A Steady Gig

When he’s not teaching at Sarah Lawrence, Glenn Alexander (music) is rocking a busy performance career. His latest recording features guest appearances by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.

Although his career has been immersed in jazz, rock ’n’ roll, and the blues, Glenn Alexander’s musical roots are burrowed deep in the country music he listened to while growing up in the Midwest, where he idolized guitar gods such as Roy Clark and Chet Atkins. “I never heard any other kind of music in my life until I was 14 years old,” he says. But when a high school music teacher turned him on to jazz, Alexander’s sonic landscape was forever changed.

Now in his 28th year of teaching music at Sarah Lawrence, with a performance career approaching 40 years, the guitarist, singer, composer, and director of jazz studies shows no sign of slowing down. Last semester Alexander taught courses in jazz history, jazz theory, and jazz improvisation; gave guitar lessons to a dozen students; and supervised two jazz instrumental ensembles, two jazz vocal groups, and four blues groups. Meanwhile, he released his latest recording, Shadowland, and squeezed in concerts with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, with whom he’s played guitar for nearly a decade.

Alexander has released eight of his own recordings and performed on dozens of others. Along the way, he’s played with Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Elvis Costello, Liza Minelli, Chico Hamilton, Allen Toussaint, Regina Belle, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and the drummers Levon Helm (the Band) and Max Weinberg (the E Street Band).

Surely Alexander is the only Asbury Juke in the band’s long history to grow up on a farm in Kansas.

“Glenn has been a great blessing to this band,” says Southside Johnny Lyon. “He’s taught me a lot. I rely on him to help me with the more sophisticated things. He brings that extra dimension to everything wedo.”

“It’s not just learning music with him. ... It’s like life lessons with him.”

Alexander’s early career, steeped in instrumental jazz, drew comparisons to Pat Metheny. For last year’s release, Shadowland—rock ’n’ roll flavored with healthy dollops of country and blues—Alexander wrote songs, played guitar, and sang lead vocals. Shadowland features appearances by Lyon, most of the Jukes, and Alexander’s daughter, the singer Oria Aspen.

For nearly three decades, the one constant in Alexander’s career has been Sarah Lawrence. Chester Biscardi (music program director) hired Alexander in 1989 and credits him with developing the College’s “really extraordinary” jazz program. “Students come here because they have a particular view of what education is for them personally,” Biscardi says, “and Glenn is able to meet them where they are.”

Emma Heisler-Murray ’18, a flute player from New Rochelle, New York, has taken jazz improvisation with Alexander and performs in the Jazz Colloquium. “It’s not just learning music with him—it’s like learning everything,” she says of Alexander. “It’s like life lessons with him.”

As an instructor, Alexander favors inspiration over intimidation. He believes his students’ passion for music will fire the discipline they need to master their craft. “If you get that music buzz—that’s what happened to me—and you’re passionate about it,” he says, “you’ll work 10 times more hours than you’re supposed to.”