Glenn Spearman, saxophonist and composer, died from cancer this morning [October 8, 1998] at his home around 6 a.m. He had been diagnosed in August, and had recently undergone treatment. He is survived by his wife Shantee, their three-year old daughter Angelica, his daughters Rose and Jahan and son Ahmad.
He was a great artist, and we shall miss him tremendously.
A Memorial service for Glenn Spearman will be held this Sunday at the Harris Funeral Home at 1331 San Pablo Ave. in Berkeley at 11 a.m. this Sunday, October 11.
Photo of Glenn Spearman linked from Matthew Goodheart's site.
Born in New York on February 14, 1947, Spearman began his musical education with his stepfather, and amateur pianist, violinist and saxophonist who showed Glenn the basics on each of these instruments. His stepdad also held weekly jam sessions at home, where Glenn got his first taste of the jazz language. "I had piano lessons as a child," Glenn remembers, "but I was an athlete, and kind of hid my involvement with music from my friends. "Indeed, he went off to Colorado State (from the San Francisco area, where the family had resettled) on a football scholarship.
But once he got to school Glenn realized music was his true calling. He became involved in the black power movement, at its peak in the mid- '60s, and started playing tenor saxophone in earnest. (He'd started on alto as a kid, and took up the tenor in high school.) "Music became my vehicle to express myself and investigate my roots," he says now. "That was when I first heard Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor." Back in California by 1969, he worked in the Bay Area and Los Angeles with such musicians as Butch and Wilbur Morris, Donald Rafael Garrett and Charles Tyler. "The word was out I was this crazy outside cat, overblowing on this horn," Spearman says with a laugh, looking back. "I was into that post-Coltrane total free expression."
It was Garrett who tipped Spearman to another tenorist working the same vein. "He said to me, 'You know who you sound like? Frank Wright. You gotta check out Frank.' I hadn't heard him, so I got his ESP and BYG records. I saw the latter were made in France, and knew a lot of cats like the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Steve Lacy were over there. So in 19721 bought a one-way ticket, took my saxophone and went to Paris. Within two days I found Frank and introduced myself, and we began playing together. I became known as his protege; he used to call me Frank Wright Jr." Wright, 12 years Glenn's senior and a powerful overblower himself, exerted a strong influence on the younger musician. But Glenn was independently active too; he made two records with bassist Bob Reid's Emergency, which included the Django-inspired guitarist Boulou Ferre and Japanese percussionist Sabu Toyozumi.
Through Wright, Glenn made contacts in Rotterdam, went there for the summer and stayed four years. He and some younger Rotterdam players formed a quartet called Incident, which recorded one eponymous album for a little Dutch label. He also renewed his working relationship with Donald Garrett, by now living in Amsterdam, but Glenn never really clicked with the nutty jazz mavericks who gravitated to Amsterdam's BlMhuis. "They thought I was just into a Frank Wright trip, but I had my own evolution going on. I was getting beyond the overblowing and the harmonic screaming, getting into the jazz literature and getting serious about technique"- though always as a means to greater self-expression, not as an end in itself.
"By around 1977 1 knew I had to decide whether to go home, or to be here forever. I felt the music going flat: the struggle of playing this music in America contributes to its fire and passion. Then Frank Wright introduced me Cecil Taylor, and I knew the next thing for me to do was to get with the master We hung out a couple of days, and Cecil asked me, 'When are you going to come to New York?' That was it in 1978, 1 moved to New York." There he woodshedded daily, and worked with Taylor's trumpeter Raphe Malik: "That got me close to Cecil's musical architecture and methodology. Ralphe helped me realize how difficult and highly structured that music really is - it's really the opposite of free jazz. I wanted nothing more than to be hired by Cecil, but we both knew I wasn't ready."
In 1981, he returned to the Bay Area, where he and future Double Trio drummer Donald Robinson put out a duo LP, Night After Night, which drew critical comparisons to the Coltrane Rashied Ah duets. Then Taylor dratted Spearman for a big band to play eight weeks at Lush Life. That led to a few gigs with Cecil's other bands, a seven-piece group which played for dancers, and a six-piece Cecil Taylor Unit including Malik, Jimmy Lyons, William Parker and Rashid Bakr "That's where I got my advance degree in music," says Glenn.
