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Jazz Bassist Hal Gaylor Dead at 86 - BassPlayer.com

Jazz Bassist Hal Gaylor Dead at 86

Harold Walden Gaylor, born July 9th 1929, slipped from this world surrounded by love from his family & friends on June 25th 2015, following a long illness.
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Harold Walden Gaylor, born July 9th 1929, slipped from this world surrounded by love from his family & friends on June 25th 2015, following a long illness.

Hal studied music at McGill University in his native Montreal. He met and married Evelyn Benz in 1955, and moved to New York where he began a long and successful career as a Jazz bassist. He worked with such artists as Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Chico Hamilton, Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Oscar Peterson, and Charlie Parker as well as many others.

Due to a hearing loss, Hal retired from his music in 1996 and became an addictions counselor and hypnotherapist. Always a prolific artist, he created many paintings and portraits as well as designing several buildings. In 2012 he received the Hudson Valley Jazz Fest Life Time Achievement Award.

Hal was seen by his family and friends as loving, charming, whimsical, and stubborn, with an incredible sense of humor. “He always marched to a different drummer.” His personality was magnetic, drawing friends and strangers alike. He was “a real force of nature” and a true artist in every sense of the word, not just a dreamer but a doer and teacher. Extremely self directed Hal always wanted to leave things better than he found them. He had an adventurous spirit and lived on the cutting edge.

He will forever be remembered by his wife, Evelyn, daughter Stacy, son Jordan and his wife Patti. As well as his grandchildren, Jordan, Katherine, Victoria, Brenda, Donovan, Luna and his nieces and nephews. He predeceased by his grandson Jordan Cody Beste and his sister Betty.

A memorial will be held in celebration of Hal's life on July 9th, which would have been his 86th birthday, at Applebee-McPhillips funeral home Highland Avenue, Middletown, NY, from 5 – 8 PM.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Wallkill River School for the Hal Gaylor Memorial Fund for teen artists.

Donations can be made online HERE or mailed to Wallkill River School, 232 Ward St. Montgomery, NY, 12549.

More about Hal:

Long considered one of the finest bass players in jazz, Hal Gaylor is also a painter,architect, and licensed hypnotherapist. He has worked with performers as disparate as Tony Bennett and Ornette Coleman.

His father and grandfather were both violinists, and Hal -- born Harold Walden Gaylor in Montreal, Canada, on July 9, 1929 -- began to play clarinet at the age of nine. At first he taught himself, with help from his father on music theory. He gained his first practical playing experience with his high school band. The school was Montreal High, and fellow students included Oscar Peterson and Maynard Ferguson.

In 1948, his father suffered a heart attack and asked Hal to sub for him on bass. Hal had limited knowledge of the instrument, but he got through the job without complaint from the other musicians. But his interest in the bass had become whetted.

He left school for two years to work as an airline mechanic, then enrolled at McGill University, where he studied art and music, including clarinet under Andre Moretti. He was asked to play bass in the school orchestra and henceforth concentrated on that instrument.

During that period, Montreal was a thriving Mecca of music and entertainment and when such performers as Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Vic Damone, and Edith Piaf came to town, Hal was the bassist of choice for their engagements.

In 1953, he joined pianist Maury Kaye for the opening of the El Morocco, a supper club with a first rate show band backing the best acts of the time. He was a part of the Canadian All Stars, a quintet made up of winners of a jazz poll conducted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Besides Gaylor, the group included Al Baculis on clarinet, Gordie Fleming on accordion, Yvan Landry on piano and Billy Graham on drums.

Another of Hal's associates was pianist Paul Bley, and when Bley invited Charlie Parker to play a concert in Montreal, Hal was a bassist on the engagement. Tapes of that performance became CD titled Charlie Parker Montreal 1953.

In 1955, Hal married dancer Evelyn Benz of New York. In 1956, they moved to New York City. While living and working in NYC, Hal worked with Paul Bley in a trio that included Lennie McBrown on drums. They toured the Midwest in a series of concerts ending up in Los Angeles. There Hal met and worked with pianist Walter Norris and Billy Higgins in a trio. This group was frequently augmented by saxophonist Ornette Coleman and trumpeter Don Cherry.

In 1957, Gaylor replaced bassist Red Mitchell in the Chico Hamilton Quintet. He toured and recorded with Hamilton until 1960. During his tenure with that group, he also recorded two albums for Decca Records with guitarists John Pisano and Billy Bean

Then Hal returned to New York, where he played in the Clark Terry big band and quartet, the Billy May band, saxophonist Stan Getz, Pianist Bill Evans, and Kai Winding's Trombone Panorama, among others.

When Walter Norris moved to new York, he, Gaylor and guitarist Billy Bean formed a group called simply The Trio. Although they worked infrequently and recorded only one album, that album -- on Riverside -- has a cult status as a classic. All three musicians and their families lived together in a log house on Greenwood Lake, NY, about fifty miles north of New York City. Meanwhile, Hal was taking gigs on the road with Lena Horne, Mel Torme, Anita O'Day, and Dick Haymes.

In 1961, Hal joined Ralph Sharon and Billy Exiner in the rhythm section that played for Tony Bennett. This was to prove to be one of the most rewarding, and exciting, periods of his career, in part because of his respect for Bennett as an artist and musician, and in part because they worked with great bands, including those of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Woody Herman. The trio worked extensively with Bennett, including one album in which they were the singer's only backing.

After six years on the road, with long periods away from his wife and family, Hal left to pursue work in the studios and clubs in the New York area. He added electric bass to his musical skills, and played in fusion groups with Jeremy Steig, Mike Mainieri, Donald McDonald ands Joe Beck.
In 1971 he toured Europe with the Benny Goodman Septet. The group is heard on a live recording made in Copenhagen on the London label.

In1972, Hal contracted a virus that had one devastating after-effect: it destroyed the hearing in his right ear. Unable to hear the full spectrum of sound, he decided that music was no longer a practical career. Always a practicing architect, He designed and built his home atop a mountain at Greenwood Lake. his father-in-law, Frank Benz, owned a small resort hotel called the Linden House. After it burned down, Hal designed and built a new one that included a small theater. For several seasons it presented Broadway shows under the direction of James Sisco.

For the past several years Hal has begun to utilize his artistic talents in drafting and architecture to develop his drawing and painting abilities. His love of jazz and the musicians he has played with inspired him to create the portraits you see here.

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