Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Grant Green

- [C] Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I know I’ve shared this view before, but it bears repeating. Over the years, my enjoyment of Jazz has been considerably enhanced by the wise and thoughtful liner notes that graced the back of LPs or by the more recent insert notes that can be found in CD jewel cover booklets.

Initially, these liner notes made up for the dearth of books as a source of knowledge on the subject of Jazz when I first began listening to the music in the 1950s. Holding the jacket cover in hand while listening to the album, my eyes poured over what Ira Gitler or Nat Hentoff or Leonard Feather, to name only a few of my early “mentors,” had to say about the music that was filling my ears and my heart with pleasure.

Since I was also a student of the music for the purpose of wanting to become a Jazz musician myself during those early days, I was especially intrigued by writers that explained song structures, chord sequences and, especially, anything to do with rhythmic patterns or time signatures since these were particularly important to an aspiring, young Jazz drummer.

It is safe to say that I owe an immense debt of gratitude to Doug Ramsey, Whitney Balliett, Jack Tracy and others for helping me to learn and to appreciate more about the music that I have been in love with since I first heard it over 50 years ago.

And because my appreciation of Jazz benefited so greatly from the information and knowledge that I gleaned from the writers of the annotations, comments and explanations that appear on album covers and CD booklets, I have decided to repay the favor with the inclusion of and reliance on these materials in many of the pieces that are prepared for Jazz Profiles.
So when, to my immense delight, I found that the insert notes to the Grant Green: Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark [Blue Note CDP 7243 8 57194 2 4] had not one, but three different sets of insert notes, and that these were by the likes of Ben Sidran, Michael Cuscuna and Bob Porter, the decision to prepare a piece using their remarks on this recording became axiomatic.

As a point in passing, for reasons explained in these notes, Grant Green recorded so often and produced such an abundance of riches for Blue Note that these sides with Sonny Clark were not issued until 1979 – 1980, when most of the music on this 2 CD set was released as three, separate LP’s.

First up are Ben Sidran’s notes to that portion of these tracks that comprised the 1980 Blue Note album Nigeria [LT 1032].
“TIME passes. What was fresh and important recedes under the collected weight of new fresh and important stuff. Enough time has passed since this collection was recorded that a lot of people reading these notes and hearing this music weren't even born on that winter day in 1962 when Grant Green went into the studio.

Back in 1962, Grant's guitar voice was one of the sparkling new additions to a musical universe that seemed to be expanding exponentially. It's hard to imagine-or even to remember- just how explosive the jazz scene was then, particularly in light of the mechanical music which has flourished these last ten years. One indication of the scene then might be the wealth of previously unreleased material, such as this record which is only now showing up in the stores. When Grant came to New York, he walked on to a stage crowded with stars. And he shone with the best of them.

He didn't blaze a trail to the city. He followed a more comfortable path, arriving to join Lou Donaldson's band in 1960. Some compared his hollow-bodied guitar style to that of the earliest pioneer, Charlie Christian. One also hears touches of that other great popularizer, Les Paul. For while Grant was not a radical player, he excelled at the basics and subtleties: he could swing like crazy and he played the prettiest phrases. Grant Green made esoteric music easy for the average listener to get to, just as jazz singers have done for years. Grant Green was a popularizer and a singer on his instrument.

Perhaps the greatest testament to his musical gift was that at a time when the guitar had fallen out of favor, suddenly, Grant Green could be heard everywhere, recording with several of the finest rhythm sections in New York. Within a year of his arrival in the city, he recorded three albums as a leader, featuring a rhythm section of Sonny Clark on piano. Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. Those albums, "Gooden's Corner," 'Oleo,” and "Born To be Blue," have only recently been released on Blue Note in Japan. This album, "Nigeria," falls in the middle of that period of time and has Art Blakey in place of Louis Hayes. It is the only time that Blakey and Green ever recorded together.
Grant was a simple, elegant stylist. When he played a melody, with that kind of dressed-up strut, it was a reminder of just how classy bebop could sound. His interpretation of the title track "Airegin" (ingeniously encoded backwards to ward off the uninitiated) is no exception. It is interesting to note that in the early sixties, Grant performed and recorded an unusually large number of Sonny Rollins tunes, including "Solid ' " "Oleo " "Sonnymoon For Two," and, of course, "Airegin." After Grant states the head Sonny Clark hits one of his patented full keyboard slides and then strolls for a chorus while Blakey gets the groove settled Yawn. Sonny 's solo is a swinging compliment to Grant's, ignoring Green’s reference to 'When Lights Are Low" and turning the spotlight full up on the flowing snakes that were his specialty. Sonny, who had worked with both Rollins and singer Dinah Washington during the late fifties, is able to play both sides of the street here; he acts as the ideal accompanist to Grant's vocalized guitar work.

