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August 27: Gentle Giant

August 27, 2014

1.+Gentle+Giant5-2Phil Shulman, the eldest of three brothers who were the core members of the progressive rock band Gentle Giant in the 1970s, was born in Glasgow, Scotland on this date in 1937. A multi-instrumentalist, Shulman played alto and tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet, trumpet, mellophone, piano, and occasional percussion, and sang lead on some of the band’s more jazz- and folk-influenced material. Gentle Giant had expertise on more than forty instruments and a wide vocal range, and with the stated goal of “expand[ing] the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular.” While they never achieved the commercial success of other progressive rock pioneers such as Yes, Jethro Tull, or Genesis, Gentle Giant was the most experimental and innovative among them. Shulman left the band after their third album, in 1972, because of tensions with his younger brothers and to forsake the life of a touring musician and return, he said, to “two sons, lovely little daughter, a wife who was getting lonelier and lonelier.” He retired from music altogether and worked as a teacher and in retail sales. To see Gentle Giant in 1970, look below. To see the band live in concert in 1975, after Shulman’s departure, look below that.

“We grew up in a house full of musicians and instruments... I started learning trumpet when I was 5 just because it was there and then took up violin when I was 7. We were made to practice for an hour a day at least, when we really wanted to go out and play.... eventually I wanted to do it anyway... I wasn’t formally taught at all.” —Phil Shulman