Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Lexington Saxophonist/Trumpeter George Gentry Dies

Mr. Gentry and I talked often about music, especially jazz and saxophone. I always enjoyed his insight and feel that I learned a great deal about the music business from him.

The last time I talked with him was several months ago by phone. When asked how he was doing, he explained that he was thankful for satellite jazz on his television and that he listened to the jazz channel for hours each day. He was not doing well physically and not able to get around, so the music helped him make it through the day.

I have played at Giuseppe's for many years, thanks to Mr. Gentry having recommended me for the gig. He had many fans and they continue to come out to the restaurant where he played for nearly a decade. Sometimes I'll get a request such as "Would you play "Misty" the way George did for me?" I always give it my best shot.


From The Lexington Herald Leader, by Valarie Honeycutt Spears:

George Gentry was jazz for generations of his Lexington fans, his name synonymous with warm, mellow saxophone sounds.

Mr. Gentry, who died Saturday at 67, played for almost a decade at Giuseppe's Ristorante Italiano on Nicholasville Road and at dozens of venues all over town before that.

"People know when they come to hear me, they come to hear jazz," Gentry said in a 2002 Herald-Leader interview. "I play off my own emotions, and I feel good every night."

Giuseppe's customers bought his CDs along with the pasta primavera.

Four years after an illness forced him to stop working, "people still come in and ask for him all the time," said the restaurant's assistant manager, Sherri Kirk.

In the 2002 interview, Gentry said his earliest musical memories were of singing with his grandmother, who played the piano at the old movie house in Stanford in the days before movies had sound.

Lucy Hart Smith, one of the first principals at the old Booker T. Washington elementary school, saw to it that he had a new trumpet and music lessons.

He never forgot what the educator did for him, and often visited Lexington schools to encourage students.

"Every family should insist their children take music lessons -- it's good for the culture and instills discipline, " he told a Herald-Leader reporter in 2003.

Mr. Gentry also played the flugelhorn and the trumpet, which he studied at Lexington's old Dunbar High School, where he graduated in 1958.

The '60s were dawning, and "that put me in the era of rock 'n' roll," Gentry said in 2002. "Everybody was looking for a saxophone player, so I went down and got me a saxophone at a pawn shop for $125 ... came back the same night and played a gig and made $15."

He spent some years playing with Ike Turner, Otis Redding and other rhythm and blues artists before he began "drifting more to jazz," he said.

Gentry's first solo job was at the American Legion on Georgetown Street. His wife of 47 years, Janice, said he played with groups called Jim Dandy and the Gaytones and the House Rockers.

Alonza Robinson, who played with Gentry in the House Rockers, said that Gentry was respected not only for his music, but for his morals.

"He didn't drink or carouse like a lot of musicians did. He went home at night," Robinson said.

"He drank virgin strawberry daiquiris," said Kirk, who worked with Gentry for years. "Customers would want to buy him drinks, but he would only drink the virgin daiquiris."

Mr. Gentry was a member of Quinn Chapel AME.

Despite an accomplished musical career and plenty of bookings at weddings and parties, Mr. Gentry always kept his day job: "He dedicated his life to taking care of his family," Robinson said.

Gentry retired in 1990 from IBM, where he worked for 28 years as an equipment repairman. In the 1990s, Gentry owned a beauty supply house to complement Janice Gentry's career as a hairdresser.

In addition to his wife, Gentry is survived by four children, George Gentry Jr., Janine Gentry, Clifford Brown Gentry, and Rhonda Standard.

Funeral arrangements are pending at Fender Funeral Directors.

George Gentry 1940-2007


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