Pittsburgh Jazz Legends 5: Barry Galbraith

Wednesday, 02 May 2012 02:57 PM Written by 

You may never have heard of Joseph Barry Galbraith, a Pittsburgh jazz legend known mainly to the hardcore jazz guitar fan and to jazz historians.   It doesn't matter.  A native of McDonald in Washington County, born there in 1919, was a Guitarist's Guitarist who made his most meaningful contributions behind the scenes. He was a regular in the recording studios of Manhattan in the 50's. As a guitar teacher, he coached and tutored some top players.

 We don't have much video of the man, but there's enough music to get the point across.Galbraith  studied guitar extensively during his days in Pittsburgh and ended up as a staff guitarist at WJAS Radio in the days when nearly all local radio stations employed fulltime or part-time musicians to play live.

 Pittsburgh guitar virtuoso Joe Negri , who knew him as he was just beginning his own career locally in the late 30's and early 40's, had these memories of memory of Galbraith, who he met at one of the two major music stores once located downtown.

 "He was a bit of a mentor ... several years my senior … I can remember meeting him at Pettey's or Volkwein's Music. Great guy.  He was always warm and generous with his time around me He lived for the guitar and nothing else.  We always had a similar approach to the guitar.   Wish I could read (music) like he did.  I understand that he was a monster reader … anything they put in front of him. That is still rare with guitarists." Negri had been told that Galbraith's music reading "was so good that he could read piano scores."

 He left Pittsburgh in the early 40's to join one of the greatest of all big bands: Claude Thornhill and his Orchestra, among the most elegant and forward-looking of all orchestras in that time. He rejoined Thornhill after World War II.  If anything the band became more exciting after the War. The reason: the return of the band's old arranger Gil Evans, the same Gil Evans who later made jazz history with Thornhill fan Miles Davis.

 Evans had begun adding bebop to Thornhill's repertoire, including this 1947 recording of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee."  This is Galbraith's solo from that recording.

 In the 50's Galbraith became a first-call studio musician in Manhattan as well as a guitar teacher. He supposedly did nearly 600 recording sessions during his studio career, working alongside other top Manhattan studio guitarists like Allen Hanlon, Al Caiola, George Barnes, Bucky Pizzarelli and others.

 As a teacher, he taught other virtuosos a trick or two. Hank Garland, the Nashville icon who worked as a studio guitarist on country and rock dates and evolved into a widely admired jazz soloist, took lessions on rhythm guitar playing from Galbraith when he came to New York to play TV shows as a member of country star Eddy Arnold's band.

 Galbraith played on many 50's jazz albums recorded in New York and did club dates in Manhattan's clubs as well.   He worked extensively with saxophonist Hal McKusick (who died last month) and was sole accompanist on a 1956 album by pianist John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet titled  The John Lewis Piano. Again, he provides a buoyant rhythm bounce behind Lewis's spare improvisations, and understated solo lines in his own solos.


Galbraith made a 1956 recording  first: the lesser known pop song 'He (She) Was Too Good to Me" with a small group.

 Given his stature, it's surprising Galbraith recorded only one solo album in his career: Guitar And The Wind, in 1958. Here's an elegantly executed number from that album: "Love Is For the Very Young" (From the movie The Bad And the Beautiful)


This 1961 film includes Galbraith in the backup band alongside three other swing greats: drummer Cozy Cole, bassist Milt "The Judge" Hinton and pianist Johnny Guarnieri, all backing tenor sax fountainhead Coleman Hawkins on "Lover Man," Galbraith maintaining that rock steady, rich rhythm.

He was equally masterful accompanying singers.  This exquisite rendition of  "I'm A Fool to Want You" shows him backing Sheila Jordan on her 1962 Blue Note album Portrait of Sheila.

Generally, Galbraith avoided rock and roll.   Here's a rare exception: an instrumental from the  late 60's titled "Moonshot." The "Ten Tuff Guitars" were Galbraith and his peers, all the cream of NYC's studio players: Artie Ryerson, Al Caiola, Bucky Pizzarelli, Don Arnone, Tony Mottola, George Barnes, Al Casamente, Allen Hanlon and Tony Gottuso. Not a significant record but an interesting curiosity.

In the late 60's Galbraith, who eventually relocated in Vermont, began suffering from spinal problems that seriously affected his playing. They culminated in a 1969 operation that, sadly, left his musical skills significantly impaired.  It forced him to concentrate on teaching more than playing in his later years, at the the City University of New York (CUNY) and later, at Boston's New England Conservatory.  He died in 1983 in Bennington, Vermont.

Nearly 30 years after his death, Galbraith's instructional materials remain available today.

His name may not have the cachet of the better-known greats of Pittsburgh jazz, but among jazz guitarists, even today, Barry Galbraith is still revered and respected. Some perform his solos on YouTube. For all these reasons, he merits recognition as a true Pittsburgh jazz titan.


To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to socialmedia@post-gazette.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.