Larry Englund (photo by Robert Meier)
Larry Englund was a DJ, writer and activist. And a bit of a character on the Twin Cities music scene.
He was the kind of guy who would write his own obituary.
“It appears that I’ve died. Passed away, departed, checked out, left this earthly vale, kicked the bucket, left town,” he announced Monday on his blog.
Englund, of St. Paul, died Saturday of stomach cancer. He was 73.
He spun records on KFAI and KBEM community radio and in clubs and restaurants. He wrote articles for City Pages, the Jazz Police and the Highland Villager. He helped student musicians as a board member of the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education and contributed to the music scene with the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. In 2018, the Jazz Journalists Association recognized Englund with the “Jazz Hero” award.
But that’s not the way Englund would tell it.
“I have tried to live a life of kindness and understanding. Perhaps that is what led me to social work while in college,” he wrote in his farewell post. “Looking back, I realize that I’ve been an explorer of sorts, open to new experiences and adventures. My work life has been… varied. I stopped counting after 28 jobs.”
Those included cab driver, social worker, technical writer and marketer for medical companies. But he was known for his love of music, which he discussed in his self-written obit.
“My 'Baby Book' (do they still have them?) tells of me loving my little turntable and golden records. My sister Lorraine turned me on to the music of Big Joe Turner and Fats Domino when I was about 10, and a few years later I became a teenage DJ, using one of those 45-only turntables for Friday Night dances at a church basement in the Bronx.”
Jackson Buck, a longtime friend and colleague at KFAI, said Englund had a great sense of humor and a love and appreciation of life.
“I saw him last week in the hospital and he was still cracking jokes,” Buck said Monday. “He summoned me in and said, ‘I’ve planned a memorial. I need you to take notes.’ He gave me a long, detailed list of who he’d like to perform, in some cases what songs he’d like them to perform, and who the speakers should be. And even what the wine is going to be when they have a toast to him.”
For the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Englund was an all-around problem solver, according to festival founder and executive director Steve Heckler. Even though Englund was on the youth programing and booking committees, Heckler said, "If something wasn't working, he was a go-to guy."
Englund was concerned even until the very end. Since Heckler was out of town last week, he texted Englund's wife. "Then Larry called me from hospice two days before he passed," Heckler said Tuesday. "I thought we were going to have a somber talk. He told me to make sure I booked [a certain young musician] for the festival. He was always thinking past himself. He was thinking of a solution.":
Given to wearing Hawaiian shirts and a Panama hat in the summer and a suitcoat and fedora in the winter, Englund went to many concerts around town.
“He was always stylin' but not show-off stylin',” Buck said. “I’ve never seen anybody attend so many concerts and performances. He’d go to two, three, four shows a night. He was quite the scenester. He always had a nice word for everybody.”
For the past decade, he shared his tips on upcoming jazz, R&B and roots music by writing previews on his blog, rhythmandgrooves.net.
Englund got hooked on jazz as a teenager; his first LP purchases included “Things Are Getting Better” by Cannonball Adderley and “Focus” by Stan Getz.
After graduating from Waldorf and Wartburg colleges in Iowa, the native New Yorker made his way to the Twin Cities. In 1981, Englund began writing music stories for City Pages and hosting a morning show on KFAI, aka Fresh Air Radio. Over the years, he served as a volunteer DJ for three Fresh Air programs -- "Shake Up Southside," "Streetlight Serenade" and "Rhythm 'n' Grooves." He retired from KFAI in December 2017 but continued to DJ Sunday brunch at the Nightingale in south Minneapolis, lugging his cases of vinyl albums to the gig.
Starting in 2007, Englund served on the board of the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education, including a stint as chair.
As a DJ and journalist, Englund interviewed many important musicmakers over the years including James Brown, George Duke, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Nick Lowe and Esperanza Spalding. Last June, he profiled 89-year-old jazz singer Sheila Jordan for the Star Tribune.
Englund is survived by his wife, Liz, two sisters and nieces and nephews. A memorial program will be held at the Hook & Ladder Theater in Minneapolis in late March.