You’ve heard of the two-career couple. Meet the two-career individual.
Glenn Bryan (W’74,SW’76) has spent nine years attending to the concerns of Penn’s neighbors and the concerns of the folks in City Hall whose decisions affect Penn’s fortunes. But he’s spent much longer than that attending to the ears—and souls—of the audiences who have had the good fortune to hear him play with various musicians and groups through the years.
The musicians he has performed with as a pianist and keyboardist form a mini-Who’s Who of contemporary jazz and pop: John McLaughlin, Grover Washington Jr., Carlos Santana, George Duke, Dave Koz, Freddie Hubbard, Diane Reeves, Spencer Harrison, Boni James. But he’s more than just a sideman to the stars. He is also a band leader in his own right, currently heading Friends, a quintet that includes vocalist Gloria Allende, drummer Robert Fant, bassist Aaron Hayes and saxophonist Craig Winn.
We asked him about Friends and his musical career in a recent interview.
Q. How long have you been playing keyboards?
A. I’ve been playing keyboards all my life—since I was about 9 years old.
Q. Did you take formal lessons?
A. Oh, yeah. I’ve been classically trained, but I also wanted to explore other mediums…so I’ve played Latin-influenced music, jazz, rhythm and blues, rock, all kinds of music. I see them all coming together. I don’t see them as separate entities.
Q. Of the various big names you’ve performed with, who were the most fun?
A. That’s hard to say. Grover Washington and George Duke, I had the greatest fun performing with them. George Duke has produced people like Herb Alpert and Anita Baker. I was [also] inspired by musicians of old, such as John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea. My favorite musicians [also] include Carlos Santana…I enjoy him the most. I [also] love Bach, I love Handel—I play all that and I enjoy that just as much.
I don’t like to be considered a jazz musician per se, although that’s been part of what I play, but I play all kinds of music as well. And I just think that music is a universal language. …There [are] so many different influences in it.
Q. Have you ever played on the radio?
A. A group of mine helped inaugurate—I hate giving them props [i.e. respect] for this—106.1 [WJJZ] when it first came on the air. We [also] did a lot of work with [WRTI], 90.1. I’ve done at least six live remotes where our music was pumped over the air.
Q. Have you done any recording?
A. There’s a CD of my own music coming out, because I also write music as well. Another CD project is this one with Friends, which will be recorded live at Zanzibar Blue, and that should be coming out within the next several months.
Q. When did you organize Friends?
A. Friends was organized three years ago as a result of a request from the Martin Luther King Committee to put together an activity called Jazz for King, and the group was formed to play that.
Q. Is Friends your first band?
A. It’s not my first band. I’ve had many other groups that I formed. We played East Coast cities, in New Jersey and Delaware and Maryland…but mainly it’s been in Philadelphia. I had my own group, the Glenn Bryan Group, and then another group I had called Signature. And then [this] newest group, Friends, is more of a [traditional] jazz type of group.
Q. Do you have any regular gigs?
A. I play at Zanzibar Blue every Sunday. We’re probably one of their top-[grossing] groups in the three years we’ve [played regularly there].
I like Sundays because it’s a quieter day of the week.
Q. But with your church work, you’re a busy man on Sundays, aren’t you?
A. There you go! Sunday is a work day for me. But it’s fun. I enjoy it.
Q. Besides the Martin Luther King concert and Staff Appreciation Day, do you do any other performances on campus?
A. I do Convocation, I do Staff Appreciation, and I do MLK, those three. That’s enough, don’t you think?
And I also played for the Foundation. I played their very first performance.
And I’ve played for a lot of community organizations [in University City]. I think that it’s very important to give back to the community. My group does benefit performances, and this is a way to give back. I’m not into [performing] for the love of money, but just for the art. That’s my philosophy. If you had somebody who wanted to lay down a big multi-million-dollar contract, we would have some discussion. But what drives me is the art form itself as opposed to the rewards and the potential for money.
You can hear Friends every Sunday at 7, 8:30 and 10 p.m. at Zanzibar Blue, Broad and Walnut streets. Visit www.zanzibarblue.com or call 215-732-4500 for information.
Originally published on February 21, 2002