By 1986, back in the Bay Area, Spearman had a trio with cellist Kash Killion and ex-Lyons drummer Paul Murphy. In 1988 bassist William Parker brought Spearman to New York to play with him at a festival, where he also played with trumpeter Bill Dixon, and met Montreal-based bassist Lisle Ellis. Through Lisle, the saxophonist began working in Canada, and hooked up with the flinty Montreal drummer John He ward, with whom he recorded a duo cassette, Utterance. (Spearman, Ellis and Heward were reunited to play burning after-hours sets at Vancouver's jazz festival in 1992.) Glenn spent most of 1991 on the road; among other projects, he appeared with a thundering Taylor nonet at New York's Knitting Factory, and did a European tour with Raphe Malik's quintet, documented on 21st Century Texts (FMP). The concept of the Double Trio was born at Oakland's second Improvisers Festival in 1990. Spearman had long admired the work of his friend Larry Ochs, of the Rova Saxophone Quartet-" a hellified horn player," Glenn says. Ochs was at the festival with the new music trio Room, with pianist Chris Brown and percussionist William Winant. (They've recorded for Sound Aspects and Music & Arts.) Spearman was appearing with bassist Ben Lindgren and Donald Robinson. They decided to combine ail these players to create the Double Trio. The band played its first gig at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall in December of '91. After extensive rehearsals and another half-dozen gigs in California and Europe, the group went into their studio.
The diverse background of its players gives the Double Trio a wide expressive range. Ben Lindgren, one week younger than Glenn, started his music career in the state of Washington, playing in blues bands and studying with bass giant Gary Peacock. Later he drifted away from music to concentrate on painting - see the cover of this booklet - but got back into playing bass five years ago. He asked Spearman to jam, and the two hit it oft personally and musically. "He's very passionate about and emotionally involved with the music," his boss says. Nowadays, Ben also plays with saxophonist John Tchicai. Glenn first met Donald Robinson way back in Paris, when the drummer was still in his teens. They were reunited in Berkeley when Glenn returned to the States, made that duo record, and have played together regularly ever since. Spearman says, "Donald still takes lessons, and is very much into the technique of the drums. He's a master of the trap drums, while Willie Winant is a modern classical percussionist. It's a nice mix." Besides working with Room, William is a member of the trio Challenge with Anthony Braxton and David Rosenboom, and the Abel Steinberg Winant Trio, which plays new classical music by such composers as Frederic Rzewski and Alvin Curran. Recently Winant toured with Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo, and was also heard in New York and Munich playing John Zorn's episodic composition Kristallnacht, demonstrating he can play pretty much any vernacular style as well. Chris Brown has long been active in electronic music, as an instrument maker and performer, he's worked with the computer music band The Hub. He's an accomplished pianist, who can play with Tayloresque muscle, but also brings classical finesse to this setting (as on the beginning of "Horus'). The only time he plugs in here is on the quasi-African-drumming section of "S.D. Ill" (for artist Scott Davis) where he plays percussive DX- 7. Like Winant, Brown teaches at Mills College; between them, they got Spearman a Mills gig, lecturing on avant-garde music.
Of the compositions here, Glenn Spearman says: "It never interests me to play without a score. From Cecil Taylor, I learned that written material launches you into the improvised stuff And Ornette Coleman has said he's always thought of himself as a composer. The challenge is in the composition, otherwise you and the audience will get bored." (Incidentally, the decision to co-dedicate Mystery Project to Ornette stemmed from Oakland critic Larry Kelp pointing out that Coleman's Double Quartet LP Free Jazz was released 30 years to the day before a Double Trio concert.) The thematic material tends to be pithy - melodic kernels that sprout into organic improvisations - in the manner of '60s free jazz tunes. But those kernels accrue into elaborate structures; it'll be no surprise to Rova fans that Ochs' "Double Image" is intricately mapped, with various sextet, quartet and duo sections. (The rhythm-duo trades toward the end were cued live by the saxophonists.) Glenn's three-part suite is also varied by design, so the players don't just blow their tops all the time - though there's ample evidence they can do just that whenever they wish. Structural variety sustains your interest, but the music's blowtorch aspects will probably hit you first. Spearman has kept the flame burning for almost 30 years, and isn't about to let it flicker now. "I'm not interested in retrobop," the leader admits with a laugh. "Even if I play a straight ahead tune, by the third chorus I'm screaming anyway."