For my money, the highlight of the album is the stylized arrangement of "It Ain't Necessarily So." Blakey puts down a 12/8 Latin feel, and Grant plays the head in a totally unexpected series of phrases, altering the original melody to such an extent that he might well have called the song "So It Ain't Necessarily" and taken the publishing for himself. But it is the endlessly good groove that is the star of the cut. Interspersed with Blakey's press rolls, this fat-back groove - like those Art played on innumerable Jimmy Smith jam session dates - gets Grant all the way up on his toes. His tone is singing six different ways to Christmas, until he finally gets Blakey singing, for it is the drummer you hear shouting “whoa!” and grunting in response to Grant's precise preaching. By the time Sonny's solo arrives, Blakey is putting as much vocal into the overhead mikes as the cymbal. Clark seems to goad him on, and finally, when he’s taken is ninth chorus and seems read to turn it back to Grant, Blakey won’t let him go. You can hear Art laughing and shouting to Sonny, "No, go ahead, go ahead.” And go ahead he does, until Blakey finally turns him loose with an escalating series of strokes. As the song fades behind that Latin feel, I'm ready to do it all over.
Side two sounds as if it will open with Miles Davis' "Four" but after the classic bebop introduction, the song abruptly half-steps into a very polite "I Concentrate On You." The tension between the tip-toe lounge groove and the powerhouse bebop minds that are playing it is never really resolved, and that is part of the charm of the piece. Grant is so sweet when he plays the melody, but his choruses become bittersweet fast, and soon, he's skipping down some dark memory lane, concentrating hard on some private "you." The song goes out with a vamp reminiscent of a neither the introduction nor the song itself; altogether, a very curious arrangement.

"The Things We Did Lost Summer" also opens with a rather bizarre waltz section, but then settles down into a very delicate ballad. The attitude Grant maintains playing the melody - particularly the little chromatic insertion he uses at the end of the first bridge - is a lovely balance of the benign and the mischievous. This is Grant's power, as a soloist or stating a theme, and it is something great jazz singers like Johnny Hartman are also known for: there is no better way to grab a listener than to lull him into bliss and then grab him by what Lord Buckley used to call 'your most delicate gear."

The record closes with a flag-waver, 'The Song Is You," in which we are reassured that straight ahead is the direction to go. Blakey is once again singing in his mikes, and Sam Jones, God bless him, is walking and shaking his head, There are few things in life more pleasant than walking along with Sam Jones shaking your head.
Down home. Just folks. Kind of corny at times, but very hip. Grant Green was a perfect candidate for what today is called "cross-over hype," but back then was probably not called anything at all. Perhaps it was only natural that record companies would try to make Grant Green into a commercial product, a sow's ear out of a silk purse, as it were. I don't know how or why he turned from the hard, low life grooves he used to spark, towards the cocktail lounge which surely sealed his obscurity by the time he died in early 1979. Often, commercial pressures overwhelm players. After all, they are only musicians,, not lawyers and accountants that's why we buy records. If lawyers and accountants made records, nobody would buy them. At least, that used to be true, and it may be part of the reason why Grant didn't make a major mark on the music scene during the lost years of his life.

I, for one, kept looking for him around every corner, particularly as various guitar players, like Gabor Szabo, or George Benson, or even Eric Gale, would pop into prominence. I kept waiting for Grant to make his move. Unfortunately, his best recorded moves are those from more than fifteen years ago, when he truly was a fresh and important face on what may be the wildest contemporary jazz scene we'll ever know.”

-BEN SIDRAN 1980, original liner notes from "Nigeria”

And here are Michael Cuscuna’s comments from the 1980 Japanese Blue Note release – Gooden’s Corner.
“THE tragedy of Grant Green's death in early 1979 was compounded by the fact that his recorded output for the last decade or more of his life was, for the most part, commercial, uncreative and lacking in individuality. He deserved better, but the economics of keeping a bond working and holding down a record contract forced him into situations far below his talent.

Fortunately, Blue Note thoroughly documented his artistry on a number of sessions under Grant's leadership in the early sixties. Moreover, he was the resident guitarist for Blue Note's stable of premier organists such as Jimmy Smith, John Patton and Larry Young and participated in dates by Lee Morgan, Horace Parlan, Don Wilkerson, Lou Donaldson and others.

Unknown outside of his hometown St. Louis except through his Delmark recordings with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest, Grant was brought to the label and to New York in 1960 by Lou Donaldson. Blue Note always operated on a family basis, developing an impressive, cross-fertilizing repertory group of musicians. Grant was quickly and fully instated in mid 1960.

