Don Glanden was born in 1951 in Wilmington, Delaware. He began traditional classical piano lessons at the age of ten with Sarah Miller; within a year he was accompanying the elementary school chorus. He was immediately drawn to jazz after hearing Charles Freeman, the family piano tuner, play blues and standards at the conclusion of his regular tunings. A friend of trumpeter Clifford Brown, Mr. Freeman proved to be an inspiring and encouraging influence.
Don’s teen years were spent at Brandywine High School, where he took three years of classical theory and played in the school’s award-winning jazz band The Blazers. During this time he also studied jazz composition with film composer Tom McIntosh and jazz piano with Bernard Peiffer, both at the Wilmington Music School. Peiffer became a mentor and profound influence on Don’s musical development in the following years. After attending West Chester University, where he was a piano major and student director of the lab band The Criterions, he left college for a year to study piano and composition exclusively with Mr. Peiffer.
In 1973 Glanden transferred to North Texas State University, where he majored in composition and formed his own jazz quintet that included bassist Dennis Irwin. Other classmates included Marc Johnson, John Riley, Steve Houghton, and Lyle Mays. At NTSU he met Jo Lynn (Jody) Thomas; they married in 1974. He graduated in 1975 earning a Bachelor of Music degree in composition. In 1980, Don received a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Fellowship to study privately with Sir Roland Hanna. Sessions with Hanna continued over a two-year period and included piano studies, composition, and extensive analysis. Hanna included some of Don’s music in his own performances during this time.