my Dad, Al Godlis - January 24th

Godlis on Godlis

My Dad, Albert Godlis, passed away on this date in 1978. It was a cold January 24th, when I received the call at work in New Jersey that day. New York City was in between two blizzards that January. A cold hard winter. I have several pictures outside CBGB's taken in the snow during those blizzards. A moment frozen in time that rolls around in my mind every January 24th.
Inwood in the 1950's

Al Godlis - as he was known - was a career musician, who grew up and learned to play brass music in the 1920's, at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum on Amsterdam Avenue and 138th Street, His father died from TB two years after emigrating from Kiev, Russia and my father was placed there at age the age of 2 with both his sisters. The Orphanage, as it turns out, was a stroke of luck for the two year old boy. It was there that he was trained by fine Jewish immigrant brass musicians in New York to play in the Orphanage Marching Band. And with that training he was able to go to Julliard. It was there that he met my mother, also a musician. And it was at Julliard graduation rehearsal ceremonies in 1931 that he was picked out by guest conductor Leopold Stokowski to join the esteemed Philadelphia Orchestra as 2nd Trombonist - in the midst of the great depression.

at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum
with my mother outside Julliard

He played with the Philadelphia Orchestra until 1939, when he moved back to New York City to do freelance studio recording and radio work. In the 1950's he was on a weekly live television show - Voice of Firestone. And in the 1960's, he played on Broadway - most notably in Sound of Music, which I saw way too many times. He always enjoyed telling the story of all the musicians in the pit turning his way every night, when the head Sister tells Maria - who is asking for permission to leave the convent and marry - "Just because you love a man more, does not mean you love God Less." All the musicians would point his way - love Godlis, ha ha ha! Every time that damn Sound of Music plays on TV, I love hearing that line. 

And so another January 24th. I miss my Dad more on this day every year. Life is too short, and it reminds me every year to enjoy every moment. When I was a teenager, and he bought me my first stereo, he told me "I had to blow a lot of notes for that." Some things you never forget.
New York in the 1940's
Voice of Firestone 1950's

NYC in the 1970's
1974, Nassau Coliseum


  1. Hello - I was a student of Al Godlis for probably 6 or 7 years as a teen in Great Neck. He trained me well in the old school symphonic sound, and I still play at a supremely high level (1st trombone in PACS in NYC, Bass trombone w/Brooklyn Wind Symphony) with a sound that remains admired. I learned that from your father, Godlis. What a teacher! The photo at the Nassau coliseum is a great one, your father would often take me to the circus when he played the pit there always playing the 2nd book ("let the young kids blow their brains out, I got nothing left to prove!") I think of him often when I play Mahler or Shostakovich or Richard Strauss or anything where that great Godlis articulation is required. "nice job", the conductor will tell me after performance...."Thank you, Mr. Godlis", I always think........


    Dan Dicker

  2. I studied with Al Godlis from 1952 -- second grade at Lakeville School -- until 1962. He must have done something right because I always had to put on a monkey suit and play The Carnival of Venice on euphonium or some Tommy Dorsey piece I didn't like (like Three Moods) for junior high school spring concerts. As a student, I don't remember Al actually giving me much coaching, but when I'd get the sound he wanted, he'd exclaim, "Sing it, boy!" I wasn't sure at times like that that he remembered my name, but it some something. He also said there was no reason for anybody to play higher than high Bb. Very Old School. And, of course, he insisted that he couldn't play jazz and refused to improvise, but he'd nail anything written, including some impressive tight-cup solos backing up Sarah Vaughan and, I thought, maybe Ella.

    A couple of memories:

    Of course, he took me down to Manny's Music to buy my first "pro" trombone, a King 2B. He tried half a dozen and said, "Get this one." It didn't matter what I wanted (a 3B), but I played that horn for many years and still have it (still in great condition). (What ever happened to his 78H?)

    One day, I was in the basement for a lesson and Al was cracking up over some song lyrics. I saw the conductor's score, and I don't know if he wrote the lyrics, played on the recording or what (here' the version I remember: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqLRXianoUM), but whenever he got to "... my wife is on vacation, so's my mother-in-law", he laugh uncontrollably. That was fun.

    Also, he and Manny Weinstock (my parents were friends with yours and with Manny) had wonderful stories about the tricks they'd play on conductors, especially "Tosky" (Arturo Toscannini) -- usually a variation on Manny walking into a radio session cold and taking a big, deep breath as though he was going to make a loud trumpet entrance during an especially quiet string passage. The guys in the brass section had to be careful not to laugh audibly because they were on live, nationwide radio. (Was that Firestone? NBC Symphony of the Air? I forget.)

    Anyway, sorry he's gone -- a major influence in my early life. Olev a sholem, Al.

    Gary Sloane