Green represented not only a fresh, vibrant new voice on an instrument that had become rather sleepy in style in the fifties, but he was also a major link with the all too often neglected pioneer of the hollow body electric guitar in jazz, Charlie Christian. Grant executed bright, clean lines that never fully abandoned the melody, emphasized concise, linear, single note improvisations and possessed a unique rhythmic momentum that remains unmatched. He absorbed Christian, then bypassed such heroes of the day as Tal Farlow, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery and moved directly to the formation of his own identity.

This album "Gooden's Corner", recorded on December 23, 1961, features a beautifully compatible quartet of Grant, pianist Sonny Clark', bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes. Ike Quebec joined the group for one tune 'Count Every Star", which was then extracted and used on Quebec's album “Blue And Sentimental” (Blue Note BST 94098). The rest of the session, previously unissued and without Quebec, is presented here in its entirety.

This particular quartet had a run of sessions for Blue Note under Grant's name, all they all remain unissued. On January 13, 1962, the band with Art Blakey subbing for Hayes recorded. On January 31 the quartet with Hayes back again recorded yet another album. And finally on March 1, 1962, the same group, this time with Quebec playing throughout the session, made yet another album's worth of material. Why these dates were never issued will never be known. Most likely, it is because Grant, like other Blue Note artists, recorded prolifically during these years, and there was just no way to get everything released.
As this set bears out, the Green-Clark-Jones-Hayes combination is completely compatible and comfortable. Each man has an easy, natural sense of swinging that interlocks perfectly with his fellow musicians.

Sam Jones has been previously present on a handful of Blue Note dates, led for the most part by another guitarist Kenny Burrell. Louis Hayes was a familiar face at the label through his long term membership in Horace Silver's quintet and his frequent sideman appearances with Curtis Fuller and other Blue Note artists. From the fall of 1959 well into the mid sixties, Jones and Hayes were the pivot of Cannonball Adderley's successful band. They had been together in that capacity for more than two years when this album was recorded, and their empathy is clearly evident.

Although none of the Green dates with Sonny Clark at the piano have ever been issued, their pairing was a natural. Both men possessed the ability to swing hard in an effortless, instinctive manner. Clark is his usual brilliant self here, adding richly to the group texture and urging Grant on with some inspired comping. His solo work is typically two-handed, cooking and always interesting.
It is a testament to Grant Green that he can breath such life into On Green Dolphin Street and What is This Thing Called Love as well as the overdone Henry Mancini hit of the day Moon River. He swings on What Is This Thing ... like no one else on his instrument could. And Moon River is a perfect example of his ability to construct a solo using the tune's melody as the substance of his variations. His rhythmic sense is best illustrated on Shadrack.

Grant contributes two originals, Gooden's Corner and Two For One. Gooden's Corner is a solid blues, given an irresistible performance by the entire group. Two For One, not to be confused with the Sonny Clark tune of the same name, is based on Miles Davis' modal So What, but after the theme, Grant breaks into some straight ahead playing.

This album is a lovely freeze frame in the career of one of the foremost guitarists of modern jazz, a man whom we lost to the commercial world in the late sixties and whom we lost forever in 1979.

-MICHAEL CUSCUNA 1979, original liner notes from "Gooden’s Corner"

We close this piece with Bob Porter’s 1980 original liner notes from Oleo.

“THE business of jazz is extremely difficult to describe to someone not involved in it. Most fans are aware of the qualities that make a great jazz musician: an individual sound; the ability to improvise melodically ("telling a story," in Lester Young's phrase); to swing, etc. There are any number of great jazz musicians who may be deficient in one of these areas, but generally they make up for it by doing one of the other things much better than other players. Yet in all this discussion, there has been no mention of playing melody. Name me a great jazzman who couldn't take a melody and make it uniquely his own.

Grant Green was widely known for his ability to play melodies. It didn't really matter what kind of melodies because Grant could do Latin tunes (see Blue Note 84111 - The Latin Bit); Gospel songs (Blue Note 84132 - Feelin' The Spirit); Western melodies (Blue Note 84310- Goin' West) as well as standards, blues, or jazz tunes. he had a great guitar sound and knew instinctively how to make melodies come alive.

Grant really arrived in 1961. He had made records in 1959 with his hometown friend, Jimmy Forrest, for Delmark and the following year he recorded with organist Sam Lazar, another St. Louis musician, for Argo. but when Lou Donaldson heard him playing in East St. Louis, he convinced Grant and clubowner Leo Gooden to come to New York and talk with Alfred Lion of Blue Note. From 1961 through 1965, Grant Green made more Blue Note lps as leader and sideman than anyone else. Clearly, he was a favorite, not only of Lion, but of Ike Quebec who did much of the A&R work for Blue Note until his death in 1963.

