William Galison

William Galison is an American jazz musician, most famous as a harmonica player but also known as a multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer. Born and raised in New York City William’s earliest musical training was in classical piano, but at the age of eight he switched to guitar, the better to emulate his heroes, The Beatles. He pursued the guitar throughout his high school years, during which time he acquired his love of jazz, and went on to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. There, at the age of eighteen he again decided to change instruments, because, as he puts it, “I was one of a million guitarists at Berklee”. Inspired by the playing of Toots Thielemans and Stevie Wonder he became the only harmonica player at the school and played “till I got dizzy”.
While attending Wesleyan University in Connecticut, William studied with the late saxophonist Bill Barron and was also inspired and influenced by the university’s renowned program of world music. Returning to New York in 1982, he quickly made a name for himself, playing at such clubs as the as the Village Gate, the Blue Note, and the Lone Star Cafe, with musicians the likes of Jaco Pastorius and Jaki Bayard. His own group attracted an enthusiastic and loyal following while performing weekly at Preacher’s Cafe in Greenwich Village.
In recent years Galison’s unique sound has been heard in an impressive variety of musical contexts. He has performed with artists across the entire spectrum of popular music. From rock legends Sting and Carly Simon, to jazz greats Eddie Gomez and Les Paul to Brazilian stars Astrud Gilberto and Toninho Horta. Recently, he made his classical debut, performing Gordon Jacob’s “Suite for Harmonica and Orchestra” to critical acclaim. His harmonica has been featured on the stage- in the national tour of the Broadway musical “Big River”, among others and in the soundtracks of many movies including “The Untouchables” and “Bagdad Cafe”, both nominated for Academy Awards. He is also heard many television shows (including the theme of “Sesame Street”) and countless commercials.
Most notable, however, are William’s own recordings, which feature his playing and include many of his compositions. These include two CD’s on PolyGram’s Verve Forecast label: “Overjoyed” which hit #6 on the contemporary jazz charts, and “Calling You” among more recent releases on various labels. He has also recorded as co- leader with other major talents around the world, including the Australian cabaret singer Janet Seidel and the American chanteuse, Madeleine Peyroux.
William has also played as a side man on albums by some of the legends of Jazz and Popular music. Recent credits include albums by Barbra Streisand, Ruth Brown, Peggy Lee, Chaka Khan and many others. But for all these varied recording credits, the scope of William’s unique expression can best be appreciated in his live performance, whether in an intimate duo or with his dynamic quintet.
Over the past 20 years William has delighted audiences in clubs and festivals throughout the US and around the world.
In addition to his Harmonica virtuosity, William is also an accomplished jazz guitarist and a composer/ lyricist with many published works of instrumental and vocal music.
Toots Theilemans, the “papa” of jazz harmonica has called William “The Most Original and Individual of the New Generation of Harmonica Players”.