonata with Paul
himself at the piano. He’s an excellent pianist, you know, and organist. I did the
Debussy Premier Rapsodie for Clarinet another week. We alternated, one week it would
be all violin, or all piano, etc. Saturday mornings I used to do two shows with the string ensemble. Wednesday I would do something with the Whiteman Band. Then we had the Tea and Crumpets on Saturday afternoon and I would do one solo, maybe two.
Without bragging or being egotistical, I’m almost positive there has never been an instrumentalist in this country who has soloed more live on the air than I have. I know Raphael Mendez did quite a bit, but he was never on staff, just at MGM. But I was going all the time. This went on for 10 or 12 years! I went to California, Birmingham, and so forth, but it was all network broadcasts, and all of it was live.
In 1950 I formed a group, a quintet – it didn’t do too well. I had a manager – Harry B.
Squires. He got me a record date through Mitch Miller and Percy Faith. Mitch Miller was the big man at that time at Columbia Records. He said to me, “Al, they’d like you to make a saxophone album to follow up on Freddy Gardner.” [The English saxophonist who died before his records were released. They became an international sensation.] So the Saxophone Contrasts album came about from Freddy Gardner – on his album they advertise me, and on my album they advertise Freddy Gardner.
Now, my original version of Jalousie was for sax and clarinet, but they didn’t want clarinet, they wanted an all saxophone album like Freddy Gardner. So I said, how am I going to play the clarinet cadenza with the alto? And so I challenged myself – and I did it. It seemed impossible at the time, but sometimes the most difficult things are playable if you really want to do it.
So I made 8 tunes with the group. And later on, Columbia took 4 of my tunes and put them in with a Freddy Gardner memorial album which was entitled ‘The Immortal Freddy Gardner with Al Gallodoro.’ It must have done rather well over there because I’ve received quite a few royalty checks from England.
But they just put the sweet tunes in. I wish they had put in some of the fast tunes – but I was honored. I was honored when they did that because I respected Freddy Gardner so much. He was great. Believe me. He was way ahead of his time – way ahead.
But what has been tough for me is being the all-around player. From soup to nuts, name it and I have done it. It’s like a guy who hits 50 home runs. Next year they expect him to hit at least another 50, maybe more. But he might drop to 40. It’s just hard to keep that pace going all the time.
And the difficulty is compounded, in my case, by soloing on three horns. Now the
bass clarinet sort of carries itself from the clarinet, but the alto and the clarinet are two different instruments, different techniques, so there is twice the battle as for the person who plays one instrument.
Let me give you an example. I just did the circus for nine weeks – very tough. I only played clarinet. Now, you’re playing the same thing every show. You’re playing that fine, but you don’t have much time to practice because the circus is very tough on the lips, you have enough just to play that. So when that is over after nine weeks I have to get up the lips and the fingers for alto sax, plus on clarinet I have to work on the things I haven’t been playing.
When I was with the Whiteman Band I had two or three solos to play, four shows a day. (Man, those solos would just fly so fast, and every show Whiteman would go just a little faster, but I was right there with him, all the time.) And then I used to practice also.
But if you do the circus six or seven days a week, you become rusty on the other things (like double and triple tonguing – if you don’t practice it, it slows up on you). And this is what makes it very difficult.
So naturally, you get a little discouraged sometimes, and you say, “What am I killing myself for?” But then you get to thinking, “If I don’t practice enough, suppose I’m asked to play a solo in a couple of weeks?” So you’ve got to get up out of your chair and start practicing to try to maintain a certain level, right?
I’ve made up a little expression: Guys will say to me, “Do you still Practice?” And I’ll say, “I practice as much as ever, but not as often.” [laughs]
That’s good, isn’t it.
I have never given up on my instruments – no matter what.
Paul Hindemith said, “In a world where Bach once lived, the most a composer
can hope for is second best.” Al Gallodoro is our own impossible goal, our timeless
About the author: Ted Hegvik played principal clarinet with the Tampa Philharmonic, St. Petersburg Symphony and San Carlo Opera, and was the on-call saxophonist for the Philadelphia Orchestra for 30 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
A portion of this article first appeared in the June 2013 issue of Allegro, the magazine of the New York City musicians’ union (AFM Local 802). For more information, see www.Facebook.com/Local802AFM and www.Local802afm.org.