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May 30, 2014

Concert to pay tribute to late area musician

By Jessica Reynolds
The Daily Star

---- — Even though Al Gallodoro has been gone for six years, fellow musicians, students and friends say his music is still very much alive.

The music legend and former Oneonta resident will be honored Sunday at a Birthday Tribute Concert in New York City, according to a media release. One of Galladoro’s students, Broadway saxophonist Chad Smith, will perform the tribute to his former teacher and mentor at 7:30 p.m. at St. Peter’s Church on 346 West 20th Street.

Gallodoro, who would have turned 101 on June 20 this year, is best known for being the the musician who performed the opening clarinet glissando from the 1945 film Rhapsody in Blue. Gallodoro performed it with the famous Paul Whiteman Orchestra more than 10,000 times throughout his long and successful career, the release said.

At the tribute, Smith will play some of Gallodoro’s most famous solos on the legend’s original horns: a bass clarinet, clarinet and 1958 Selmer alto saxophone with “Al Gallodoro” engraved in the bell. The concert will be attended by many friends and family, including Gallodoro’s music producer and grandson, Kevin Wood, the release said.

Smith has played with the Boston Pops and Metropolitan Opera orchestras, and been a member of the orchestra for the Broadway show “Wicked.” At Sunday’s tribute concert, he will be joined by a 15-piece wind ensemble and multiple world-renown musicians, the release said.

Gallodoro’s longtime keyboard accompanist, manager and friend, JoAnn Chmielowski, said she cannot think of a better musician to perform the tribute. Smith’s duplication of Gallodoro’s playing is next to perfect, she said.

“When Chad plays, I just close my eyes and it feels like Al’s right there playing,” Chmielowski said.

Gallodoro was also a fan of Smith’s and would likely be proud of his accomplishments, Chmielowski said. When Smith sought out Gallodoro in 2005 to take saxophone lessons from him, Gallodoro was impressed with his natural talent.

“I distinctly remember Al listening to him and saying ‘Whoa, this guy’s great! I don’t think there’s much I could teach him,’” Chmielowski said.

In 2012, Smith told The Daily Star that Galladoro became his idol as a child growing up in Hershey, Penn. In ninth grade, a clarinet player in his community band gave him a cassette of Gallodoro and he was “blown away.”

“Al continues to be an inspiration and a mentor to me to this day,” Smith said. “When studying with Al, he constantly raised the bar for me through his keen sense of detail and musicianship from his vast performance history.” 

Several years ago, Smith contacted Chmielowski, asking her for music parts and original copies of transcriptions of Gallodoro’s music, Chmielowski said. At the same time, Smith contacted Gallodoro’s grandson, Kevin Wood, and asked to buy Gallodoro’s instruments. This led to Wood eventually loaning his grandfather’s instruments to Smith.

“It was like his spirit was in the room,” Smith said, about seeing and playing the instruments. “Of course, I was tickled about it.”

Gallodoro died Oct. 4, 2008, after starting his career at age 13 in New Orleans and playing professionally for more than 80 years, the release said. The last 22 years of his career were spent in Oneonta.

Rene Prins, a local oboist, band conductor and music professor at the State University College at Oneonta and Hartwick College, said he would love to attend the tribute concert Sunday night, but has a concert of his own that day. Prins spoke at Gallodoro’s funeral, he said.

Chmielowski said she, too, wishes she could attend the tribute concert, but has a previous engagement she must attend. Gallodoro was passionate, yet strict, she said. During intense practice sessions, Gallodoro frequently told her to be patient with herself and slow the music down if she was unsure of a part, she recalled.

“Still today, I don’t think a day goes by when I’m playing that I don’t hear him saying, ‘Slow the darn thing down,’” Chmielowski said. “He was a doll.”