Mr. Spearman died of colon cancer Thursday at his home in Berkeley at the age of 51.
A big man with a big heart and a big sound on the tenor sax, Mr. Spearman was always seeking ways of creating opportunities for local musicians. He was an enthusiastic instructor as well as a performer and recording artist.
Mr. Spearman was born in New York City to a family saturated in music, thanks mainly to his father, an opera singer. At age 11, he and his mother moved to Concord, where he later attended Mount Diablo High School. An All-Northern California football player, he enrolled at Colorado State University on scholarship, later transferring to San Jose State University, where he began playing saxophone.
An acolyte of pioneering free-jazz players such as Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor, Mr. Spearman performed at several Bay Area venues in the late '60s and early '70s, including the Native Son in Berkeley and Stanford University's Dinkelspiel Auditorium. After living and working in Europe for a few years, he returned to the United States in 1978 but continued to perform frequently in Europe.
In 1983, he was hired by Taylor and performed with the eminent pianist for a year. After that, work came more frequently. In 1990, he received a New England Federation for the Arts Meet the Composer grant, the first of several stipends. That year, he also formed the Glenn Spearman Double Trio, which would perform in Europe, Canada and the United States and record three CDs that have been released and a fourth one that is due out.
In 1993, when the local improvised-music scene -- an alternative to mainstream jazz -- was blossoming, Mr. Spearman joined the faculty of Oakland's Mills College to teach creative music tradition, saxophone and improvisation. In 1995, he became a visiting professor at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and, in 1996, he was selected as artist-in-residence at the Marin Headlands Center for the Arts.
In the past few years, he has released several CDs under his leadership, and appeared as a sideman on others. In 1996, he and alto saxophonist Marco Eneidi began leading a large ensemble of local musicians called the Creative Music Orchestra and released a CD by that name last year. A collection of Mr. Spearman's poems and philosophy, "Musaphysics," was published last year by Small Press Distribution of Berkeley.
Mr. Spearman is survived by his wife, Shantee Baker Spearman of Berkeley; his mother, Marianne Ellis of Oakland; his father, Rawn Spearman of Nashua, N.H.; and four children: Rose Steiger of Rotterdam, Holland; Ahmad and Jihan of Oakland; and Angelica of Berkeley. He also cared for stepchildren Jessica and Jasper Kingeter of Berkeley.
A memorial service at Harris Funeral Home, 1331 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow. Visitation at the Funeral Home is from 3 to 6 p.m. today, with a quiet hour from 6 to 7 p.m.
A benefit concert/jam session for Mr. Spearman's family will be held November 21 at the Berkeley Store Gallery, 2295 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley.
Marco Eneidi, Spirit, G-FORCE, Donald Robinson, JD Parran, Chris Brown, ROVA, Lisle Ellis, Jim Routhier, William Winant, Matthew Goodheart, Musa Physics, Oluyemi Thomas, Don Paul, The American Jungle Orchestra, Jack Foley, Ben Lindgren, Ijeoma Thomas, Kash Killion, Vinnie Golia, The Double Trio, Jasper Baker and Ahmad Spearman, performing the music and writings of Glenn Spearman.
Berkeley Store Annex 2295 Shattuck Avenue.
$20.00 sliding scale donation - all procedes to benefit the family. For more info call 510-235-6586, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
When he moved to the Bay Area in the early 1990s, he of course had a reputation as Cecil Taylor's tenor man and a comrade of Jimmy Lyons et al. Rick Rees' promotions at Olive Oil's (the improvcore space on the piers of SF then) immediately began featuring Glenn and his trio with Donald and Lisle. After hearing their first gig (before Lisle had moved to SF) I called Glenn and asked if he would give me lessons.
