Charlie Jennison is a saxophonist, a flutist, a pianist, a music educator, and an arranger. He’s also the President of the Seacoast Jazz Society. So versatile is Charlie that, to the surprise of no one, he’s also one of the busiest jazz musicians on the Seacoast. He’s been around these parts so long that one assumes Charlie is a native, but that’s not the case. In fact he came to New Hampshire from Florida, where he took up music early on and never looked back, playing his first gigs when he was only in junior high school. These were gigs at Rotary Clubs and other local functions, the kind of gigs that generations of musicians have been known to cut their teeth on.
Moving to New Hampshire in the mid ’60s, he formed a jazz combo at the University of New Hampshire, where he graduated in 1969 with a degree in Music Education. But Charlie’s music education did not end at UNH. He also studied with such major jazz figures as Jerry Bergonzi and Charlie Mariano.
As Charlie will tell you, though, the defining moment in his career was when he met pianist Tom Gallant, at the time a teacher at the Berklee School of Music in Boston and an alumnus of Woody Herman’s band. Jennison played with Gallant for more than 30 years, an experience he clearly cherishes.
Over the years, Charlie has shared the stage or has been in the recording studio with some of the most notable musicians in jazz. To name just a few: Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy DeFranco, Alan Dawson, and Marshal Royal.
He loves to tell about his conversation with Dizzy. The subject: Band leader Cab Calloway’s accusation that Dizzy had thrown a spitball at him during a gig, an incident that led to Dizzy’s getting fired from the band. The story behind the story, as Charlie learned first-hand, was that it wasn’t Dizzy who’d thrown that infamous spitball at all. It was Jonah Jones!
In addition to his busy gigging schedule, Charlie has recorded several albums, among them one backing vocalists Kathleen Kolman and Leila Percy, another with the World Music group “Do'a” and with the late, great trumpeter Clark Terry. In 1999, he released his own first album for Maine's Invisible Music label titled Iridescence, which showcases Charlie’s tenor and soprano saxophone skills. In a quartet format, the album’s play list is comprised of 10 Jennison originals, running the tempo gamut from ballads to faster paced material. On the education front, he holds the position of instructor of saxophone at New Hampshire's Phillips Exeter Academy.
About that busy gigging schedule: You might catch Charlie on a bandstand in small group almost anywhere, anytime on the Seacoast these days. Failing that, look for him in any one of three big bands: playing second alto in the Capital Jazz Orchestra, piano with the Freese Brothers Band from Concord (for whom he has also been writing some big band vocal charts), or playing lead alto in the Seacoast Big Band.
Speaking of which, get yourself over to Portsmouth’s Prescott Park on Sunday, July 5th, for the 20th Annual Tommy Gallant Jazz Festival, and you’ll see Charlie Jennison right up there on the bandstand in the Seacoast Big Band, playing his heart out.