Eddie Gale's recent mid-April Brooklyn Jazz Festival appearance at Sista's Place was a grand welcome back event which the trumpeter fondly recalls as being a big reunion of friends and folks he hadn't seen since he was a teenager. People showed up who hadn't known what happened to Gale, himself born and raised in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn but living in Northern California since the early '70s. The only other visit to NYC was a festival Gale faintly recalls from back in 1996, which he recollects was rained out. Otherwise his last appearance here in the city goes back to the '70s!
From lessons with trumpeter Kenny Dorham, Gale's initial influences were Clifford Brown's lyricism ("one of the strongest lyrical trumpeters"), Miles Davis' style and manner ("Miles was sharp and set the trend"), Dizzy Gillespie's strength to "stay upstairs", Lee Morgan, Booker Little, Webster Young ("with him and Miles together, you didn't know who was who!"), and the ageless Clark Terry. With so many distinct personalities on his instrument, Gale's main problem was, "I had to find myself a voice!"
He began down that trail by jamming and performing with the likes of pianists Wynton Kelly and Randy Weston; drummers Art Taylor, Art Blakey, and Max Roach; and saxophonists Jackie McLean, Sonny Stitt, and Cecil Payne. And having Bud Powell as a neighbor didn't hurt much either!
It was in the mid '60s that Gale missed a golden recording opportunity with John Coltrane for the leader's Ascension (1965), one of the trumpeter's unfortunate musical disappointments. Because Gale had missed Coltrane's phone messages, trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Dewey Johnson got the call instead. "John was calling me every week. I was playing with [altoist] Byron Allen and [bassist] Walter Booker, and stopped calling him for some reason. Next thing you know, a few months went by, and I went to [see him play at] the Village Vanguard, and he asked me where I had been because he wanted me on that session!" regrets Gale.
He did, however, have the opportunity to play with Coltrane and his classic quartet on several occasions, one being with the additional horn of Sun Ra band mate, John Gilmore. "That was a hell of a session! Coltrane was bent down playing his horn between me and Gilmore. It just happened, and it was beautiful." Though it went unrecorded, somebody -Gale asserts with some sense of relief - did document it by taking pictures.
Soon thereafter Gale participated in Cecil Taylor's historic Blue Note session Unit Structures (1966), commonly considered the trumpeter's official recording debut. Two of its original members have since passed (altoist Jimmy Lyons and multi-instrumentalist Makanda Ken McIntyre) but the grand return of bassist Henry Grimes, drummer Andrew Cyrille playing stronger than ever, and bassist Alan Silva making regular visits to the States from France -make a 40th anniversary reunion worth considering. Coincidentally Gale recently mentioned in a phone interview that Silva (a high school mate), "was saying something like a Unit Structures reunion, too."
It was several years before that Blue Note date, however, that Gale had previously recorded with Sun Ra, who dubbed Gale, "the original avant-garde trumpeter". He fondly recalled their time together which lasted until the leader's death in 1993, "We had a father-son relationship. I used to be very out there with Sun Ra [and] walk the streets with him...He had his own concept of music - the various things he believed in [was] in music and life. That was very much an influence in my own life."
The late '60s found Gale in the recording studio in the rare bandleader role for two Blue Note sessions, Eddie Gale's Ghetto Music and Black Rhythm Happening (with Elvin Jones and Jimmy Lyons). Each of these long unavailable recordings are being reissued this month on CD (Water Music) as well as vinyl (4 Men With Beards)!
Both feature an 11-member vocal group and display Gale's blistering thick tone full of tremolo and utilization of the trumpet's full range, as he rides waves of drums, percussion, pizzicato bass, and vocals. Though there certainly have been more misses than hits with regards to incorporated voices within the recorded legacy of jazz - Gale's secret seems to be not allowing the voices to take over either session, a common pitfall which tends to dilute the jazz right out from under the music. Gale's spare and efficient usage of vocals has its place amongst the more memorable ventures, and though George Russell, Horace Silver, Donald Byrd, and Yusef Lateef have all documented similar efforts, there has only been sporadic musical success. As reissue supervisor Pat Thomas aptly describes, "It's like the Edwin Hawkins Singers gospel group fronting Sun Ra." Each session’s soul-jazz influence has been under-recognized and both are immediate entries for reissue of the year.