Let me tell you what I consider the ultimate Joe Allard story with just a bit of my playing history to sort of "qualify" just how amazing a person Joe was to those of us that were fortunate enough to have this larger than life wonderful and brilliant person touch our lives.
Back around 1960 I was eighteen years old and had never touched a saxophone or any other instrument. I had just been injured and lost a football scholarship, on my way to being a pro football player. I was housebound with a severe leg injury and very depressed. My kid brother brought home an alto sax from school and out of boredom I started fooling around with it while he wasn't using it. Well I took to it like a fish to water and started taking lessons from a teacher that came to the house to give lessons. He ran out of things to teach me within a year.
I then heard about the teacher that was Stan Getz's original instructor, Bill Scheiner (this was in the Bronx NY) I went to him for a bit but he was just too preoccupied all of the time and had a very rough personality. I had heard that in Manhattan there were three wonderful sax teachers, Joe Allard, Joe Napolean and Bobby Tricarico. My first call was to Joe Allard and he was very nice on the telephone and told me that I was welcome to come to his studio across the street from Radio City Music Hall above the Rexall or Ligget (I forget which name) drug store. When I went there one winter night and met him, he really impressed me with his wonderful smile and that great way he had of making all around him feel so welcome and gave you the sense that you knew him your whole life.
He then went on to ask me to sing or scat a tune, not play the horn, to see if he would take me as a student. This seemed to be his way of seeing if you had some musical ability. Joe always said the important thing was the ability to make music. The first thing Joe worked on was my embouchure and his open throat big sound lessons. To this day I have never heard another player with as wonderful a sound on the alto sax as Joe had, it was just awesome!
Well, within my first year of lessons, I was offered my first paying gig. I went on it with my new Selmer Mark VI tenor bought for $315.00 at Silver and Horland on Park Row serial number around 123,000 and tested and approved by Joe. It was a Saturday night "downtown" City College Dance probably around 1962. When it came my turn to play, the tune was "Old Devil Moon" I was not able to play in tune I was so nervous and not only was I way out of tune but my sound was wavering with waves of nervousness. Needless to say the whole night was a devastating disaster for me. Luckily my lesson with Joe was that following Monday night. When I saw and told Joe what had happened to me and how I was rethinking this whole playing thing for myself he walked over to the window of his studio and threw open those big old windows into the winter night. Across the street at Radio City there was a line waiting in the cold night to get into see the Christmas show. We were only on the top floor but it was a three story building when Joe pushed me over to the window and said that I should put the horn down and start singing "I'm in the mood for love" . When I turned to him embarrassed he said either I should start singing or regret all of the time I have put into learning to play. Well, needless to say, I started singing to the amusement of all of the folks below. I was feeling really humiliated when Joe took the back of my shirt collar and then gave me a big hug and said to me "Brian, now you will never again be embarrassed about making music again in your life because you will be able to hide behind your horn". What a brilliant person he was and, of course, correct.
I have gone on since to have had a decent playing career including stints with various bands such as the Elgarts, Jimmy Dorsey, Nelson Riddle, Tito Puente, Bob Crosby and others so you can get the idea, of all of the teachers I eventually had in my life Joe was the most memorable and I considered his lessons not only to be musical but those of life itself. Add to this the fact that Joe also spoke every romance language fluently plus two dialects of Chinese. What a brilliant person he was and how he touched so very many lives. It was a rare lesson when some player either famous or not would not show up just to say hello to Joe while they were in town, he will be missed forever. Oh one other thing, one of his golf buddies back in those days was his biggest competitor in the NYC sax lesson field, Joe Napolean who by the way was another wonderful larger than life person and teacher but that's another story.