Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hal Galper Masterclass: " Masters Need To Play With Students"

The great Hal Galper
Portland State was recently lucky to have the great pianist and educator Hal Galper for a masterclass. Galper paid his dues as a member of the Cannonball Adderly group for three years and then the Phil Woods group for about ten years. He's made some great albums as a leader ("Speak With A Single Voice" being my favorite) and has been working steadily with his trio of Jeff Johnson on bass and John Bishop on drums for many years. Galper has also written a number of great books on jazz, including " The Art Of Comping" and " Forward Motion."

Galper didn't play much during the class, but he spoke and took questions for two solid hours. One of the things that really rang true with me is when I asked him, " In the absence of the apprenticeship system, with the lack of true bandstand opportunities like what you had in the 60's and 70's, how do we recreate that in the academic environment? " Galper responded, "Teachers have to play with their students." He went on to talk about non-verbal instruction, and how oftentimes academia is skeptical of this type of teaching and learning. " Every master teacher should have his own band with students playing in it. This is the best way for young players to learn."

Indeed, I spent most of my early career playing with older musicians from whom I could learn. So much of today's landscape is students playing with their classmates, and then getting out of school and playing with their peers. There are few comparable bandstand " schools" like Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Horace Silver, and so forth, working today. There's nothing wrong with peers playing together, however, musicians of the same level( especially of lower experience levels) playing together tends to become an echo chamber with no perspective beyond their own limited experience and wisdom.

I personally would never compare myself to Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Horace Silver, and so forth; however, since I've been a teacher, I've tried to find opportunities for my students who I felt were ready to go to the next level. My latest CD, "Risky Notion" ( available on Itunes, people, how's THAT for shameful self promotion....) features two of my best students from PSU; saxophonist Nicole Glover and bassist Jon Lakey. I don't believe I'm being presumptuous by saying that Glover and Lakey have learned a ton from playing and recording with this group. I think it's also been good for saxophonist Glover to play alongside Joe Manis. Manis is kind of a beast on the tenor and it's been interesting to see how Glover has been inspired by his abilities without making every song into a "cutting contest." It's made her solidify her own concept even more.

Galper also had some interesting advice about becoming a professional musician in this day and age: " I tell all my students to quit! I say you should only do this if you have no choice. If you do have a choice, meaning you have options, eventually, you will make the choice not to do it anymore. But if you just HAVE to play music, then you should." I know that a lot of the students present got a lot out of that kernel of wisdom, as did I. Believe me, sometimes I think I should finally get my Real Estate license and leave the dream of jazz behind. But for the time being, I'm still have the compulsion to play and work on music. Thanks, professor Galper, for giving us the truth.

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