Eddie Gale, Deeply Spiritual Jazz Trumpeter, Dies at 78

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Eddie Gale, a spiritually minded jazz trumpeter and educator who performed with the avant-garde giants Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra, and who saw the music he made with his own bands as a conduit for communicating the richness of African-American life, died on July 10 at his home in Northern California. He was 78.

The cause was prostate cancer, his wife, Georgette Gale, said.

On his recordings as a leader — including two significant albums for the Blue Note label in the late 1960s, “Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music” and “Black Rhythm Happening” — Mr. Gale drew on the Black church, his Cub Scout marching band, astrology, street-corner funk and African polyrhythms to concoct a densely layered urban stew.

“It’s his whole life,” his younger sister Joann Stevens, who sang and played guitar with him, said in an interview. “He felt that these are the things that make the quote, ‘ghetto,’ alive and culturally enriching. So these are the things he wanted to celebrate and focus on, even if other people don’t.”

Sometimes the music got loud; sometimes it got deeply, deeply funky. And always it was spiritual.

“It didn’t sound like anything that came out before or after,” the trumpeter and bandleader Steven Bernstein said. “Total outlier. It’s 6/8 vamps with two bass players and two drummers, unison melodies in the horns, and then incredible choirs that are bringing blocks of music.”

Mr. Gale moved from New York to California in the 1970s and committed more of his time to teaching, although he continued to perform occasionally. His sister said he was still rehearsing his latest band and playing vigorously as recently as April, when the coronavirus shut everything down.

Edward Gale Stevens was born in Brooklyn on Aug. 15, 1941, the third of five children of Edward and Daisy Stevens. His father was a plumber’s assistant; his mother worked in a garment factory.

His first musical influence, he told JazzTimes magazine in 2007, was the Rose Hill Baptist Church and the gospel and spiritual records his family played. His parents were “cultural activists,” his sister said, with a vast collection 78 r.p.m. recordings by Louis Armstrong and others.

At the age of 8, he joined the Cub Scouts and took up the bugle. He later moved to trumpet and took lessons with the jazz great Kenny Dorham.

Brooklyn, filled with jazz musicians at the time, was a place to learn the craft. “In those days, the musicians were available to young people, if you were really into it,” Mr. Gale told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2006. “At some of the jam sessions and at after-hours clubs, you’d get involved by sitting in. These days, they don’t have that ability to learn directly from the masters.”

Mr. Gale would later work to create formal institutions to pass along this knowledge.

In the late 1950s and early ’60s he was starting to put the pieces together himself, getting a spot in Sun Ra’s Arkestra and meeting John Coltrane, who let him sit in one night and another time gave him $35 to retrieve his trumpet from a pawnshop. “He was like an uncle or father figure to me,” Mr. Gale told JazzTimes.

Mr. Gale was also raising a family. At 18 he married Marlene Manning, with whom he had five children. The marriage ended in divorce. He also had a daughter from an earlier relationship.

His two Blue Note albums, released in 1968 and 1969, were well received. But as the label reorganized it did not renew his contract, and his subsequent recordings were released only sporadically and were harder to find.

He poured his energies into teaching, taking a residency at Stanford University and then starting jazz programs at schools in San Jose, where he moved in 1972. In 1974, Mayor Norman Y. Mineta named him “San Jose’s Ambassador of Jazz.”

In 1985 he married Georgette Farley, who worked as a first responder for counseling services at San Jose State University.

Jazz careers can be fickle things. After the late 1960s, Mr. Gale’s work was less visible, less a promise of a broader revolution to come. Instead of expanding boundaries in nightclubs, he helped establish local institutions, including the Evergreen Youth Adult Jazz Society, the We’re Jazzed! Youth/Adult Jazz Festival and the annual Concert for World Peace and Peace Poetry Contest.

“Eddie believed in doing a lot of projects that had to do with helping the community,” Georgette Gale said. “He coordinated a giveaway of 100 trumpets. And he raised money for the Bay Area Jazz Musicians Self-Help Healthcare Project.”

He recorded a new version of “Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music” in 2018, and he performed several times with the hip-hop group Boots Riley and the Coup.

“He loved working with young people, and they were crazy about him,” Ms. Gale said. At one show with the Coup, he even had a cutting contest with the group’s D.J., Pam the Funktress.

In addition to his wife and his sister Joann, Mr. Gale is survived by six children: Donna, Marc, Chanel, Djuana, Gwilu and Teyonda; 12 grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren; another sister, Leticia Peoples; and a brother, David Stevens. He is also survived by students beyond anyone’s count.

His teaching extended almost to his last days, his sister Joann said. “Even if he was talking to someone on the phone. His whole mission was to use jazz as way to educate people about community and Black culture.”



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