Coming to the Creative Retirement Institute in 2020: Jazz Appreciation

Brent Jensen (Photo by Mary Ross)

“Jazz is a dialect, a certain language.” So says Brent Jensen, instructor for a new  Jazz Appreciation course coming to the Creative Retirement Institute (CRI) at Edmonds Community College winter term 2020. And Jensen is definitely a person who should know.

The course provides a brief survey of the development of jazz music in the United States. Students will listen to and study a number of jazz styles along with important instrumentalists, singers, bands and composers. Important historical and social events, which parallel the development of jazz music, will be discussed. There will be live and recorded demonstrations of jazz style periods and jazz techniques.

Jensen enjoys teaching adult students who have specific ideas about what they want to learn; their interests can drive the direction the course takes. “I often learn from them,” he says.

Jensen is exceptionally well-prepared to bring this course to CRI. He has a long, robust history as a jazz professional. His involvement with music began at about the age of 13 when he started playing the clarinet — not wanting to be overshadowed by his younger brother, who was getting lots of attention as a budding piano player. As a youth, Jensen also played the guitar, trumpet and drum. But the saxophone, both the soprano and the alto, became his true love.

Since those days, he has performed and recorded with a number of well-know jazz musicians including  Gene Harris, Joe LaBarbera, Bill Anschell, John Clayton, Wycliffe Gordon, Warren Vache, and numerous others. He studied with the legendary jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz in 1986-87 in New York City.

Jensen received his bachelor’s degree in music education from Boise State University and his master’s in the art of music from Washington State University. For almost two decades, he was the Director of the Jazz Studies Program at the College of Southern Idaho (CSI) in Twin Falls. He developed the curriculum for the Survey of Jazz course at the college and wrote the textbook, Survey of Jazz Handbook, originally published in 2011.This text is still in use at CSI and has been adopted by other colleges in the United States.

While at the College of Southern Idaho, he brought acclaimed jazz performers to the campus and the community. Jensen is a proponent of supporting strong jazz programs in the local schools to provide the infrastructure necessary to have jazz performances in local venues. Because of this, he can be credited, at least in part, with a robust increase in jazz in and around Twin Falls during his tenure at the college.

In 2017, Jensen retired from CSI. He and his wife moved to the Seattle area to be near their daughter and small grandchildren.

Although Jensen retired from the College of Southern Idaho, he has many irons in the fire. He often performs in various venues in and around Seattle. He is involved in the jazz program at Snohomish High School. He teaches private jazz improvisation lessons. He gave a lecture about four breakout jazz albums released in 1959 that made jazz history and presaged the future about jazz at the Anacortes Library. He is also on duty at the elevators at the T-Mobile Park or CenturyLink Field for various events, and he can frequently be found babysitting his grandchildren.

Jensen will be performing on Oct. 27 with Bill Anschell on the piano, Chris Symer on the bass and Jud Sherwood on the drums at the Bay Theater in Bellingham as part of the Art of Jazz series.

Jensen says that one of the greatest challenges in his musical career has been trying to make a living doing the thing he loves: playing music. He describes it as an improvisational lifestyle. The struggle to find gigs and earn a living wage can mean that several other revenue streams are also needed. For instance, Jensen has taught driver’s education courses, given private lessons at high schools, and utilized a myriad ways to secure an income. He has advised his students about the difficulty of earning a living wage as a professional musician and ways to manage their careers. Despite these issues, he still grabs every opportunity to play music because it is something that he says he “has to do.”

Alternatively, Jensen says that a really fun aspect of his career in music has been getting to know and perform with musicians he has always admired. For instance, one year he invited Gary Foster to the jazz festival in Twin Falls. Foster, is a prominent musician in the film, television and music industries for five decades who has performed on more than 500 movie scores and more than 200 orchestras. In subsequent years Jensen played music with Foster, shared meals with him, and became a friend. Similarly, he has developed a long-term relationship with American composer and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz that followed an initial training in the 1980s.

“If you had told me in my undergraduate days that I would be on a first name basis with these individuals, I would never have believed you,” Jensen said.

College of Southern Idaho President Dr. Jeff Fox, a jazz musician himself, says that Brent is a “genius at the science of jazz.” He also said that Jensen “could play virtually every piece of music in any key without any music.”

You can hear Jensen’s incomparable sound at www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMcY11GCOzI.

You can learn more about the Creative Retirement Institute at this link. Winter quarter registration begins Nov. 21, 2019.

— By Rosemary Wander

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