The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 16, 2011

A chance to play

Jensen’s musical career started out just a little risqué

By Kasey Fowler, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

— You might not know it looking at the mild-mannered 83-year-old, but Al Jensen at 13 years old was getting into trouble and expelled from school for playing in a burlesque theater.

Jensen, known around Enid for his former music store and as a music teacher, starting playing clarinet at age 8 in Dallas.

He had been studying with the Dallas Symphony for five years when his clarinet was taken away because it was discovered he was playing at a downtown burlesque theater.

“There were six of us. We played for high school dances and the Rainbow girls’ dances. We went to the Wade Theater, it was the burlesque theater, and played for them. They hired us,” Jensen said.

The band members each made $6 a night Friday and Saturday nights to play at the burlesque theater.

“Our parents didn’t know,” Jensen said. “I would spend the night with my friend, and he would spend the night with me. We told them we would go to the movies and we might catch a double feature.”

The whole scheme came crashing down, when one of the band members got sick. The mother of the sick band member called Jensen’s mother to tell her Jensen’s friend forgot to take his medicine. The parents realized something was fishy.

“When the lights came up, my dad and my friend’s dad were coming up the aisle,” Jensen said. “We knew it was over.”

After the incident, the boys were expelled from school for one day for dishonoring the school’s reputation. The next day, the boys were required to bring their parents to school to talk about their misbehavior.

“The band director told my mom he wanted me to play oboe. He promised my mom I wouldn’t be playing in the burlesque theater with an oboe. I was real good on the clarinet for 13, and the band director didn’t want to lose me,” said Jensen. “They took my clarinet away. I liked my clarinet teacher, so I was upset, but the oboe teacher was great.”

At 16, Jensen was awarded a scholarship to Juilliard in New York. Jensen also played for NBC Symphony. He then entered service in the Air Force and played in the band.

Following Jensen’s time in the military, he returned to Juilliard to complete his performance degree and again played with NBC Symphony.

Jensen then returned to Texas and earned a music education degree from Southern Methodist University.

Jensen was called back to help his father with the family business, The Shoe Company. His father’s partner had died, and Jensen was expected to help.

“I was sent to Houston. That is where I met my wife, Marie, and got married,” Jensen said.

Working as a representative for the company, Jensen starting coming into Oklahoma. The shoe store was sold in 1965, Jensen took the money and, with the help of his wife, opened Jensen Music Store at 2013 W. Garriott in Enid. The store was sold to Brooks Mays in 2002 and later purchased by a friend of Jensen’s who changed the name to Midwest Music.

“We had pianos, organs, band instruments and sheet music,” Jensen said of his store. “They did not sell church organs, so we continued for five more years with church organs.”

While Jensen owned the music store, he also taught oboe at Phillips University.

Jensen plays in tamer venues these days, mainly while teaching oboe, flute and clarinet. He also serves as an adjunct instructor of oboe with Northwestern Oklahoma State University. Jensen’s students have gone on to play with major symphonies and orchestras, and almost all his student receive music scholarships for college.