Ninety-Year-Old Virtuoso Gigging Strong

Volume CIV, No. 3March, 2004

David Demsey

Ninety-year-old woodwind virtuoso Al Gallodoro has had a storied career that virtually spans the history of modern American music.

Best known for his work as alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet soloist with Paul Whiteman, on recordings and as a regular on landmark national radio programs, his decades of concert and on-air performances represent an important, bygone era of vibrant New York music making. He has been a member of 802 since 1934, and is currently an honor member.

Gallodoro will make a triumphant return to New York City when he appears as a special guest with Harmonie Ensemble/New York and its conductor Steven Richman in a gala concert, “Symphonic Jazz: Grofé, Gershwin and Whiteman.” The concert will feature several historic American masterpieces not heard in over seventy years. The Sunday, April 4 event is at 4:00 p.m. at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, 73rd Street and Madison Avenue, New York City, and is the Ensemble’s 25th Anniversary Concert.

As early as 1927, Gallodoro was on tour with the George Evans Orchestra and moved to New Orleans that same year, where he played in various clubs including his position as first alto saxophone/clarinet in the Orpheum Theatre house orchestra, performing with Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen, Milton Berle and others.

In the 30’s, Gallodoro was hired by the legendary Isham Jones, and his standout playing with the WINS radio orchestra attracted the attention of Rudy Vallee, who asked Gallodoro to join him in 1934 on his weekly radio show. It was when Gallodoro was hired by Paul Whiteman in 1936 that his playing became known internationally. Gallodoro performed with Whiteman’s Orchestra over three decades, including appearances in the films “Strike Up the Band” and “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Over twenty compositions and arrangements have been written especially for him by such composers as Ralph Hermann, Ferde Grofé, and Carmine Coppola, highlighted by the legendary Ralph Herman Concerto for Doubles. He was bass clarinetist with the NBC Symphony under the batons of Arturo Toscanini, Leopold Stokowski and Frank Black, was a member of the ABC Orchestra for twenty years, and he was an artist/clinician for Selmer for over twenty-five years.

Now entering an amazing ninth decade as a performer, Gallodoro’s creative and personal energy shows no sign of subsiding. He performs with his group regularly and is a fixture on the central New York state music scene in the area of his upstate Oneonta home, and he is on the faculty of Hartwick College.

His historic return to the New York City concert scene with Harmonie Ensemble/New York will feature his performance of the “Gallodoro Serenade for Saxophone and Piano,” written for him by Grofé. Gallodoro will also join the ensemble and Mr. Richman for Grofé’s jazz arrangement of “Fascinating Rhythm.” The program will also include the original Paul Whiteman Jazz Orchestra versions of the Ferde Grofé “Grand Canyon Suite and Mississippi Suite,” as well as Grofé’s arrangement of Gershwin’s “Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra,” with soloist Lincoln Mayorga. These original versions, researched and re-created by conductor/music director Steven Richman, have not been performed since the 1930’s.

David Demsey is a saxophonist and a member of AFM locals 802 and 248. He is coordinator of jazz studies at William Paterson University of New Jersey.