Tony Jenkins’ death stuns local music fans

Chronicle Managing Editor Cathy DeDe writes:

The death on Sunday, March 1, of consummate jazz guitarist Tony Jenkins on Sunday, March 1, prompted an outpouring of admiring messages on Facebook, on the pages of Tony and his longtime life partner Lisa Rowlands and on pages for venues where he performed.

Ms. Rowlands told The Chronicle that Tony, 58, suffered a burst aorta, technically an aortic dissection. The couple’s home is in Moreau.

A New Jersey native, Tony first came to the north country in 1997 for a six-week gig at the Georgian Resort, with a band called Terry Holinger and Friends. That’s where he met Ms. Rowlands.

Admired jazz guitarist, seen here with The Tony Jenkins Jazz Trip at Wallabee’s in Glens Falls in 2011. Cathy DeDe photo
Admired jazz guitarist, seen here with The Tony Jenkins Jazz Trip at Wallabee’s in Glens Falls in 2011. Cathy DeDe photo

She says, “After the six weeks was up, he went back to New Jersey, packed his bags and moved here.”

Six months later, Tony formed the funk rock band Who’s Your Daddy, with Rich Ortiz, Pat Nolan, Matt Carl and Robin Barkenhagen. But jazz was always his “real passion,” Ms. Rowlands said.

He soon formed the Tony Jenkins Jazz Trip, with Eric Hamell, Frank Conti and Greg Brown. The personnel has shifted over the years, even between gigs, “but those were the originals,” Ms. Rowlands recalls.

The Jazz Trip has three long-time regular gigs: Friday nights at Wallabee’s Jazz Bar in downtown Glens Falls, every other Wednesday at BarVino in North Creek, and Sundays from May to October at the Algonquin in Bolton Landing.

Tony’s other passion was kung fu. He studied for 15 years at the Glens Falls Kung Fu academy, and began teaching classes about two years ago at the Salem Hop Gar Academy in Washington County.

Celebration planned for spring

Ms. Rowlands said no public funeral service is planned. “Tony didn’t want that.”

She said friends and colleagues are planning a Jazz Jam and Lion Dance celebration of Tony’s life, somewhere outdoors, likely in the spring.

Jazz musician’s view, on losing Tony Jenkins

By Patrick Daley, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday night has always been a guaranteed good night for me, thanks to Tony Jenkins. That’s because I knew that without fail, the music would be good at Wallabee’s Jazz Bar in Glens Falls, where Tony and his guitar led the Tony Jenkins Jazz Trip each week for the past 10 years. It’s with great sorrow that I write that Fridays won’t be the same: Tony died suddenly this past Sunday, March 1.

I’m still reeling as I write this, less than 24 hours after hearing the awful news. The community of musicians, listeners, friends and family that he touched is shocked and grieving. He was just 58 years old.

Memorial plans have not been set, but we’ll relay any details in The Chronicle.

The Jazz Trip will play on in an informal jam session for Tony tomorrow, Friday, March 6, at Wallabee’s. Music starts around 8:30 p.m.

I can’t claim to be an authority on Tony Jenkins. I don’t know his life story, I only know what he did for me — a young, aspiring jazz musician in small-town Upstate New York, and that’s what I’ll share here.

Jazz is a special art form. I believe it’s the most sophisticated pursuit in music; a delicate melding of discipline and exploration, science and art. And once jazz clicks for you, as a listener or a player, that’s it. You’re hooked. As a pianist, I got hooked.

Every Friday since I turned 21, seven years now, if I didn’t have other obligations, I was at Wallabee’s. I tried to sneak in unnoticed, take a seat in the corner and listen. But Tony noticed me, and as I came back week after week, he’d look up and flash his incredible smile when I walked through the door. That unforgettable smile lit up the room every time.

Soon, Tony was seeking me out during set breaks, asking me about myself and my music, sharing his vast knowledge of jazz and of life, encouraging me to make mistakes in my playing, pushing me to expand my boundaries, making me think.

Before long, I had my own jazz group, with people my age who refuse to let jazz die, as it has in so many places. But not here in Upstate New York.

Thank you, Tony, for keeping it alive.

It’s not just me who Tony helped. He had time for everyone. My heart has warmed every time I’ve seen Tony engaging a new, young face. I knew that things were as they should be, here at Wallabee’s.

Tony didn’t hold himself above anyone else. Anyone who wanted to sit in with him would get their chance to play and to grow. And the many players he hired to work with the Jazz Trip were top-notch, musicians who could hang at the clubs in New York City on any night. It’s amazing how much talent has graced the audiences in Glens Falls.

Tony was always an amazing guitarist, pushing the limits of musical structure, always putting himself out there. Forever a teacher and a student.

The last time I saw him play, two weeks ago tomorrow, he was in top form. And then, suddenly, without warning, without a cue, without his nod to signal a change in the song, Tony is gone.

Thankfully for us, Tony’s beloved art form lives on. I can’t speak for everyone, but my group of musicians will treasure Tony’s contribution to our musical growth, will keep playing jazz and will share the knowledge we’ve gained with the next generation of musicians until we too have taken our final bows.

I’m not sure what my Fridays will be like now. But at least I can provide my own music, thanks to the encouragement I got from Tony.

To Frank Conti, Colin MacInniss, Ted MacKenzie, Mike Craner, Rick Rosoff, Greg Brown and the many others who have performed with the Jazz Trip: Thank you.

Thank you, Tony, from us, the kids who were fortunate enough to have a jazz group to look up to and learn from. From me, Pat Daley. From Tom Smith, Tony Berman and Paul Guay. From Max Garrett, Maggie Goble and Alex Taylor. From Jon Crouch, Mike Buccino, Mateo Vosganian, Jared Conklin and Zack Ignazio.

Copyright © 2015 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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