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Breakup Sax

Former sax fixture Glenn Wilson comes back long enough to remind us how good we had it.

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Assuming Joni Mitchell was right, and "you don't know what you've got till it's gone," the return of Glenn Wilson should bring out appreciative crowds.

He grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, before being lured by the brass of New York City, where he developed a successful 14-year career playing with scores of groups and musicians including Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, Tito Puente and Bob Belden.

But being married with very young children didn't fit a lifestyle where your last gig of the night might be at 10 the next morning. And it was family that brought Wilson to Richmond in 1991.

Here, for nine years, Wilson fronted The Jazzmaniacs for a bimonthly gig at Bogart's, a group as good as any playing in famous New York City venues. The longevity made it easy for local audiences to mistake a brief era for an institution.

Then family took him away from Richmond. In 2001, his wife, Janet Wilson, co-artistic director of the Firehouse Theatre and acting teacher at Virginia Commonwealth University, accepted an assistant professor position at Illinois State University.

Wilson is now teaching too, with part-time positions at both Illinois State and the University of Illinois. "It was time to give something back," Wilson says. "More and more musicians are going into education; you can teach and still get to play."

His most recent CD is his Richmond-era document, capturing The Jazzmaniacs over three nights at Bogart's in 1999. The all-star band, featuring pianist Steve Kessler, drummer Tony Martucci and bassist Jimmy Masters, embodies the elastic, intuitive interplay born of long association.

The session coincided with a backstage disaster, as Bogart's manager learned that his wife was leaving him and taking the club with her. This emotional chaos, reflected on the recording by the clash of glassware and cash registers, only seemed to focus the group — most of the takes came from the drama-drenched final night. The Jazzmaniacs joked about calling the album "Teardrops in the Alley," Wilson says. "They ended up calling it 'One Man's Blues.'"

Now, they've recorded a new collaboration with Rory Stuart. Wilson, who teaches a class on the music industry, may release it himself. "The only thing you get from a label is distribution," he says. "And with no more retailers with huge selections like Tower Record, there aren't that many places that a small label can reach. It's gotten to the point that the only thing CDs are good for is selling at your gigs." S

Glenn Wilson plays Sycamore Rouge in Petersburg March 16 (957-5707) and Bella Arte (515-9099) March 17.

Visit Sycamore Rouge online.


Makeup Sax

For those who need a refresher in Wilson's charms, a number of Wilson recordings are available online. His impressive 1984 debut, "Impasse" (Cadence) is difficult to find on CD, but is available from iTunes. His full, rich sound was distinctive even then, as was his virtuosity over the full range of the instrument.

1987's "Elusive" (Sunnyside) is a continuation with the same rhythm section and the addition of future bandleader/master producer Bob Belden on saxophone. 1990's "Bittersweet" (Sunnyside) collects an elegant and unconventional series of duets with guitarist Rory Stuart; "Blue Porpoise Avenue" (Sunnyside) was recorded at the same sessions but not released until 1997, when Wilson was well-established in Richmond.

"Blue Porpoise" includes Wilson's brilliant "If I Only Had Seven Giant Brains," a brilliantly humorous recombination of Coltrane's "Giant Steps," "Seven Steps to Heaven" and the Scarecrow's song from "The Wizard of Oz." S

Visit Glenn Wilson online.

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