Glenn Spearman played tenor sax and came of age musically in the experimental jazz scene of the 1960s and 1970s. He was well known for his energetic style of playing as well as for his enthusiastic love of teaching. He inspired artists across the country and throughout Europe, and his music was widely hailed in the jazz community for its ability to express emotional truths. Derek Taylor of One Final Note wrote in a review of Spearman's recording Utterance, "Spearman emphasized emotional immediacy and adroitly channeled energy in his music." Taylor went on to describe Spearman's performance on the piece titled "Tongues": "Spearman revels in the rich musicality of his instrument swimming through registers both false and confirmed…. His tenor becomes a living, breathing voicebox affixed with manifold articulations." All About Jazz wrote that Spearman was "a great and sadly overlooked musician."
Spearman was born in 1947 in New York City, and music was a part of his life from an early age. His father, Rawn Spearman, was a singer and academic who performed on stage in Broadway musicals as well as in opera. By the age of six, Spearman was playing piano. Throughout the years he tried his hand at different instruments, but by the time he was in high school he had settled on the tenor sax. Attending college in Colorado on a sports scholarship, Spearman realized that music held a stronger attraction for him than sports, and he eventually dropped out of school to focus on his music.
Inspired by the post-John-Coltrane style of free jazz and now living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Spearman cultivated a reputation as a wild improvisationalist. His style reminded many people of another tenor sax man named Frank Wright, who was living in Paris at the time. In search of a mentor, Spearman bought a ticket to Europe to study with the more experienced jazz musician. He spent four years in Europe playing with Wright, touring and recording with groups such as Emergency and Incident, and evolving as a musician.
In the late 1970s, Spearman returned to the United States at the invitation of free jazz pianist and composer Cecil Taylor. He studied with Taylor for a time in New York, learning the complicated structures that underlay Taylor's sometimes dense and often misunderstood music. During that time he also toured with trumpeter Raphe Malik's Quartet. Eventually Spearman returned to the Bay Area and began touring with different groups around North America and in Europe. Taylor recruited him for short gigs in his Cecil Taylor Unit, as well as Taylor's Big Band and Dance Orchestra. Spearman studied with saxophonist Charles Tyler and learned orchestration from bassist Alan Silva.
Spearman founded his Double Trio in the early 1990s, as well as a group named G-Force. The Double Trio was originally composed of Larry Ochs on saxophone, William Winant on percussion, and Lisle Ellis on bass. The Double Trio routinely performed at jazz festivals around the world, including the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. In 1996 they traveled to Germany to perform for West Ferman Radio in Cologne. Glenn Spearman's Double Trio recorded three albums: Mystery Project, Smokehouse, and their final recording, Blues for Falasha, released the year after Spearman's death.
In 1992 Spearman began teaching seminars in music history and practice at Mills College, a small liberal arts college in Oakland. Described as a gifted and inspiring teacher by his peers and students, Spearman taught Creative Music Tradition at Mills until his death. He was also a frequent guest lecturer at universities and colleges across the country. A colleague of Spearman's told Sharon Caya of the Mills College Weekly that the artist had "a high level of sweetness, spirituality, magnetism and a goodness toward his fellow man. Glenn was the kind of person that a lot of people gathered around."
In addition to performing, Spearman was a prolific composer and inspired concertmaster. By the time of his death his compositions for tenor sax numbered more than 500. He had also composed more than 100 pieces for duets, trios, quartets, and quintets, and four orchestral works. In 1995 he collaborated with the Rova Saxophone Quartet on their Ascension Project, a tribute to saxophonist John Coltrane's music. Serving as concertmaster, Spearman also performed as part of the group, which comprised ten other jazz musicians The December performance was recorded at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco and released the following year by Black Saint Records.
Influenced by the Black Power movement of the 1960s, Spearman was a man on a spiritual quest, and he found meaning in improvisation and teaching. He considered every moment, every performance, every recording to be a sacred event. He also brought his improvisational style to poetry. In 1996 Spearman self-published a collection of poetry and drawings that spanned 30 years, The Musa-Physics: Myth, Science, Poetics. Jack Foley wrote in a review of the collection for the Alsop Review, "The Musa-Physics is a powerful meditation on a life lived as improvisation. The author's keen intelligence constantly thrusts us back into an awareness of what we're doing while, at the same time, his intuitions and passions drive us forward."
In the summer of 1998, perhaps knowing it was his final performance, Spearman traveled to Amherst, Massachusetts, to perform at the Fire in the Valley Festival. He performed alongside Rashid Bakr on drums and Matthew Goodheart on piano. The event was recorded and released by Eremite Records, and was titled First and Last. Less than three months after the performance, on October 8, 1998, Spearman died of colon cancer at the age of 51.
Spearman was a welcome and beloved addition to the jazz music scene of the San Francisco Bay Area. Although he may have been woefully unknown to many, those who knew of him appreciated his energy, spirit, and intelligence. David Bernstein described his effect on people to Caya, "Glenn really did build bridges his whole life between different sorts of people…. on a personal level, a philosophical level and a musical level." He was survived by his third wife, Shantee Baker Spearman, as well as four children and two stepchildren.
For the Record …
Born on February 14, 1947, in New York, NY; died on October 8, 1998, in Berkeley, CA; son of Rawn Spearman (musician) and Marianne Ellis; married Shantee Baker Spearman; four children, two step-children. Education: Attended University of Colorado.
Moved to Paris, founded Emergency, 1972; artist-in-residence, Rotterdam, mid-1970s; member of the Cecil Taylor Unit and the Big Band and Dance Orchestra, 1983; founded the Glenn Spearman Double Trio, early 1990s; taught at Mills College, 1992-98; performed at Vancouver International Jazz Festival and Monterey Jazz Festival, 1995; visiting professor, Hampshire College, Amherst, MA, 1995; performed on West Ferman Radio, Cologne, Germany, 1996; a collection of his poetry, Musaphysics, published, 1996; artist-in-residence, Marin Headlands Center for the Arts; final performance, Fire in the Valley Festival, Amherst, MA, July 1998.
Awards: New England Federation for the Arts Meet the Composer grant, 1990.
(With John Heward) Utterance, Cadence Jazz, 1990.
(With Glenn Spearman Double Trio) Mystery Project, Black Saint, 1992.
(With Double Trio) Smokehouse, Black Saint, 1993.
(With Double Trio) Free Worlds, Black Saint, 1994.
(With Double Trio) Blues for Falasha, Tzadik, 1995.
(With Double Trio) The Fields, Black Saint, 1996.
(With G-Force) Let It Go, Red Toucan, 1997.
(With Rashid Bakr and Matthew Goodheart) First and Last, Eremite Records, 1998.
Mills College Weekly, October 16, 1998.
San Francisco Chronicle, October 10, 1998, p. A21.
"Artist Profile: Unsung Heroes—Glenn Spearman," All About Jazz, http://www.allaboutjazz.com/artists/spearman.htm (May 3, 2005).
"Glenn Spearman," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:wsu06j8771q0∼T1 (May 3, 2005).
"Glenn Spearman/John Heward: Utterance," One Final Note, http://www.onefinalnote.com/reviews/s/spearman-glenn/utterance.asp (May 3, 2005).
"Glenn Spearman, The Musa-Physics: Myth-Science-Poetic," Alsop Review, http://www.alsopreview.com/columns/foley/jfspearman.html (May 3, 2005)
"Spearman, Glenn." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/spearman-glenn
"Spearman, Glenn." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/spearman-glenn
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