- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

A little boy with a big sound. That’s Geoffrey Gallante, an accomplished trumpet player at age 8 who never buckles under pressure.

“Practice like you’re performing, and perform like you’re practicing,” says the barely 4-foot prodigy as he’s waiting to perform the national anthem for thousands of people at a recent George Mason University men’s basketball game.

Is he nervous?

“Not at all,” he replies in rapid-fire mode, his ice-blue eyes peering. He’s been free buzzing - blowing air through pursed lips - and doing scales in a tiny arena dressing room during the past hour.

Then he walks out - all 50 pounds of him - in his dark blue corduroy dinner jacket, baggy jeans and blond winter-dry hair to the middle of the court and plays a smooth, pitch-perfect rendition of the national anthem.

It swings.

That’s really what makes Geoffrey so special. Not only is he technically skilled at a young age - a la Suzuki prodigies - but he possesses that intangible, intuitive thing that all great jazz musicians have: a unique groove.

“He has an incredible sense of rhythm,” says Jim Carroll, director of jazz studies at George Mason University. “And he’s got a particular gift for jazz and improvisation.”

Mr. Carroll and Geoffrey have known each other about half of the 8-year-old’s life. Their paths crossed when Geoffrey’s stay-at-home dad, David Gallante, approached Mr. Carroll about gigs for his then-kindergartner.

Mr. Carroll was intrigued and booked Geoffrey to perform “Mack the Knife” with his Fairfax-based Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra at a local fundraiser.

“He saved the show and brought the house down,” Mr. Carroll says.

Geoffrey, who was 5 at the time, had been playing for about a year.

“When he was 4 and we were at grandma’s house for Thanksgiving he picked up his brother’s old trumpet and started playing,” says his father, who looks a bit like John Walsh, host of “America’s Most Wanted.”

“And the rest, as they say, is history,” Mr. Gallante continues.

But raw talent is not enough.

And without Daddy Gallante - whose persistence with music directors to get Geoffrey gigs and patience with his son during the daily, often contentious, one- to two-hour practice sessions are remarkable - Geoffrey wouldn’t be what he is today, Mr. Carroll says.

“You have to be in the right environment,” he says. “The talent has to be nurtured.”

Right now Geoffrey, who has two trumpet teachers, Kenny Rittenhouse and Chuck Seipp, is working on “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Hearing him play it is almost uncanny.

He stands in the living room of his parents’ top-floor Alexandria condo (they picked the unit because it’s the most private) as the sun sets over Old Town in his oversized T-rex PJs, with tousled hair and sleepy eyes, and flawlessly plays the 1950s pop standard on his Yamaha cornet.

But it’s not just about hitting the notes. It’s about producing a sound that has the feel and intonation of someone who actually knows the meaning of true love and a broken heart.

Just as you start thinking this child is not a child, Geoffrey makes a break for it and starts watching Miranda Cosgrove, his ‘tween girl pop-star fave, on YouTube. He’s singing along and bopping his head to her hit “About You Now.”

His pitch is perfect. Of course.

“He can definitely be very goofy with his friends,” says his elementary school teacher, Stephanie Falvey.

“And he’s also very down to earth,” she says, sitting in her Stafford Landing (a school for gifted and talented kids) classroom on a tiny chair.

At which point Geoffrey asks: “What does ‘down to earth’ mean?”

“It means you don’t brag,” Ms. Falvey answers.

That’s how it is with Geoffrey. He’s an emitter of constant questions.

“He just has this insatiable appetite for knowledge,” says his mother, Elizabeth Gallante, a court reporter. “And I’m the kind of mom who, when my child expresses an interest in something, I find out everything about it. And I run with it.”

With Geoffrey - she and Mr. Gallante each have children from previous marriages - that keeps her busy because the 8-year-old’s talents are not limited to playing the trumpet.

He also composes music. His recent “Beltway Brawl” is about crazy Beltway traffic complete with restless and warring horns.

He’s also a prolific writer and likes drawing comic strips. His most recent superhero is a DJ from Neptune.

When you ask him about the future, he says he will have several professions. Among them: comic book writer, court reporter (like his mother), trumpet player and professional baseball player.

Does it bother Mr. Gallante - who’s devoting his every breathing minute to Geoffrey’s trumpet talent - that his son doesn’t necessarily have his eyes set on being the next Miles Davis?

“I just try to enjoy one day at a time,” says Mr. Gallante, who never learned to read music. “We’re celebrating it as it happens.”

Which, according to Tracy Cross, professor of gifted studies at Ball State University, Muncie, Ind., is the perfect way to approach giftedness.

“Appreciate it as an art in the present,” Mr. Cross recommends. “Whatever happens later in life, knowing that you can be outstanding at an early age is something not too many people will experience.”

For the time being, young Geoffrey seems to be enjoying the ride too much to get off anytime soon.

“He’s smart enough to know that the trumpet is his ticket to seeing a lot of interesting places and meeting a lot of interesting people,” his dad says.

Among those places is Chicago, where he recently saw a 4-D version of “Polar Express,” which was supercool. Among those people are Wynton Marsalis, the late Maynard Ferguson and basketball great LeBron James.

Speaking of basketball, after his national anthem performance the other evening, Geoffrey had a quick meal in the media room and then joined the audience in the bleachers to watch the George Mason Patriots beat the Georgia State Panthers.

As he sat there cheering with his parents, the little boy with the big sound looked like any other little boy: peanut butter stains on his pants and on his lips - which previously produced sounds that prompted tears - were remnants of a chocolate brownie.

Geoffrey Gallante’s next gig is Feb. 14 with the Peachtree Wind Ensemble in Atlanta.

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