Charles Gayle lustrously performs at Hallwalls

Jazz musician serves intimate, avant-garde performance downtown


Limitless expression filled the room as jazz artist Charles Gayle proved his local legend at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center on Friday.

Over 40 people attended the musician’s solo performance, the second concert of Hallwalls’ fall season. Gayle, a free jazz multi-instrumentalist, delighted in his travels from saxophone to piano in a performance that encompassed nearly two hours.

Gayle quickly jumped to a saxophone number after he was introduced. A range of low to high notes echoed throughout the secluded venue. Deep notes soon took over and after a round of applause, the artist jumped back to making his sonic intricacies clear on the sax.

Gayle often reached to audible depths on his saxophone, emitting dark pitches through his shiny gold instrument.

Gayle’s free roam on the saxophone pleased the crowd and as an expressionist, improvisations seeped through in his performances.

“I try not to plan a program of what to [play]. I have different things in my head because I want it to be ‘spur of the moment,’” Gayle said. “I want to surprise myself and not get too much into one thing, I get up and wonder what I’m going to do and it works.”

The musician’s career has spanned over 50 years. He performed at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory in the ‘80s and overseas in more recent years. Gayle, a 78-year-old player and Hallwalls’ veteran, considers himself a better musician in his older age.

“I feel pretty good at this age about improvising, taking chances with the music, because that’s what I want,” Gayle said. “When I came in here, I didn’t know what I was going to do and I want that. It pushes you, you have to do it. “

Gayle, a former UB professor, showcased his improvisation skills on Friday but his approach looked calculated throughout his show.

After a handful of saxophone pieces, Gayle raised a storm of sound on his piano. In skilled fashion, the artist carried himself and his instrument by utilizing everything from his voice to his forearm to play.

Kathie Menduni Aspaas, a local artist from East Aurora, said experiences like Gayle’s performance supplements creativity and experimentation.

“I never heard of him before this but I’ve attended avant-garde performances,” Menduni Aspaas said. “There’s something about this [style] that fosters creativity and Gayle’s saxophone playing reminded me a lot of the Taj Mahal [Travellers], they make the guttural kind-of sounds whenever they play which Gayle used too.”

Gayle inverted his songs to more gloomy sounding regions between beautiful, romanticized sections. The performer hit strings with one hand while parading his fingers on the keys with the other.

Gayle made his voice heard before intermission. He added to an already heavy cut with a spread of words. The artist pleaded “help” and chanted “one day you wake up, you old.” His vocalization showcased the artist’s joys and pains.

Gayle continued with delightfully frightening, jazzy renditions after intermission. He stopped during a brief musical skit saying “that’s good enough.”

In the performance’s key moment, Gayle moodily played his piano, asking why people are dying and preaching the Golden Rule. “It’s not a political statement, it is what it is, love one another as you want to be loved,” the artist said.

Gayle hurried his hand up and down his piano’s scale, focusing in on a conclusion to his dazzling, uninhibited drive as the performance entered its final minutes. After finalizing his performance and soaking in cheers, Gayle gave a brief speech on the importance of health, adding that he hopes his performance touched everyone in attendance.

Steve Baczkowski, the Music Director at Hallwalls, said the performance by Gayle on Friday is not something that a music recording can adequately capture.

“Gayle is from Buffalo and that has its own significance and he’s always been someone who has stood out as far as his honesty and intensity of his music,” Baczkowski said. “We support this kind of music and Hallwalls has always been a place for jazz and improvised music programming. Gayle is a singular individual, his relationship with the global scene and his connection to Buffalo – it makes sense for him to [perform] here.”

Benjamin Blanchet is a senior arts editor and can be reached at