May 3, 2006

From Paul Whiteman to Humanities in Medicine, Al Gallodoro plays all that jazz

NEW YORK -- To shut one's eyes was to be transported back to a dark table in a corner of the El Morocco nightclub during the late 1930s. The mournful yet soaring opening of "Rhapsody in Blue," played by jazz virtuoso Al Gallodoro at Weill Cornell Medical College's Humanities in the Medicine series, conjured up images of curls of cigarette smoke, the sweet smell of orchid corsages and tipsy debutantes dancing with tuxedo-clad gentleman.

To open one's eyes was to witness living, breathing history in the form of 93-year-old Gallodoro, the first chair alto sax/clarinet in Paul Whiteman's Orchestra from 1936 to 1967. He also played with Arturo Toscanini, Leopold Stokowski and Frank Black. He has appeared in several films, including "Strike Up the Band" with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.

Despite the absence of a bandstand, cigarette girls and martini shakers, Gallodoro still summoned the sublime, implausibly in the Uris Auditorium at the medical college. The Weill Cornell Medical Student Geriatrics Interest Group sponsored "An Evening with Jazz Legend Al Gallodoro," April 3. Deans, doctors and jazz devotees were captivated by such songs as "It Had To Be You," "Georgia" and "The Girl From Ipanema." Gallodoro was accompanied on the piano by JoAnn Chmielowski.

Periodically, Gallodoro set down his clarinet or saxophone to discuss his career and longevity, crediting his good health and remarkable energy to good food, good talk and good music. He sheepishly disclosed a multipack-a-day habit that he exorcised only 20 years ago. He admonished smokers to "just quit," not taper down, "just quit" -- a noteworthy declaration from a man who has been working for seven decades.

Touring Lincoln Center

On March 24 more than 20 Cornellians from Manhattan and around the country enjoyed a backstage tour of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on the Upper West Side. Lincoln Center is a musical complex that is home to 12 organizations, including the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera and the Juilliard School. The most recent of the center's buildings, the Juilliard School and Alice Tully Hall, were designed in 1969 by Pietro Belluschi, Cornell Class of 1922. Lincoln Center spans over 16 acres and was the brainchild of urban developer Robert Moses in an attempt to clear the Hell's Kitchen slums made famous by the musical "West Side Story" (book by Arthur Laurents, Class of 1937). The tour was sponsored by the Cornell Club.