HAL GALPER INTERVIEW (2002)
With over 88 recordings to his credit, 29 as a leader
in his own right, pianist, composer, publisher, educator, author and
touring artist, Hal Galper is best known for his work with Chet Baker,
Cannonball Adderley, John Scofield and the Phil Woods Quintet. His
recordings as a leader with Mike and Randy Brecker are considered
among his best.
Graduating from the Berklee College of Music at the height of the
be-bop era, his reputation grew steadily in the changing environment
of jazz. He anchored such bands as The Slide Hampton Quartet, The
Lee Konitz Duo, The Stan Getz Quartet and many others. His biography
is listed in the National Encyclopedia of Jazz and he has
100 original compositions recorded and published.
Hal Galper is internationally known as an educator. His articles on
theory and practice have appeared in six editions of Down Beat magazine,
and his scholarly article on the psychology of stage fright, originally
published in the Jazz Educators Journal, has subsequently been reprinted
in four other publications. His new book The Touring Musician,
A Small Business Approach to Booking Your Band on the Road (Billboard
Books) is fast becoming the last word on the subject. As a founding
member of the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, where he
still teaches, Hal is also on the faculty of Purchase Conservatory.
He has won a Grammy nomination and a Grammy for his recordings with
Phil Woods, was awarded a Distinguished Alumni Award from Berklee
College of Music, an award for outstanding service to Jazz Education
from the IAJE and has been a recipient of grants from the National
Endowment of the Arts, The Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Foundation
and the New School of New York.
Hal Galpers music displays some of the best qualities of mainstream
jazz. His ability to select and arrange rarely heard tunes from the
standard repertoire, his penchant for lyrical improvisation and the
trio's commitment to a dancing, deeply swinging beat, makes this groups
music accessible to a broad range of listeners.
Hal's website is chock full of many of his jazz articles, jazz theory
and practical advice for jazz players and other resources. It is highly
recommended to the viewers of these pages.
by Jan Stevens was conducted over a period of several weeks in April
2002 mostly in email, after several phone conversations.
It is printed here verbatim. We thank Hal Galper for his time and
his generous spirit, his vast knowledge of, and contributions to Jazz
and his love for the music of Bill Evans.
HAL GALPER's NEWSLETTER here: http://www.amenablemusic.net/newsletter.pdf
can you tell us the very first time you heard Bill Evans? Do you recall
how old you were at that time and what album it was? What was your
reaction then, and how and when did you go on and listen to more of
HG: The first time I heard Bill was on his first trio album "New
Jazz Conceptions" when it came out, I think, in the mid
'50's. It got me pretty upset as I had an idea that we might be heading
in the same direction. To avoid being overly influenced by him --I
didn't want to be thought of as a Bill clone -- I decided I wasn't
going to listen to him any more. To try to change my direction. It
was only after many years passed that I realized than any similarities,
contrary to what the critics may have said, were only coincidental
and natural. I was still hesitant to spend much time listening to
him but couldn't avoid it. He was playing so great.
As far as Bills earliest period, did you hear a great
difference in his approach with, say playing with Miles, or even Mingus
or on the Oliver Nelson record (Blues and The Abstract Truth)
than with the subsequent trio?
HG: Definitely. His melodic style seemed to lean increasingly toward
a more thematic style than linear. But I think his harmonic and rhythmic
development was the most remarkable.
What do you feel was Bill's influence on your own
playing personally, and how did that come about? And how did it change
the way you approached voicings or perhaps rhythmic displacement ?
HG: I was attracted to his harmonic conception but not his lines.
I tried a few of his voicings but a truth I learned when I was copying
Red Garland raised it's ugly head again: what you play on any instrument
will be dictated by the sound you get on it, i.e., one's touch. When
I played Red's or Bill's voicings, I had to either add or subtract
notes to make them sound good with my hands.
Because your touch was different, or because you were looking
for a different overall concept, or sound for yourself? Or was it
part of a process of finding your own stylistic feel?
HG: Because my touch was different. (I think I answered that above.)
Rhythmic displacement has been a constant interest of mine, but Bill
and I (what nerve to mention us together in the same statement) took
different directions and used it differently. When Dizzy spent a week
as a guest with the Phil Woods Quintet, I learned that, to be able
to subdivide tempos accurately, Diz and I had created similar exercises
when we were young. For example: taking a bar of 4/4 and playing five
quarter notes per bar. Then making each of the five quarter notes
pairs of eighth notes but playing them in four-note-groups. The effect
was as if one were playing eighth notes in a slightly faster tempo
than the 4/4. I did this with as many subdivisions as I could find.
Eventually, as Dizzy confirmed, one could play any notes anywhere
within the tempo and subdivide accurately.
