An interview with Jack Gale

Volume 122, No. 5May, 2022

Bud Burridge

Jack Gale, 85, died on March 15, 2022 after being a member of Local 802 since 1961. Jack was a dominant figure in the Local 802 music scene for five decades as a trombonist, arranger, composer and union activist. Bud Burridge interviewed Jack in 2018. (Also see our tribute page to Jack Gale.)

Bud Burridge: When did you realize you wanted to become a musician?

Jack Gale: In 1950 when I was 14. I gravitated to music fairly late in my life. My dad was a newspaper pressman at the Wichita Eagle and played saxophone and clarinet with several bands for some of which he wrote arrangements. My mother was a pianist and played organ at our church. I originally aspired to be a radio/TV writer.  I was fascinated by a trombone section passage that I heard on a melodramatic pop record called “The Cry Of The Wild Goose” sung by Frankie Laine. When I spoke to my dad about it, I think he saw an opportunity to, at last, interest me in music. A few days later, he rented a trombone for me.  He managed to figure out (and show me) how to get a sound on the horn and to locate the slide positions. That summer, I joined a beginners brass instrumental program at East High school (along with a lot of younger students), until Dad set me up for lessons with Bud Gould, the principal trombonist of the Wichita Symphony.  At the end of the summer, I began high school where I was accepted into the East High “Second” band, moving soon to the “First” Band and later joining the school’s Orchestra. That summer, I played with the Wichita Youth Symphony. It was during this period that, despite some instrumental inadequacies, I began to feel the pleasure and satisfaction of playing with a musical ensemble.  In 1953, I joined AFM Local 297 and began playing with the Wichita Municipal Concert Band, some dance bands, jazz groups, Ice-Shows, Circuses and other productions that traveled through Wichita.  I was totally focused on music by then, but had no idea how I might be able to turn it into a career, especially in Wichita.

Bud Burridge: Tell us about your interest in composing and your development as a composer and arranger.

Jack Gale: From the start, I was fascinated by jazz, and the “creating” my own music. Thanks to my interest in Dixieland jazz, I had learned to improvise musical lines to compliment a given melody and, in that sense, I was learning the basics of music theory, harmony and simple counterpoint. One day, a saxophonist at East High, who had put together a small dance band, asked me if I wrote arrangements. Even though I hadn’t written any, I said yes. The resulting arrangements were very bland but they involved fairly musical chords, voicings and orchestration, so they, more or less, “worked.” Later, I wrote arrangements for some professional bands.  After graduation in 1954, I enrolled as a “Music Theory and Composition” major at Wichita University. I was able to continue trombone lessons with Bud Gould and study with composer, Joshua Missal. Missal was a fine composer and an easy going man. He realized I understood how music worked and that I mostly needed to learn the established conventions and formal rules of composition. While I was there, I got to know several other aspiring young composers, who helped me to realize how much I still needed to learn about serious musical composition. That experience helped me develop my skills in composition and orchestration. Although I’ve focused on playing, I have always enjoyed composing and arranging music of all kinds. I’ve written music for Woody Herman, American Symphony, Empire Brass, Garrison Keillor’s American Radio Company, Bronx Arts Ensemble, Off Broadway, recordings, jingles, and, in 1989, with Warren Vache, I co-composed the score for a Frank Gilroy movie called “The Luckiest Man In The World.”

