The earliest recorded evidence of jazz on the PEA campus is archived in the Louis Kahn library, safely tucked in the basement with other documents of value.  The “Royal Exxonians” stage band was under the direction of Phil Wilson ’55 and, according to the liner notes, played mostly at Glee Club dances and other school functions.  Before he was in the Army in the early 60s and joined Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd from 1962-65, Phil worked with Ted Herbert’s big band in Manchester. After that, he taught at the Berklee School of Music and played around the Boston area with Herb Pomeroy and others.

Phil and his childhood friend from Exeter, Tommy Gallant, played jazz from the time they were in middle school.  Phil’s father taught math at Exeter, and they lived in Dunbar House. Tom’s house was near the corner of Maple and Elm Streets, right next to what is now the Elm St. Dining Hall. They would go over to each other’s houses – both had pianos – and play standard tunes. In a phone interview from March 6th, 2013, Phil recalled that their collective time was so good they did not need a bass player or drummer.

They were encouraged by Hammy Bissell, who would let the boys hang out at his house and listen to his extensive collection of jazz albums.  Henry Hamilton “Hammy” Bissell (1911–2000) was a long-serving member of the faculty of Phillips Exeter Academy. Born in India to American missionary parents, Bissell was raised in West Newton, Massachusetts. He subsequently graduated from Exeter in 1929. Serving during the tenures of seven Principals, he occupied a number of positions in the school’s administration, particularly Director of Scholarships. In that position, he famously extended the reach of the Academy to fulfil the slogan “Youth from Every Quarter” by seeing to it that everyone who could qualify academically for Exeter could attend Exeter. Hammy was a staunch supporter of jazz on campus, attending nearly all of the jazz concerts by students or faculty right up to the end of his life.

Although Phil Wilson left Exeter for a professional musical career, Tommy Gallant stayed in the area. Through the scope of his musical activities, as well as his personal integrity, enthusiasm, and unselfishness, Tommy was for decades the qualitative reference point for jazz and its practitioners in the Seacoast. Primarily self-taught, his musical career was influenced by his work with a virtual “Who’s Who” of jazz artists representing a variety of stylistic ranges.

Tommy was widely recognized for his performances as a solo pianist as well as with his two ensembles, the Tommy Gallant Trio and the Tommy Gallant All-Stars. A selfless educator, Tommy taught at the Berklee College of Music from ’71 to ’76, and as a private instructor for scores of students and director of the stage bands at Phillips Exeter Academy for 30 years until his death in 1998.  Though Tommy was not formally affiliated with UNH, he studied piano briefly at the University early in his career, and had significant influence on both students and faculty there through courses, workshops, and informal events he actively participated in.

Working closely with Tommy to promote jazz at Exeter was bassist Jim Howe.  During the years from 1985 to 2007, Jim taught upright bass, produced musicals in collaboration with the Exeter theater department, and played in the faculty jazz quartet with me, a saxophone teacher, drum instructor Les Harris, Jr. and several different pianists, including Chris Neville, Ryan Parker, and Mark Shilansky.  After Tommy’s death, Howe fronted a trio with Harris and Parker which performed on Sunday nights at The Press Room.

In addition to organizing the Sunday night gigs at The Press Room, he played Friday nights at The Metro for several years.  Howe was a very thorough teacher who worked diligently with his students and was well-respected and well-liked in the Phillips Exeter community.  The Jim Howe Trio released three albums, and Howe was a guest on many more recordings. Howe played with “some of the giants of jazz,” and he was even the opening act for Elvis Presley in 1968.

Other Exeter alumni who contributed to the jazz scene were Dunc Martin and Carl Chase, who formed a group on campus in the early 1960s called “The CubaLibre Quartet,” which has the distinction of having recorded two CDs at Exeter 50 years apart with the same personnel!

Dunc Martin graduated from Boston University in 1965 and Berklee in 1969 and taught instrumental music in Westboro, MA for grades 5-8 until 1980.  After that, he taught private lessons, saxophone choir and jazz ensembles at the John Payne Music Center in Brookline, MA.

Carl Chase grew up playing flute, guitar and double bass, and majored in music at Harvard. He started making steel drums and founded the Atlantic Clarion Steel Band in 1974. He has made most of their instruments, and arranged much of the music the band plays. Since 1988 he has developed curriculum and taught in New England high schools. He founded “Flash in the Pans” Community Steel band in Blue Hill, ME.

Also worth mention is one of Tommy Gallant’s former students, Bill Eveleth.  As a student at Phillips Exeter he played for musicals and formed his first band with Michael Cerveris (2004 Tony Award winner, singer, and guitarist). Classically trained, Bill studied with Garin Bader (winner of the International Chopin Competition), recording artist Seth Carlin, and Paul Peeters in Brussels, Belgium. Bill graduated from Cornell and is the author of Blues, Jazz, and Rock Riffs for Keyboards (Hal Leonard), and makes frequent solo appearances in North Jersey.

Some other famous musicians and adjunct faculty who have performed here on campus include Jim Howe, Tommy Gallant, Dave Seiler, Chris Neville, Les Harris, Sr., Les Harris, Jr., Marty Ballou, Mark Carlsen, Ryan Parker, Goeff Keezar, Sheila Jordan, Grace Kelly, Greg Hopkins, Vincent Herring, Paul Broadnax, Tony Cerelli, April Hall, Barry Danelian, Jimmy Mazzey, Howard Levy, Carl Benevides, Sara Caswell, Mark Shilansky, Ed Saindon, Phil Wilson, Christine Fawson, Grace Kelly, J. Geils, Butch Thompson — and yours truly.

As evidence that jazz is still thriving on campus, the jazz concert at the Library on July 19 featured vocalist Donna Byrne, accompanied by PEA faculty members Mark Carlsen, Les Harris, Jr., and me, Charlie Jennison.