So you did this first as a conscious exercise? Or was it
maybe something that came out of listening to something that Dizzy
was perhaps doing?
HG: It came about this way: There are two kinds of "time"
players: those who play good time and those who play with
good time. Some of my early models "played good time."
By that I mean they had a particular place they played their
lines within the flow of time and stayed there. For example, Tommy
Flanagan, Sonny Stitt. They stated the time clearly. Some of my other
models, Dizzy, Bird, and especially Sonny Rollins "played with
good time." They were subdividers and played their lines anywhere
within the flow of time -- in other words, on top, in the middle and
behind the beat. They could place any line anywhere they wanted. When
I was trying to emulate those that played good time, I felt rhythmically
confined. But when I didn't play that way I felt that my time was
going all over the place. After a while I realized that my natural
way to play time was as a subdivider. That the way for me to achieve
rhythmic freedom was to develop the ability to subdivide the beat
accurately and symmetrically into its smallest increments. I had to
figure out my own rhythmic exercises to achieve this goal.
Have you transcribed any of Evans solos? And if so,
what stands out in your mind about them? Do you have any favorites
among Bill's own compositions?
HG: No, I never transcribed any of his solos. I'm not much a fan of
transcribing. It's just that, at least in the melodic aspect, I think
we parted ways.
Well, an individualistic approach is always best, as you
develop your own voice on the instrument and absorb from everyone,
as Bill himself even said many times. Its just that so many
players who came after Bill, were almost too influenced, one might
say, by his linear approach -- you know, the long phrases, the longer
lines extending over many bars, those cascading triplets, the other
licks of his that many copy, etc. It might have been inevitable, especially
later on after Herbie and Chick became so prominent, and then Keith
Jarrett---- all whose playing has reflected Bills melodic concept,
one way or another. Did you find yourself making an intentional effort
to part ways with Bills melodic approach because
you found better ways to express yourself, or was it something in
his playing that made you want to just do it differently?
HG:I didn't make "an intentional effort to part ways with
Bills melodic approach because I wasn't interested in his melodic
approach in the first place. I didn't get into much of his writing
until recently, especially after hearing his "Practice Tape #1."
But Id assume you have played through some of his tunes
like Very Early or Turn Out the Stars, to
see how he though about the way harmonies can move. Turn Out
the Stars is one of those that makes a good structural study,
of cycles, especially in moving around II-V-I cycles in terms of tri-tones,
HG: I've played a lot of Bill's tunes in various settings over the
years and was familiar with his cyclical motion. Still am to some
degree. But it was his voice leading and the way he structured his
voicings that held my predominant interest. I wanted to see how he
did it so I could apply his harmonic concepts to my own voicings.
Hal, I've always felt that Bill Evans' reputation among the
general jazz public was formed, in a wider sense, first from Miles
Kind of Blue, to the classic 1961 Vanguard albums with
LaFaro and Motian, and then through the Verve years of the 1960s.
But it seems to me that fewer jazz listeners, and more so ---the critics,
are aware of some of the most adventurous, outgoing playing he ever
did: mostly the 'live' stuff posthumously released with the last trio
with Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera. Would you agree?
HG: Absolutely! I have the two sets of CD's of his Keystone Corner
recordings[San Francisco, August 1980]. For a pianist ---at least
for me anyway --they are brutal to listen to! But I'm going to keep
on playing anyway. The music was so intense and on such a high level,
I had to take a rest from them. It took me months to finally nerve
myself up to listen to the last three CDs of the sets. I've been feeling
confident enough in my own musical identity to be assiduously studying
those recordings since the beginning of last summer. Especially for
what he is doing harmonically. Not that I wanted to play his voicings
but wanted to understand how to use my voicings better. His
statement to Gene Lees that harmony was counterpoint only confirmed
a suspicion I had gained from listening to these recordings. It was
a revelatory realization! Sure, I had been told that in my early harmony
classes at Berklee in the mid '50's but it kind of went over my head
and I never thought about it much till now.
Despite my aversion to transcribing, I did get a few books of his
voicings,the most interesting ones being Jack Reilly's books and his analysis of Bill's harmonic
system. I also contacted as many of Bills disciples
as I could to confirm the counterpoint thing. But I still haven't
found anything printed of his latest harmonic approach. Listening
to those later recordings created three questions for me:
1. How much of his voicings were worked out on his arrangements?
How much did he practice these voicings out of context of his arrangements?
In other words, did he have his voicings so together that he could
apply them at will when he needed them?
