Thursday, November 29, 2007

Not that long ago I had the privilege of seeing a performance by Alfred J. Gallodoro at the Sego Cafe in Oneonta, New York. He is a 94-year old saxophone and clarinet virtuoso, once the widely acknowledged master of double- and triple- tonguing, who still sells off the bandstand a CD transcription of his 1951 Columbia album Saxophone Contrasts.
His improvising is pre-bebop-- even pre-jazz, and he has been acknowledged as a master of the instrument by Paquito D'Rivera, Benny Golson, Buddy DeFranco and Eddie Daniels. Jimmy Dorsey called him "the greatest saxophone player that ever lived."
So you say, "I never heard of him." Accomplishments of many woodwind artists in the past half century have virtually wiped his name off the map. And, in reality, as a studio sideman mainstay he virtually assured himself a decent living at the expense of fame.
Yet it causes one to reflect at what price the preservation of tradition sincerely felt. (As opposed to the 'dixieland' style of slogging away ignorantly at a stylized gig).
Bringing to mind a jazz singer I once met, who left her home town of New Orleans, got some lucky breaks, and was soon playing Carnegie Hall and all the great New York jazz rooms.
At first, people readily accepted that she preferred to sing the old standards-- All The Things You Are by Jerome Kern, I love you by Cole Porter, Someone to Watch Over Me, by Gershwin.
After awhile, praise grew less, and faults were found: she doesn't compose her own songs, she sticks to much to the older stuff, depending too much on them.
Still she kept singing You'd be so nice to come home to, Lush Life, You do something to me. Every now then a newer tune perhaps-- What a Wonderful World, One Note Samba, something from a musical or a movie on the hit parade.
The critics and audiences loved her as long as she seemed new. But eventually, in every place where the economic ecosystem worships new ideas, new songs, and fresh faces, her star faded. She knew in her heart that her style would not help her career.
Her gigs became less desirable. Smaller rooms, less pay, noisier audiences. Still, she kept singing the same old songs.
Finally the jazz singer was lucky enough to get a gig playing a show in Las Vegas. It was steady work, six nights a week, to the tinkle of slot machines and the chatter of gamblers. She was considered a musician's musician, and many of her famous friends thought her time would come again. But there was no mistaking the fact that she had fallen far. Once a critic's darling, playing the very best of showcases, considered to be an up-and-coming star. Now, barely a has-been. One of her admirers, a famous musician in his own right, took her aside once and said as gently as he could, "You passed up your chance to be a popular success. You have spent too much time singing the songs made famous by others."
"I know," she replied. "People think I threw away my career, just for the sake of some old songs. It probably seems as though I've spent too much time with too few melodies. Perhaps I should have moved beyond these songs many years ago. But I am perfectly content. These are the songs I sing for one reason and one reason only: so I won't forget them."

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