Kate Koenig, Arts Editor
Imagine having the opportunity and longevity to study an instrument for 90 years? Al Gallodoro, who died only four years ago at the age of 95, was a rare individual who left behind a long legacy of performance and mastery of the clarinet and saxophone. Though he never became widely known by the public or enjoyed much fame, Gallodoro is regarded as one of the greatest saxophonists who ever lived. On Saturday, March 31, a memorial tribute was held at the Oneonta Theatre in his honor in a night featuring various musicians including Gallodoro’s old student, Chad E. Smith.
The host of the evening was JoAnn Chmielowski, who came to know Gallodoro after he moved to Oneonta in his later years, and became his longtime keyboardist and manager. Chmielowski and Kevin C. Wood, Gallodoro’s grandson, put the event together after they by chance came in contact with Smith through Facebook, when he was looking to purchase Gallodoro’s old music and instruments. It was then that the idea for the event formed, and soon, many other local musicians were on board. Following a brief introduction and video of Gallodoro performing towards the end of his career, the show began with vocalist Diane Ducey in the spotlight and Rob Hunt of Hartwick College featured on piano. The first number of the night was “Too Marvelous for Words,” written by Johnny Mercer and Richard Whiting. It was a choice opener for the event, starting with the lyric: “A search for phrases to sing your praises.” Ducey’s voice sparkled especially on the second tune, “Bye, Bye, Blackbird,” as she soared in range and sang rapidly changing melodies with beautiful ease.
After a quick change of instrumentalists, Smith was brought to the stage as a featured soloist. Smith’s presence was one of the most notable highlights of the evening, as he studied under Gallodoro for a few years before he passed away, and considers him one of his greatest inspirations. An experienced performer who has shared a stage with Johnny Mathis, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles and currently plays with an orchestra for “Wicked” in New York, Smith’s playing is described as having an uncanny resemblance to Gallodoro’s. As Chmielowski said before Smith took the stage, “[Close your eyes and] you could imagine some person being here.”
Smith, age 37, had the privilege of playing on Gallodoro’s goldplated Selmer Mark VI Alto and his 1935 Selmer bass clarinet for the night. Speaking to the audience, Smith described the opportunity as “remarkable” and reflected on his experiences traveling up to Oneonta from New York City to study with Gallodoro, whose music he’d been inspired by since the age of 15. Smith’s musicianship was clearly worth the praise, as he displayed complete faculty with both instruments, whether playing in high or low register. The audience, who filled the seats of the Theatre’s Balcony Ballroom, was enthralled from start to finish.
Several musicians contributed their services for the night, including Greg Fiske and Greg Langdon on saxophone, John Davey on bass, Sadiq on drums, Robin Seletsky on clarinet, Dennis Turechek and Wood on guitar, Johnny Banks on congas, and special guests Tommy Z on piano, Lou Colone on drums, Karen Munson on violin and Chris Wolf-Gould on bass. Another highlight of the evening was Wood’s moment with his electric guitar, beginning his selections with “Corleone’s Theme (Speak Softly Love)” from “The Godfather,” which Gallodoro appeared in (in the second film of the series) as a street performer.
Since Gallodoro’s death, a memorial fund has been established in his name, which Wood spoke of briefly during the intermission. The purpose of the fund is to support young woodwind instrumentalists and to encourage and develop excellent musicianship as well as keep Gallodoro’s legacy alive. Announcing his goal of having a concert in NYC on the 100th year anniversary of Gallodoro’s birth, Wood spoke passionately about his dedication to the cause, saying “To let other young people, young musicians carry on in his name – that’s all I ask.”
After a series of performances offering more hypnotic and inventive improvisation with each new combination of performers, the evening was capped with the jazz standard “Out of Nowhere.” Almost every musician involved came back on stage to participate, and the audience could be heard whistling the melody immediately after it ended. “Running Wild,” was played for an encore, and as the night finally came to a close, the crowd left with a feeling of youthful euphoria that rang true to Chmielowski’s words before intermission: “Al kept us young; music keeps us young.”