Bud Burridge: Eventually you ended up in New York City…

Jack Gale: In early 1957, after 2 years of college, I went on the road with a territory band led by Jimmy “Dancing Shoes” Palmer. During a week off, trombonist Buddy Morrow called me from New York. He had gotten hold of some of my big-band jazz arrangements and wanted me to write five more for him in addition to playing lead trombone with his band. I told him I would gladly write the arrangements, but I wasn’t a strong enough trombone player to play lead. He said he was sure I could do it and that he would help me. Eventually I gave in, and accepted his offer.  I learned I was to play 1st trombone until Buddy’s regular lead trombonist, Ray De Sio, recovered from surgery. As it turned out, I sounded okay on lead trombone. I had some problems with endurance and range, but Buddy told me “If you are going to clam, play out, I want to hear it!”  I stayed with Buddy until I was drafted in early 1959. After basic training, I was sent to the “Army Element” of the Naval School of Music in Anacostia, Washington DC.”  On my first day there, I met Garnett Brown who became and remains one of my dearest and most valued friends. I learned a great deal about jazz and trombone playing from him.  At the Naval School, I had two good teachers: first, an excellent trombonist named Carson Sharp, later replaced by Robert Hecht who seemed to immediately understand my problems and was able to straighten me out within a few days (after almost 2 years of failure). I was fortunate to be assigned to the 328th Army Band at the Brooklyn Army Terminal (BART). Because the BART had no mess hall, I was able to live in an apartment on Ave B in lower Manhattan and commute back and forth to the BART.  In late 1960, three young women from Minnesota moved into the apartment across the hall and I promptly fell in love with one of them: Julie Kellas.  In January of 1961, I married Julie in Wichita. After being discharged from the army, we moved to West 95th St in Manhattan and I returned to Buddy Morrow’s band. Later that year, I played a 2 month stint with the Kai Winding Septet, 4 weeks of which included the marvelous Billy Byers! I had not known until then what a great jazz trombonist Billy was! That fall, I was hired for my first Broadway show: “Let It Ride” starring George Gobel. It closed 4 months later, in February of 1962, just in time for me to join Maynard Ferguson’s band which led to a very musically exciting period for me. After several months, including an extended tour of Sweden and several albums with Maynard, I moved to the Woody Herman band. I had always loved Woody’s bands but now even more so, because of the opportunity to work with my brother Dave (who played assistant lead trumpet at the time) along with Nat Pierce, Jake Hanna, Bill Chase, Phil Wilson, Eddie Morgan and the incredible Sal Nistico! I was really honored to play with Woody on one of his most praised albums, “Woody 1963.” Later that year, I left Woody to play a show called “Mr President”. Fortunately, after that, I began getting calls for studio dates and more shows over the years. “  In 1967 Julie and I moved to New Jersey and, in 1968 our daughter Catherine was born. Cathy, who is also a member of Local 802, has grown up to be an excellent singer and an accomplished jazz and pop vocalist.

Bud Burridge: How did you become involved in union politics?

Jack Gale: I joined 802, in 1961, during the Al Manuti administration and began attending union meetings. I had always valued the Union’s support for professional musicians. I remembered that my dad was a strong supporter of the Newspaper Pressman’s Union back in Wichita. At one meeting, the speakers whose remarks most impressed me were Murray Rothstein and John Glasel.  In the late 1970’s the Al Manuti administration promoted a bylaw change which eliminated in-person voting in 802 elections, establishing a “mail ballot” vote. This was seen by New York musicians as an administration effort to promote an increase in inactive and out-of-town-member voting, which they knew would favor them as incumbents. In 1980, trumpeters Bob Haley and Bob Summers asked for my input while organizing a reform party election campaign tailored to a mail ballot. I realized that any successful reform electoral campaign, would require the direct involvement of people like Murray Rothstein and John Glasel, both of whom I greatly admired. Fortunately, with their involvement, a new party was founded and, after narrowly losing the 1980 Election with Met Opera Tubist, Herb Wekselblatt, the MEMBERS Party won in 1982 with John Glasel heading the ticket, and was a powerful influence on Local 802 for decades afterward. In 1989, I was elected to the 802 Executive Board where I served for 17 years (1989-2006). Over that time, I wrote a few bylaws, including the Building//Strike Fund bylaw which led to 802’s first building ownership and the Member Legal Services Fund, which provides union funds toward outside lawyer fees for qualified bargaining unit negotiations.

Bud Burridge: You’ve covered a lot of ground as a musician and union activist. What would you consider your career highlights?

Jack Gale: I have always relished the fact that I was able to earn my living in the music business. Among the highlights in my mind have been my tenures with Maynard’s band and Woody Herman and my summer with the Benny Goodman Sextet in the early 1980’s playing with jazz giants like Zoot Sims, Slam Stewart, Michael Moore, Warren Vache, Bobby Zottola and Jimmy Rowles. I also relished the six weeks I worked with the Buddy Rich big band as a featured soloist in 1976 and my subs with Thad and Mel’s Band as well as with the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band (with the great Bob Brookmeyer). My stints with Kai Winding, Lee Konitz and Clark Terry were also highlights. Looking back, I realize how inspiring it has been to play with so many super musicians in New York, especially the opportunity to sit next to world class trombonists like, Buddy Morrow, Urbie Green, Charlie Small, Garnett Brown, Bob Alexander, Mickey Gravine, Bob Brookmeyer, JJ Johnson and Bob Burgess, to name only a few. I also enjoyed playing with the NY Jazz Repertory Co. in concerts, recreating the bands of Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Bix Beiderbecke, under the leadership of musical giants Dick Hyman and Bob Wilber.  Local 802 and the AFM have had a very positive impact on my life and career, and I have been extremely fortunate throughout my personal life and my life in music.