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Gerard D'Angelo: Who's Kidding Who?

DanMichael Reyes By

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AAJ: Who were you checking out by that point?

GD: By that point, I was constantly buying records here and there. I had discovered all the major cats by that point. I knew Oscar Peterson; I fell in love with him and bought all his records. Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, Phineas Newborn, Jr.. You name it and I loved it.

When I heard Bill Evans I knew that there had to be more people like him. Before I went to Berklee, I just bought any record that said the label "jazz piano." I figured if [Evans] is around, then there had to be more. It wasn't really until I had started meeting more friends and people, discovering WBGO, and meeting other players who were jazz oriented who would say, "You gotta hear Oscar Peterson."

So I was listening to all those people. When it came to watching shows, I was watching a lot of people. I saw a lot of Bill Evans because he was the most accessible and inexpensive. The reality was—as I remember—Oscar Peterson wasn't playing a lot of the small clubs in New York at that time. I don't ever remember ever seeing Oscar Peterson at the Vanguard. Seeing was Evans was easy because it was affordable. A lot of the other guys weren't playing those clubs until later on in the '80s. During those years, in the '70s, when I was in high school and post-high school, I would go to the clubs and listen to Sonny Stitt, Red Garland in Boston, McCoy, Ramsey Lewis and other people.

AAJ: What happened after high school?

GD: I went to Berklee for a year and I got a gig from this team, Bobby and Pat—it was this husband and wife duo. Bobby came up to me one time when I was in a practice room at Berklee and said, "Man you sound great." He needed a pianist to play bass. Back in those days, in the commercial world of club dates, bands rarely had bass players. All pianists would have to play bass.

AAJ: Really?

GD: Yeah, go back and ask the older guys. There were bass players but they weren't using them. It was cheaper for bands to get away with pianist who could play bass—we all had split-bass. We had Fender Rhodes that had the bottom two octaves act like a bass. It was all about how well you could play bass lines. Bass lines on piano were something I grew up doing so I felt comfortable doing it. It was perfect for me because as a kid I was always playing boogie-woogie for years. I couldn't play stride like my dad, so I played more bass lines.

So that was one of my first gigs and I did that for a year. I couldn't manage both things— school and gigging. So I ended up moving back home and I went on the road with a few shows. But my dad really pressured me to go back to college. He said, "You have to get at least an Associate's Degree." This was the early '70s and it was getting important to get an education from college because it was becoming clear that a degree was essential to earning a living.

I ended up at Five Town's College and got my Associate Degree. Believe it or not, but while I was there, I got my first teaching gig. Within the first year, the school gave me a teaching gig and I ended up teaching enough to pay my tuition. So I got my degree and I taught there for two years.

AAJ: So how did you end up getting your Bachelor in Music degree?

GD: [Laughs] So I got my Associate's and to brush through the whole thing, I was gigging until I'm 36. So I move into the city and I managed make a living gigging. I did all sorts of gigs. So I hit 36, and I start subbing at The New School thanks to Gary Dial.

AAJ: So Gary Dial was teaching at New School?

GD: Gary was one of the first teachers at New School. He was with the first group of teachers from the very beginning. He was really instrumental to introducing me to everyone at the school. So I was subbing for him, it went well, and all the kids liked me. Then a class opened up and Gary said, "Hey, there's a class opening up."

AAJ: What was the class?

GD: It was a harmony class, it's the same one I've been teaching. That's all I ever taught! Eventually the Theory and Performance class opened up at New School and I began teaching that. Around the same time I also began subbing at Manhattan School of Music and I eventually became part of their faculty.

So here I am teaching kids that are about to graduate with a Bachelor's Degree and some of them were graduate students at MSM and I only had an Associate's Degree! So I went back to Five Towns College and finished my Bachelor's. I think they're a little bit stricter now with that and I probably wouldn't have been able to teach now without a degree.

AAJ: You mentioned that you played with Billy Crystal. What was that like?

GD: He would do his stand-up routine and I would improvise behind him. I remember this gig I did with him at this venue called my Father's Place. He was midway through his routine and people started booing him off the stage. But even throughout all that, he never doubted that he would make it big and became a star. He would just play these college gigs and these venues that were not really that big of a deal. But even after that night at Father's Place with someone throwing an orange at him, he still was upbeat that he was going to make it, and he did. He got into Soap, rose to stardom and that was the end of that story. I've never seen him since then.

[laughs] Usually when people become successful, I don't see them anymore.

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