3. Or, was it just a matter of he was just plain more talented than
Needless to say, my research showed that the answers to the above
were all yes. For months (during the period when I couldn't finish
listening to the last three of the sets) he knocked my off my confidence
base. I was convinced that my harmony totally sucked and I had a lot
of work to do to upgrade it. I was right in one respect, I had to
be more scrupulous with my voicings. To pay closer attention to their
-- notably in these, some of he last of the playing he ever did --
do you mean you detected a different systematic approach that he took
previously, or just an bigger expansion on what came before? I hear
it both ways -- theres a looser and more supple approach in
the ways he divides things: lots more of 3 against 4, and 4 against
3 for instance in the time, a lot more breaking up the line structure
and interjecting two handed chord phrases where the upper
extensions became the existing line for that moment, etc.,--in general
a far more adventurous approach that he had when Eddie Gomez was with
him. I think he was far more willing to take chances, and he was very
secure in his approach, and in the last trios willingness to
respond so quickly to his ideas -- that he could do that.
HG: You took the words out my mouth on that last question. It was
high-risk playing. Taking a lot chances. My favorite kind of playing.
I didn't get my harmonic confidence back until I got a CD burner last
Christmas and started burning my cassette tape collection to CDs.
It was sort of a retrospect of my playing over the decades. It was
only then that I realized that I had been, at times using counterpoint
but didn't know it. It was then that I realized that anyone investigating
harmony on it's deepest level would naturally come to the counterpoint
conclusion. That made me feel a lot better. I'm now being more "picky"
about the way I move my voicings.
The problem is that pianists usually start learning voicings by the
process of "stacking" notes in thirds or fourths or whatever..
This creates a static perception of harmony. What is remarkable about
Bill's voicings is that each note can function separately as a independent
melodic line. True counterpoint. It really hit me while listening
to his "Practice Tape #1," where, after working on his voice
leading for a while, he slips into Bach's "Art of the Fugue"
then switches back to his voicing work. (What a great Bach interpreter
he was!) You can really get the clearest idea of his use of counterpoint
from his switching back and forth. It was Jack Reilly's paper on inversions
that gave me the clue: you have to have a thorough and complete knowledge
of inversions to use harmony as counterpoint.
So many jazz historians and critics consider Bill Evans
most important contribution to jazz to be perhaps his unique approach
to ballads. As a jazz professional for so many years, do you agree
with that assessment?
Is that what they say? Truthfully, I don't have much interest in what
the "jazz historians and critics" have to say about much
of anything. History is a myth and criticism in general has strayed
too far from its original intent; to define an artist's goals and
determine how closely one came to achieving them.
In terms of the history of jazz piano, do you agree with
many who said that Evans was the next --and maybe the most recent
--innovator after Bud Powell? What would you say is his place within
that history remains the same, all these years after his passing?
I'm not so sure I'd describe Bill as an innovator but more as a "synthesizer"
-- more of a great stylist. Bud [Powell] and Ahmad [Jamal]
were innovators. Their influence was global. They changed the face
of music. Bill influenced a lot of pianists and was one of the foremost
proponents of group improvising but even that had been done before,
in Dixieland music for example.
Hal can you tell us what youve been up to the last
few years and what your future plans might be?
After booking my band for the ten year period between 1990 and 2000,
and writing my book "The Touring Musician" [see Hal's website for
more info] I broke up my trio. I'm semi-retired, and teaching
part-time at The New School and at Purchase Conservatory. This leaves
me free to devote more time to practicing and writing.
I do a gig every once and while, when its worth it. But mostly I'm
in the process of completing my book "Forward Motion" and
working on another educational project with [bassist] Rufus Reid and
[drummer] Billy Hart.
We recorded a concert we played at the New School's "Jazz @ 6
& 1/2" series last November. With only a half-hour talk-down
before the concert, the recording is a prime example of the techniques
of non-verbal communication and musical conversation. Of what can
occur when three pros get together and wing it; what we call "signaling."
For a music that is learned mostly by listening to it, it's surprising
how many students don't know or recognize what their hearing. As one
of my students once put it "gee, I thought that stuff just happened."
We're writing a companion book to go along with the
recording. Sort of a musical "Roshamon", where
each player will discuss from their perspective what the other played
at certain spot and how they were reacted to. Like, I did this at
3:10 in the first tune and Rufus did that and Billy did that, kind
of thing. The recording will come out in a DVD format because a DVD
allows you to use 100 ID's per track whereas a CD only allows 99 ID's
per CD. This way, the student can go directly to any part of any tune
to hear the examples mentioned in the book. It's a rather long-term
project and logistically and technically complex, and it may take
a while before it's published. We plan to self-publish the book ourselves.
I'm also in the process of buying back my albums from many of the
record companies I've recorded with over the years and am planning
to re- release them under my own label: Redux Records --- as well
as marketing my Forward Motion book myself. Those who are
interested can keep in touch with my web site or get on my emailing
list for further updates.
much Hal. This has been great.
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