The Music Still Plays

From a UNH scholarship announcement

Jazz Pianist Tommy Gallant is gone now, spirited away all too quickly in September, 1998, in his 63rd year of life. While the world of jazz in the Seacoast Region lives on, his absence is profoundly felt by the large circle of musicians, students, and fans who were central to his existence.

Gallant’s family, friends, and admirers have established a scholarship fund at UNH to ensure Gallant’s musical and educational legacy lives on by fostering future musicians. Through memorial contributions and the proceeds from a musical tribute to Gallant last spring, the endowed fund quickly grew to more than $50,000. Income from the fund will provide scholarships to students with financial need who demonstrate the values of jazz feeling, imagination, historical awareness, and commitment which were exemplified by Tommy Gallant.

Gallant, like many of his friends, lived to perpetuate the language of jazz. He was a great believer in the small jazz club, and along with the Tommy Gallant Trio and the Tommy Gallant All-Stars, was a regular performer at the Press Room and The Metro in Portsmouth, and at Saunder’s in Rye Harbor. He also entertained at private parties in the Seacoast Region and donated time to play for nursing home residents and school children.

“He was completely unselfish. He played in any venue, and his music moved the average person as much as the jazz afficianado,” says David Seiler, director of the UNH Jazz Band.

When the Portsmouth Jazz Festival floundered in 1996, Gallant and Seiler revived the tradition by establishing the summer Seacoast Jazz Festival in Prescott Park that same year, attracting New England’s finest jazz artists and this past summer, the world-renowned trumpet player Bobby Shaw. The two also founded the annual Harry Jones, Jr. Memorial Scholarship Fund, an annual concert which raises money for music students.

The less visible but equally vibrant legacy of Tommy Gallant continues in the music of his many students, who remember him as an inspiring, gifted teacher who was generous with his time and talent. Gallant taught at the Berklee College of Music, at Phillips Exeter Academy, and at the University of New Hampshire, through courses, workshops, and informal music events.

The first Gallant Scholarship recipient, Matthew Fogg, a junior music education major from Biddeford, Maine, has a special connection to Gallant. When Fogg was a freshman in high school, Gallant visited the school to play for students. “He was absolutely the first jazz pianist I ever heard play; he was amazing. I was so impressed that I dropped the trombone, which I was lousy at anyway, and started taking piano lessons,” Fogg says.

Today Fogg is an accomplished jazz pianist who would like to teach or go on to graduate school for music. He says the scholarship enables him to “work less and practice (the piano) more.”

“I feel very honored to receive the scholarship. Not only was Tom a great piano player, he was a great guy and very open and receptive to helping students,” Fogg says. “I’m especially honored because I’m the first recipient, and I knew Tom.”

In the lives of young musicians like Matthew Fogg, and in the vibrant Seacoast jazz scene, the Gallant spirit lives on.