With a tip of his Conanicut Marine Services baseball cap, partial payment for laying down strings of pearls on behalf of the Jamestown Community Band, Alan Brunner, premier glockenspiel player and a professional pianist for more than 50 years, passed away on Aug. 23, 2011, thus bringing to earthly close a long and successful life of professional music making.
Alan Brunner was the son of Esther Fischer Brunner, a writer and cartoonist for The New Yorker as well as greeting card companies, and Arthur Brunner, a journalist who spent many years with the Providence Journal. Alan was born on June 1, 1936. He was a graduate of the John Howland Grammar School in Providence and the Fryeburg Academy in Maine. Mr. Brunner is survived by two brothers: Rev. Arthur Brunner of Cape May, N.J., and Stephen Brunner of North Falmouth, Mass.
Alan showed early musical promise. By the age of 8 he was performing his own compositions as well as the basic repertoire expected of a talented youngster. His first piano teacher was Lorretta Gagnon, studying with her from the ages 5 through 12. During his early teenage years, Alan attended the summer music camp of the New England Conservatory of Music. These years of summer camp provided Alan with serious classical training, building on the lessons of Ms. Gagnon.
By age 16 Alan was playing piano professionally with local Dixieland and dance bands. His first remembered paid engagement was with Mr. Lowell, a local tenor saxophone player who doubled on musical saw. He received $12 a night for services rendered. He was on his way to his 50-plus year career.
From neighborhood bands Alan quickly moved on to Providence bands and orchestras, which included Billy Poore and his Orchestra and the Ralph Stuart Orchestra, which played regularly at the Bacchante Room of the Sheraton-Biltmore.
Although Alan continued to play with dance bands, society orchestras and the pit bands of Broadway shows throughout his career, he was primarily a soloist, working as a hotel pianist for most of 25 years. In Boston he was steadily employed at the Copley Plaza and in New York City he was the pianist at the Waldorf Astoria (playing on Cole Porter’s piano), the St. Regis, the Plaza, the Pierre and the Sherry- Netherland.
During his long career both as a soloist and as a member of any number of ensembles, Alan found time to collaborate with playwright John Dominick, composing the music for their musical play, “Heaven’s Gate.” For some time he and fellow-pianist Ray Santese had a two-piano act.
Alan’s talent took him north, south, east and west. If you had the means or the need to travel, if you had money or could pretend you had money, if you were part of the “better crowd” or could work your way into that crowd, or maybe you just liked listening to a good piano player, then maybe you ran into Alan at the piano in London, later at the Copley in Boston, the Plaza in New York City, and maybe during your quick weekend in the Bahamas there was Alan again at the Bahamian Club finding something new in the standards of the Great American Songbook.
In Hawaii you could find him in the better rooms and in Las Vegas there might be Alan and you considered yourself charmed, amazed and even lucky no matter the results at the tables.
Although he traveled widely, Alan was always a self-admitted, unreformed anglophile and London was Alan’s second home. Throughout his career he always returned to England and late in that career he created a show for No. 8 in London, “An Evening of Classical Standards.”
In 1996, Alan moved full time to Jamestown. He remained active in music, leaving “the island” periodically to work in London, Las Vegas and Hawaii.
But in Jamestown Al became a member of a community, joining the Jamestown Community Band, the Jamestown Emergency Medical Service and the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association. Alan was a former vice president of both the BLMA and the band.
In the Jamestown Community Band Alan Brunner sometimes played the piano, but most often he held down the glockenspiel chair – a chair he created – improvising a part of his own, always improving on the original arrangement to the delight of audiences and to the astonishment of his fellow bandmembers.
During his time on Jamestown Alan also fronted a trio – piano, clarinet and drums – and was a member of Tres Moutarde.
Along with the human condition and the many people with whom he felt close, Alan was intimately connected with the 88 keys of the piano and their endless relationships to one another. He would not have objected had you presented him with a few more keys. He had two hands, 10 fingers, a head and heart, one foot for rhythm and the other for the pedals. He used them all.
Besides music and the people of his life, Alan was a strong supporter of the Providence Bruins and their illustrious predecessors, the Providence Reds. Other interests included, but where not limited to, steam engine trains and the ships that sail the high seas.
A memorial service was held at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.
Alan leaves us with the following words:
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep”
Sleep in peace, and dream on.
Memorial contributions may be made in his name to the Jamestown Community Band. It is my duty to honor that request. However, let it be known, that except for the passing of Al, the band is in good shape.
I am told that Al preferred to be known as “Alan,” which is – of course – his name.
Sorry, Al, to us, you were always “Al.”
– Bill Knapp, president of the
Jamestown Community Band