While researching a recent cover story for the Birmingham Weekly
regarding efforts to restore the Lyric Theatre
, the magnificent old vaudeville house at Third Avenue and 18th Street North downtown, I was shocked to discover that one of the performers who played the Lyric in the 1920s, a jazz musician, is still alive.
Not only that, but Al Gallodoro, age 95, a saxophone and clarinet player now living in Oneonta, New York, is still playing, recording, and teaching music after more than 80 years in the business.
Best of all, I learned that Gallodoro '97 who lived in Birmingham with his family from about 1918 until 1927, proudly claims the Magic City as his hometown '97 or at least one of his hometowns, along with New Orleans.
Gallodoro's career has been a distinguished one.'a0 He played in vaudeville and on radio.'a0 He played with the legendary band leader Paul Whiteman
. He was a member of the NBC Symphony
, working with such famed conductors as Arturo Toscanini and Leopold Stokowski.'a0 He shared the stage with legends like Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Les Paul, and Dinah Shore. Bandleader Jimmy Dorsey called him "the best sax player who ever lived." He even gave private saxophone lessons to Harpo Marx, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York in 1934.
I contacted Gallodoro's manager and regular pianist, JoAnn Chmielowski, who put me in touch with him. I have now conducted two telephone interviews with this walking codex of 20th century American popular music,'a0the fruits of which you will see in a feature article coming soon in The Weekly.
At the Lyric in 1926, Gallodoro appeared with a band called Romeo and His Juliets, along with the Romeo brothers, whose father would pick Al up at school, take him to the theater, then drop him off after the shows at his parent's house in Ensley. "The older brother was Frank Romeo, and the young brother was Alfred," Gallodoro says. "The father's name I can't remember, nor the mother. And they owned an Italian restaurant on the north side of Birmingham. I never forgot it. Way back."
Gallodoro has also released a live CD, called Moment in Time, recorded at the Roma Country Club in Birmingham in 1969. The disc is a mix of dance tunes, Italian polkas and such standards as "Summertime" and "Tico Tico," all of which show off Gallodoro's amazing technical prowess, including his gift for double- and triple-tonguing.
The jazz great was invited to come back to Birmingham that year to perform by his old friend, Joe Giattina
,'a0 the long-time leader of a Birmingham band called the Bama Cardinals. Gallodoro appeared at the Festival of Arts
salute to Italy, then played a gig at the Roma that Giattina recorded. "Joe taped the whole thing," Gallodoro recalls.'a0 "After I left Birmingham, I went to New Orleans. One of my in-laws dubbed the tape.'a0 The original was lost, so we engineered the dub."
To read more about the CD and hear some sample tracks, go to www.algallodoro.com
. Click on "See and hear Al," then click on "discography."
Gallodoro is a Birmingham boy made good who deserves much more attention in his hometown. Perhaps the release of this CD is a good start.