|Terry Jennings was born in Eagle Rock,
California on July 19, 1940. Showing an early interest in music, he began
playing the piano at the age of four, was taught by both of his parents,
and by the age of 12 was studying John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for
Prepared Piano. In junior high school Jennings was a featured clarinet
soloist with the orchestra. He also made arrangements of Stravinsky piano
pieces so that the orchestra would have music to play that he liked. He
attended John Marshall High School in Los Angeles, the alma mater of
composer La Monte Young, whom Jennings met in 1953. Jennings played
and studied with Young and was greatly influenced by him. In 1954, at the
age of 14, Jennings entered the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and Art
where he studied saxophone with William Green. It was in 1957 that he met
Dennis Johnson, another composer who was not just an influence on him, but
also a great appreciator of his music. In addition to his study of
composition with La Monte Young, he also studied with Robert Erickson
at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Leonard Stein at the
California Institute of the Arts.
Jennings' first serious works were composed in 1958 with his style of composition eventually developing in the direction of modal improvisations, through which his saxophone playing prompted comparison with the great Indian shahnai player Bismillah Khan, and the American jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. Jennings first came to musical prominence in the late 1950s when he began to compose in the style of Young's influential early works involving sustained tones and expanded time concepts. He was introduced to the New York avant garde in 1960, when Young opened his series of concerts at Yoko Ono's loft with two programs of Jennings' music. Jennings was a part of many important new music concerts of the 1960's, both as a composer and a performer, premiering, among others, Richard Maxfield's Wind for tape and saxophone composed as a portrait of Jennings. He worked with the James Waring Dance Company (1962) and performed and recorded with Young's Theatre of Eternal Music. Jennings' Piano Piece (June 1960) and String Quartet (1960) were published in An Anthology (edited by Young in 1963), which led to their performance in England by Cornelius Cardew, John Tilbury and others. Jennings also wrote a collection of very beautiful poems which have remained almost completely unknown outside a small circle of his closest friends. Jennings' music has been performed throughout the United States and Europe, including concerts in New York, Ann Arbor, Seattle, Boston and Los Angeles. Terry Jennings died in San Pablo, California on December 11, 1981.
The New Grove Dictionary of American Music states: "With Young and Terry Riley, Jennings was involved in the earliest developments of drone-inspired, modal, repetitive music. He is best known for two piano works of 1965, Winter Trees and Winter Sun, both of which exemplify the repetitive, nonvirtuoso keyboard style he was among the first to employ; sets of phrases are played quietly in a specified order but repeated at will, in relatively free rhythm, and with liberal use of the sustaining pedal, creating a meditative mood and an understated lyricism. Jennings had a decisive influence on such composers as Harold Budd, Peter Garland, and Howard Skempton, who in the early 1970s created a body of so- called 'minimalist' keyboard music and were among the few musicians to perform his works. In later years Jennings composed works in a neoromantic style, including the song cycle The Seasons (1975)."