Kent Glenn passed away on April 3, 2004. He was my friend, a wonderful pianist, composer, arranger and an incredible source of musical knowledge. I miss our long conversations about the state of jazz past and present. Sadly, his legacy is known to relatively few.
Born in Petaluma, CA on November 28, 1942, Kent established himself musically on the West Coast, based at various times in or near San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland. It was not until the mid-1990s that he ventured east to test the New York waters and even then would make extended visits back to his earlier stomping grounds. Fort Bragg, CA seemed to be his second home and as I discovered first hand in 1997, a place where he was held in the highest esteem.
As a pianist, Kent was strongly influenced by Elmo Hope, Bud Powell, Joe Albany, Hampton Hawes and Bill Evans, all of whom he revered and whose recordings he studied intensely. From these sources he fashioned an original and recognizable style characterized by a quirky intensity with clear bebop roots. But as his 1970s recordings on the Vee Jay label demonstrate, he could comfortably delve into more adventurous territory.
Throughout his career, Kent had the opportunity to work with some major figures of the West Coast scene including saxophonists Herb Geller, Walter Benton, Vince Wallace, Mel Martin, John Gross, Anthony Ortega and Gary Foster, trumpeter Tom Harrell, vibraphonist Dave Pike, vocalist Stephanie Haynes, bassists Henry Grimes, Putter Smith and Ed Bennett and many others. He was valued as a sideman because of his vast knowledge of the jazz repertoire and considerable writing and organizing talents.
By today’s standards, Kent had relatively little in the way of formal training and, in fact, often evinced a rather cynical disdain for the jazz education establishment. He learned things his way and was able to effectively communicate his extensive knowledge in a unique and personal manner. Over the years, he had many students who were deeply influenced and motivated by his intense and sincere approach to the teaching of music theory and improvisation.
In the late 1960s, Kent assembled an innovative and most unconventional San Francisco-based big band that included two bassists and had no written arrangements. The band members and musical contributors, including Mel Martin, Henry Grimes and Tom Harrell (tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson was an occasional guest composer), created and performed the charts by rote. One of the higher profile appearances of the orchestra was its performance at a John Coltrane memorial concert shortly after the jazz legend’s passing in July of 1967. This event took place at the Both/And Club and was covered by Down Beat Magazine.
More recently, Kent had returned to the big band format and was leading an ensemble of top New York musicians that appeared weekly at Swing 46 on Restaurant Row in Manhattan. The book (this time with written parts) included compositions by Charlie Parker, Billy Strayhorn, McCoy Tyner and even Jelly Roll Morton as well as Glenn originals. I heard the band several times and always marveled at the freshness of Kent’s writing. He listed as his influences in this regard Bill Holman and Gerry Mulligan but their presence in his work was subtle. When Kent left us, he was attempting to secure a recording deal for the band. It is hoped that as a fitting memorial to him, the ensemble will remain intact long enough to produce a CD of his music.
So now we remember with admiration Kent Glenn: pianist, composer, arranger, mentor and unadulterated, uncompromising jazz personality, in many ways, a throwback to a different time. I offer this page as my tribute to him.
Thanks to Sharon Bercutt, Mary Alma, Ed Bennett, Sarah James, Jack Gourdine, Don Sheridan, Frank Basile, Rich Price, Gene Stone, Bill Atwood, Stephanie Haynes, Dennis Whitling and Michael Fitzgerald for information.
Please email me with any additions, corrections or comments.