The article below originally appeared on MercuryNews.com and is being reprinted with permission.
Mike Galisatus leads a double life. By day, he’s Director of Bands at the College of San Mateo. By night, he’s an esteemed jazz trumpeter. He leads the Mike Galisatus Big Band, which plays Angelica’s in Redwood City on Sunday.
“I vowed to myself, when I started teaching, that I wasn’t going to stop playing. That would mean staying out till the wee hours and coming in and teaching a morning class,” Galisatus says with a laugh. “That was a choice that I made that I wouldn’t take back for anything.”
The versatile Galisatus, 60, has performed with such artists as Louis Bellson, The Temptations, Gladys Knight, Mel Torme, Frankie Valli and Zydeco icon Queen Ida. He played with Pete Escovedo’s band for 20 years and recorded with them.
His first love, however, is big band music, in the vein of Count Basie. “As a kid, being a trumpet player, the power of the brass section really caught my attention. A small group can create a different type of excitement. But there’s nothing like the sound of a big band. Unlike a fusion band, you’re getting the pure sound of the acoustic instruments.”
Galisatus, raised in Daly City, now a resident of Redwood City, originally wanted to play drums, but his mother wasn’t on board with that notion. “She told me to pick another instrument. I said, ‘How about trumpet?’ She goes, ‘OK.’ I found out later she had a crush on Harry James, so when I said ‘trumpet,’ she was all for it,” he says, laughing.
In junior high, a friend’s father took them to the Reno Jazz Festival to see college and high school big bands perform.
“I was in awe,” Galisatus says. “We didn’t leave our seats all day, watched every band, into the evening. That did it for me.”
While in high school, Galisatus went with buddies to see jazz artists at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner, experiencing such greats as Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson.”The great thing about Keystone was it was so intimate you were literally like five feet away from them. I feel fortunate that I was here at a time when that was available.”
These days, it’s difficult to find jazz venues that can accommodate big bands, both in terms of space and budget. Galisatus has found Angelica’s to be an ideal location. His seasoned bandmates at that gig will include four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, piano, bass, drums, plus vocalist Duane Lawrence. Their set includes original numbers, as well as tunes made famous by vintage and contemporary artists.
Galisatus relishes the camaraderie of the big band, but leading a large group can test a musician’s mettle.
“When you have 18 people all trying to be in synch, it’s definitely a challenge. And when it comes to improvisation, with a smaller group, there’s more freedom. In a big band, as a leader, you try throw enough bones to people to keep them happy and interested, so everybody gets a chance to have some sort of expression.”
Galisatus’ passion for music is contagious. He and wife Cindy have three children — Jason, 22, who graduated from Stanford with a political science degree, was a classical percussionist in the San Francisco Youth Symphony Orchestra; Nicole, 20, is a clarinet major at UCLA; and Christina, a 19-year-old pianist, performs in Stanford’s jazz program and also plays classical French horn.
“It’s gratifying for me to see, because I didn’t force it down their throats. They hear me practice all the time, there are recordings playing in our house all the time. And they gravitated towards music.”
And then there are his CSM students. Galisatus is involved with the college’s two big bands, the jazz combos and jazz history, theory and musicianship classes.
“Our jazz history class fulfills a general education requirement, so the majority of the students in the course have no previous knowledge of jazz whatsoever. They leave enjoying it and being jazz fans.”
Students aiming at becoming jazz performers benefit from the professionals that Galisatus brings in to conduct workshops. Students learn about the practical side, as well as the artistic side of building music careers.
Galisatus says, “Hopefully, when the students leave here, they’ll have a good handle on what they need to do to carve out a niche for themselves.”