Considering Grant's versatility, it is not unusual that Blue Note used him in a variety of contexts: Herbie Hancock, Lee Morgan, John Patton, Lou Donaldson, Ike Quebec.

At a time when Down Beat was still giving New Star awards, Grant won in 1962. but critical raves have never helped in earning a living. Grant worked often with Jack McDuff during those early years, and was really scuffling for money. In addition to everything else, Grant had a narcotics habit. Now it may be hard to understand in the jazz world of 1979 when musicians, have generally learned to avoid the excesses of heroin and get their business together, but jazz players were very low in the economic strata of the early 60s, and one consistent source of revenue was the record company. It seems likely that Blue Note recorded Grant frequently during those years because he was always drawing money from Blue Note. Grant did at least six LP sessions under his won leadership for Blue Note in 1961. The furious recording pace continued right into 1965, and try as they might, Blue Note could never issue the LPs as fast as Grant could record them!

In a sense, Grant's situation and that of Sonny Clark were similar. They had the identical problems and each was a Blue Note favorite.
The initial pairing of these two talents came just before Christmas, 1961, and resulted in the album, Gooden's Corner. Sam Jones and Louis Hayes were still members of Cannonball Adderley's band at the time, and their appearance together is another reminder of Blue Note's care in assembling rhythm sections. Alfred Lion's choice of bass and drums almost always reflected an ability to play together in support of the leader, rather than to demonstrate individual brilliance.

The tunes played here are not unusual for Grant, although it should be noted that he had an attraction for Sonny Rollins lines. He also recorded "Solid' and "Sonnymoon For Two" during this period. A later version of 'My Favorite Things" was issued on the Matador album.

Grant never does get the tricky theme of "Oleo" exactly right, but it doesn't deter him from fashioning a solo of lightening-like inventiveness. Sonny Clark has always been considered a disciple of Bud Powell and perhaps the chief reason for that is the dynamic flow of his ideas. When playing standards, he sometimes would adopt a lighter touch (reminding one of Hank Jones in his delicacy), but his work throughout this session is in the cooking Powell mode.

If Grant has problems with "Oleo", he has none with "Tune Up." The melody, introduced and long-credited to Miles Davis, was actually written by saxophonist-bluesman Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, who gave the tune to Davis during a period when he – Vinson - was not recording. Virtually the some thing happened with another Vinson compositions, "Four."

Green was always at home with the blues and "Hip Funk" is his adoption of the classic form that was definitely hip (meaning fashionable) for 1962. Sonny Clark was also a blues master as his work ably demonstrates.
Hearing the music on this album (and Gooden's Corner) makes one immediately interested in hearing more. Alas, there is no more by the quartet, but a bit more than a month later, these same four players joined forces with Ike Quebec for an album that will be forthcoming on Blue Note [Blue and Sentimental].

Between 1965 and 1968, Green was still active as a performer, but his recorded appearances were few. When he returned to Blue Note in 1969, he had rid himself of the narcotics problem, but had acquired a new attitude toward music. The huge success of Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, and George Benson was very much on his mind. He considered himself the musical equal of all of them, yet he was the only one not to have made a significant commercial breakthrough.

His repertoire tended more toward rhythm & blues during his late Blue Note period. He would use repetitive vamps rather than chord changes as harmonic underpinning and his attention to phrasing melodies (always an outstanding feature of his work) become even more pronounced. And the commercial break happened for him! From 1969 to mid-1974, his Blue Note LPs were consistent best sellers and he was a popular attraction at clubs across the USA. He split with Blue Note shortly thereafter and made an LP for Kudu and another for Versatile.

Grant spent much of 1978 in the hospital with a variety of ailments, and he was not a well man when released in December, 1978. His doctors advised him to rest, but there were expenses to meet, so he went back on the road almost immediately. He died of a heart attack on January 31, 1979 - seventeen years to the day of this recording.

During 1969 and 1970 when I was producing records for Prestige, I got to know Grant Green well. He played on albums with Rusty Bryant, Don Patterson, Charles Kynard, and Houston Person which I supervised. I used to marvel at the ease with which this man with enormous hands could make that guitar sing. At one session, during a break, he treated everyone to a solo rendition of "Oleo" which was stunning. After his death, I thought many times of how his career would be judged by historians, since so much of his later recordings were in a commercial vein. But with albums such as Matador, Gooden's Corner, and now Oleo, his stature is assured. Without question, Grant Green was one of the major artists on the guitar during his lifetime. His friend, Lou Donaldson, put it best when he said:

"All the top guitarists who came later - like George Benson and Pat Martino - they've got some of Grant's stuff."

BOB PORTER 1980, original liner notes from “Oleo"

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