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Glenn Spearman Music Festival
In 1998, veteran free-jazz saxophonist Glenn Spearman's local reputation for volcanic improv finally seemed to be gaining international notice. A marked increase in activity, both onstage and in the studio, even attracted the attention of slow-on-the-uptake industry critics. Then in October of that year — at the apparent height of his musical prowess — Spearman died of colon cancer.

Though his absence has been palpable in the Bay Area jazz community, his music lives on. Adding considerably to Spearman's recorded legacy, a number of exceptional CDs have been issued in the past year, including a passionately meditative duo with bassist Dominic Duval, Working With the Elements (CIMP), the dark and haunting Blues for Falasha (Tzadik) with his acclaimed Double Trio, and a whirlwind document of his final live performance at Amherst's Fire in the Valley Festival, First and Last (Eremite). Italy's respected Black Saint Records is also poised to release the highly anticipated Free Worlds.

Despite the value of these posthumous recordings, those of us who saw Spearman in concert will forever miss the sheer power of his in-your-face sound. On the notes to First and Last, pianist Matthew Goodheart explains, “There were always images of wind; the storm, the hurricane. The tempest, and he blew you right off, out of the stage, onto your damn head.” Double Trio partner Larry Ochs concurs on the notes to Falasha: “[H]is over-the-top positive attitude and especially his own performances fueled the group take-off, pushing the performers into an energy zone both evocative and exhilarating.”

It's fitting then that Glenn Spearman's former colleagues have rallied to commemorate the man and his music with a weeklong series of live concerts at Mills College, the Oakland new-music institution where the saxophonist had lectured since 1992. Musicians and bands slated to appear include Marco Eneidi, Kash Killion, Chris Brown, Matthew Goodheart, Eddie Gale, Karen Borca, What We Live, Positive Knowledge, the American Jungle Orchestra, the Mills College Contemporary Performance Ensemble (under the direction of Fred Frith), and a special presentation of Spearman's last major composition, “Nut Dust and Powder Before the Altar,” by the Double Trio.

The Glenn Spearman Music Festival extends from Monday through Friday, Feb. 14 -18; shows begin at 8 p.m. at Mills College Concert Hall, 5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland. (A dedication ceremony and panel discussion is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 13, at 2 p.m. in the Olin Library's Rare Book Room.) Admission to all concerts is free; check the www.bayimproviser.com Web site for a complete schedule of events, or call (510) 430-2171.

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