A native Baltimorean, Hanlon graduated from Parkville High School in 1959 and attended the Peabody Conservatory of Music of the Johns Hopkins University on scholarship, earning a B.M. in 1963, an M.M. in 1965 and a D.M.A. in 1989. He worked professionally from age 14 in various stock dance bands, moved to club work during college, and served as a supernumerary in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In his junior year, he became the trombone and brass ensemble instructor in the Peabody Preparatory Department of the Conservatory.
Upon graduating with his B.M., Hanlon was hired as an instrumental music teacher in the Baltimore County School District---a position he held for five years. During those five years, Hanlon continued his club and supernumerary work while occasionally performing in the pit orchestras for Painters Mill Music Fair and the Morris Mechanic Theatre, as well as at the Club Venus that featured the popular acts of the day. In 1968, Hanlon moved to Las Vegas where he toured with the Si Zentner Orchestra and remained with him when Zentner left the road to become the permanent conductor of the Folies Bergere at the Tropicana Hotel. During the ensuing years, Hanlon worked at numerous Strip hotels where he backed up such acts as Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis, Jr., Tom Jones, Sergio Mendes, Anthony Newley, Rowan & Martin and others, including live recordings with Jack Jones and Buck Owens, and served as principal trombonist with the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra
Hanlon joined the faculty of the Music Department of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) in September 1970 and was immediately elected chair of the department, serving sixteen years in that position. He continues to teach at UNLV as a Full Professor and serves as Director of the Arnold Shaw Popular Music Research Center (ASC). During his nearly thirty-four-year tenure at UNLV, he has also served as Associate Provost for Academic Budget and Facilities, co-founded the Nevada Dance Theatre (NDT) and Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra (NSO), and acquired campus residency status for the Nevada School for the Arts (music prep program) on the UNLV campus, a status also granted the NDT and NSO. He continued to perform as a member of the Las Vegas Chamber Players (a new music ensemble) and as principal trombonist of the LVSO. In 1986, Hanlon was invited by the Idyllwild Arts Foundation to be the founding director of the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts Residential Academy (grades eight through twelve). The responsibilities included hiring faculty in music, dance, visual arts and theatre, writing the entire curriculum, recruiting and auditioning students, and running the academy on a daily basis. This was accomplished during a two-year leave-of-absence from UNLV in 1986-88. The Academy continues to flourish and is considered by many to be the Interlochen of the West. During those two years, Hanlon performed with the Redlands Symphony Orchestra as its principal trombonist.
In 1995, Hanlon served as host for the International Trombone Workshop (now ITF) which featured four trombone concerto premieres (soloists: Christian Lindberg, Alain Trudel, Miles Anderson and the PRISMA Quartet) and a big band jazz concert premiering Bill Holmans five-movement suite Slide Show (soloists: Carl Fontana, Ian McDougall, Bill Watrous and Jiggs Whigham). All five of these works were commissioned expressly for the 1995 ITW. Among the many other events were performances by the L. A. Philharmonic and New Mexico Symphony low brass sections, the Bay Bones, Hoyts Garage, Capitol Bones, an all-women-trombonists concert (soloists: Debra Taylor, Abbie Conant and the PRISMA Quartet) that included an all-women trombone choir conducted by Maureen Horgan, and a concert tribute to Kai Winding (Winding alumni: Wayne Andre, Carl Fontana, Pete Vivona and Bill Watrous).
When TNC Music decided to start a jazz label to go with its classical label, TNC asked Hanlon to produce a series of jazz recordings, beginning in 1996, under the TNC Jazz logo. Eighteen jazz albums have been released since that date, many of which feature trombonists Carl Fontana, Jiggs Whigham and the New York Trombone Quartet (Joe Alessi, Ed Neumeister, Jim Pugh and Dave Taylor) and have received favorable reviews. As director of ASC, Hanlon has produced three of those eighteen CDs as historical releases: The Manne We Love: Gershwin Revisited (a re-make of the 1965 Shelly Manne/John Williams album Its Gershwin Manne!), Music Is Forever: The Music of Pianist Russ Freeman and The Johnny Pate 80th Birthday Celebration--- Live at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (soloists: Monty Alexander, Kenny Burrell, Ron Carter, Shirley Horn, Harvey Mason, James Moody, Marlena Shaw and Phil Woods). Hanlon has also produced many articles on classical, jazz and popular music subjects, including articles on J. J. Johnson, Don Menza, Carl Fontana, Jack Montrose, Carson Smith and Si Zentner.
Also as director of ASC, Hanlon, funded by two Nevada Humanities Committee grants, produced a series of thirteen one-hour radio shows for KUNV-FM titled Jazz Las Vegas. The subjects of the series were or have been residents of Las Vegas during their professional careers. Among the subjects for this series were Joe Williams, Russ Freeman, Johnny Pate, Carl Fontana, Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Carson Smith, Stefan Karlsson, Marlena Shaw, Tom Warrington and Jack Montrose. These shows were aired locally twice in 2002 and are now being offered to other public radio stations across the country that have jazz programming. A second series, Jazz Las Vegas II, is now in production and will include subjects such as Dee Dee Bridgewater, Don Menza, Red Rodney, Roy Haynes, Bruce Paulson, Laura Taylor, Dave Loeb, Jimmy Campbell, Ruth Brown, Bob Badgley, Gus Mancuso, Bill Trujillo and Bob Flanigan of the Four Freshmen.
Listen to an interview on jazz with Ken Hanlon. [MP3]