Glenn Wilson is one of a rare breed known as baritone saxophonists. Baritone has been his main instrument for his 30+ year professional jazz career and few players have developed as personal a style of baritone playing as has Glenn. His recording career has featured him almost exclusively on baritone sax.
The All Music Guide has called Glenn ‘an unsung hero in modern jazz” and his music has been reviewed by every major jazz publication and featured in the Penguin Guide to Jazz and Grammophone Good Jazz CD guide among many others.
Glenn’s new recording, due out in 2011, features his group TromBari with trombonist Jim Pugh, Glenn’s fellow faculty member at the University of Illinois in Urbana. “It’s strange how two veteran New York jazz players ended up forming a group in Illinois. I love the sound of trombone and baritone and Jim is such an exquisite player that even playing unison is a blast!”
Glenn attended undergraduate school at Youngstown State University, where he studied with the legendary Tony Leonardi, who started the award-winning jazz program at YSU in the mid-70’s, which still thrives. YSU graduates have performed with hundreds of major jazz artists and many of them are, themselves, top performing jazz artists in New York and elsewhere.
After graduation in 1977, Glenn moved to New York where he immersed himself in the jazz/loft scene of the late 70’s. “I remember when Ladies Fort, Studio Rivbea and many others were open and going strong at 4am. The jazz scene was so vibrant. Great music was being made everywhere in New York in those days and there were plenty of opportunities to play (as long as you didn’t need any money to do it)”
Glenn was also a stalwart in the NY Latin scene at that time. He played with Tito Puente, Machito and many other salsa groups. “Some weekend nights, we’d do four sets in four different clubs – maybe starting on the Upper West Side, going to Brooklyn and ending up in the South Bronx at 6am. People would be going to church when we came out of some of those clubs after a long night of music. It was a very exciting time. ”
Glenn joined Buddy Rich’s band in 1980. “Being with Buddy was a great experience. He was a crazy man and you never knew what was coming next – but he was one of the greatest drummers of all time and he had seen it all. It was a great honor. ” Glenn also spent a good deal of time in the early 80s with Lionel Hampton’s Orchestra. “Hamp was the exact opposite of Buddy. Buddy ran his band like a military unit. Hamp would stop the band bus for pork chops if he felt like it. If you were the last guy on the bus with Buddy, you got yelled at, even if you were early. Hampton’s band never left on time from anywhere.” “Hamp’s bands gave me the opportunity to play with some great jazz players – Frankie Dunlop, Duffy Jackson, Todd Coolman, Thomas Chapin, Paul Jeffrey, Ricky Ford, Arnett Cobb, Jerry Weldon, Vinnie Cutro and countless others. I’m sorry the young players today don’t have these opportunities to apprentice that these big bands offered.”
Glenn also worked in the 80s with Toshiko Akiyoshi’s Big Band, Bill Kirchner Nonet, was a mainstay in Bob Belden’s first ensembles and also subbed with the Mel Lewis orchestra, Gil Evans and others. Glenn became a first call bari player in the NYC jazz scene. He recorded his first album as a leader “Impasse” in 1984, which featured his working band of Harold Danko-piano, Dennis Irwin-bass and Adam Nussbaum- drums Glenn recorded 4 CDs with the Sunnyside label from 1988-2000. His style has been described as “freebop”, rooted in the bebop style but allowing freedom and creativity that springs from the ‘in-the-moment’ group interaction.
Glenn lived in Richmond, VA from 1991-2001 and during that time, formed his group, The Jazzmaniacs. This group, which featured pianist Steve Kessler, recorded live at Bogart’s Back Room, their steady gig for 9 years, on Sunnyside’s “One Man’s Blues” While in Virginia, he also recorded and toured with rock pianist/singer Bruce Hornsby and was awarded a gold record for his playing and arrangements on Bruce’s recording “Harbor Lights”.
Wilson never saw college teaching in his future “When Tony Leonardi passed away unexpectedly and shortly after that, my father, I began to think about mortality. I felt a strong urge to pass on what I learned to the current generation. Musicians my age are some of the last to play with many of the jazz masters. It led me to teaching and I’m loving every minute of it“.