"What kind of horn do you play?"
"No, tenor, alto..."
"Good... an Armstong?"
When he met me at his house in Rockridge he seemed confident I could provide the necessary column of air. "You gotta be able to sustain the breath. Get that big tenor sound."
Glenn then pulled out some of the compositions he was working on. He and the people he worked with used a notation they'd developed working with Cecil Taylor, writing the letters and not the notes -- "A" "Bb" etc. -- on the page. The vertical location and density of the letters signified tempo and dynamics. The letters created a head structure and also the basic improvisational set-up, naturally, with the clumps and strands forming a sort of pictoral chord chart. We would practice long tones -- keeping fingers curled ("the hand is a circle!") --and run through the scores until he'd start improvising with me. Eventually he would ask me to learn a bunch of his tunes. He was forever talking about the Glenn Spearman big band. He of course went on to develop the Double Trio (or, in a larger form, Figure 8) and other project. By that time Glenn was gigging at Bimbos I was living bi-coastally and missing him most of the time on the west coast. We were both busy. But every time I saw him he'd always say boom "Its great to see you. How you doing?... uh huh... it's so great you're getting those CDs made... yeah, yeah... playing around the country... great, man... yeah, you know getting out there." He always was very encouraging. Indeed his whole life in the Bay Area was an encouragement. When I played him my 16 track, 2 live band, heavy metal "Headbanger," He listened. He looked up at the ceiling and listened. "Yeah, yeah going from the blues into Bird... uh huh." And at the time I was getting my feet wet, but he was pushing me along, always encouraging me and letting me in on his world. And in a way I came to realize that one part of my playing began where his was ending. It's too much to go into, but as far as certain sounds and approaches, he passed his life in music onto me.
One of the first times he and I were hanging out. He told me about moving back from Europe.
"Yeah, you know, Europe," he said in his slow, deep voice slightly modulated by weed "Europe was great. I woke up in the morning... or so... but when I got up... the first thing I'd think about was music, I'd think about the gig the night before... or maybe the one coming up or... some guy I'd been playing with... man. there's some good players over there... and it was really cool. It was cool. I was over there for years (maybe he said 10 years, I can't remember), playing, meeting people, hanging out... and the money is so much better there, and the whole scene in better in general... but one day, I don't know, I woke up and I was thinking "I don't want to be another black jazz man living the rest of his life in Europe. I wanted to come back to the states. So I did. And before I got those gigs, the music gigs, man! .... I mean I was hardly back in the states at all and I wake up one day and I'm working construction... Construction again! Man! After all that time, working construction again! Shit!"
And one other thing I will always remember about Glenn are three concerts. His first show at Olive Oils that left the whole improvcore community awe struck. Then there was his truly cacophonous double trio gig at Great America Music Hall. But there was a moment in the history of the Elbo Room which Ron K and I still talk about. The Elbo Room had started trying to book adventurous music (and soon wimped out). Glenn's group was headlining. The room was full and everyone was deluded in thinking SF might support a club along the lines of New York's The Knitting Factory. Nevertheless there was a lot of excitement. The SF Weekly had done a story on the scene; the pink section had also; there were new places to play; and as Ron and I were hurrying up the stairs we heard this soaring, driving, full throated wailing that bounced us up into the dark, smokey, swinging room. It was like we'd landed in some kind of jazz womb where this totally organic, full of life, new thing was coming to its senses and expressing itself. We'd left rehearsal early and were catching him mid-set. And like all great moments in music, it was a subjective combination of a million things: our ears, the history of jazz, sticky beer, snare drums, stand up bass, Glenn's playing his ass off, and that split moment in San Francisco one night in 1993 or so when the air was alive. When everything intersected. Glenn was tearing off hunks of his crazy intervals and blasting out his big tone for the world to hear. Donald was swinging wildly and Lisle was tearing it up with his dreadlocks splattering sweat. It was what it was all supposed to be about. And knowing Glenn, it was everything he was about. Right then. Right there. Improvising. Living. He was giving it up for music. And that never dies. That part of Glenn.