Monday, July 24, 2017

Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce - 2nd Ed.

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“In the few short years Gigi Gryce lived in New York, it seemed just about every important jazz musician knew him. This was inevitable because of his ability as an alto saxophonist and an extremely creative writer. Many times, as the new boy in town, I was completely thrilled when visiting his apartment and Coleman Hawkins or Art Blakey or Max Roach or Howard McGhee or Hank Jones or others would call. I wanted to be in on the conversation so badly that the only thing I could think of to say was, "Tell him I said hello!" Of course, only a few actually knew who I was at the time. Gigi, knowing this, indulged me nevertheless.

He came to New York with bundles of music under his arms and even more in his mind. He was an organizer of the highest magnitude and quickly gained a reputation for it. When people—musicians, club owners, entrepreneurs—wanted quality jazz underscored with quality business, they often included Gigi in their calls. Although a graduate of the Boston Conservatory, he chose not to teach school in those early days because of devoting full time to writing and playing and becoming a well-informed business man in the marketplace. In fact, he and I later became partners in two publishing companies. Though he did not formally teach in any university then, he was always teaching. He was didactic by nature and could not envision life without intuitively teaching at every opportunity. I do not infer, however, that he was aggressive or arrogant in this. In a quite natural way, he lovingly and mercifully shared all the information he had stored in his capacious mind.”...

After perusing the contents of Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce, the reader will never ever find Gigi Gryce relegated to the two-dimensional medium of vinyl discs and CDs only, but he will become as real as anyone we've ever known in life. Let's be glad that there was a musician like Gigi Gryce, and let's be glad that there were people like Noal Cohen and Michael Fitzgerald who had enough conviction and vision to recall Gigi's plethoric life with the aid of their minds, hearts, and pens. Noal, Michael— I salute you.”
- Benny Golson, tenor saxophonist, composer-arranger bandleader

Noal Cohen and Michael Fitzgerald are a couple of brave guys.

Not only have these courageous explorers signed on to navigate the dangerously obscure currents of the “Sea of Jazz History,” but in seeking to uncover the hidden island that is the biographical life of one “Gigi Gryce,” they have also volunteer to compile a discography of his recordings. Each a monumental task in-and-of-itself!

All metaphorical kidding aside, given the woeful and largely anecdotal information that exists about most major Jazz figures, not only have Noal and Michael taken on the huge task of writing a Jazz biography about a musician who was not particularly well-known outside of select Jazz circles, they have somehow managed to compile an excellent discography of his recordings, many of which were made for record companies who kept poor records at best, if they kept any at all!

The musician is question is alto saxophonist and bandleader Gigi Gryce 1925-1983 and the book is entitled Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce [2nd edition.

Noal and Michael have assumed distribution responsibility for the second and subsequent editions of the book and you can locate more about them as well as order information by visiting this site.

What Noal and Michael set out to do and how they set out to do it are fully explained in the following excerpts from the book’s preface.

“THIS book is the result of nearly a decade of serious research and half a century of casual interest. It slowly came together as we became aware of Gigi Gryce's efforts, efforts scattered across many classic albums. Although his career was brief, lasting only a decade, he seemed to be associated with the greatest, most creative artists in jazz and his writing and playing were unique and readily identifiable.

Never before has there been a thorough and exhaustive look at the entire oeuvre of Gigi Gryce, which numbered over a hundred recording sessions, most of them issued commercially. During his lifetime he was the subject of a chapter in two books (Raymond Horricks's These Jazzmen of Our Time and Robert Reisner's The Jazz Titans), and since his death he has only figured as an auxiliary to the career of Clifford Brown and as one-of-many in the school of lyrical hard bop composers. Almost no writing existed that evaluated his career, his many compositions, and his place in the history of jazz. What did exist perhaps covered one aspect but ignored several others. Only when examined in full could the range of his musical development be seen and properly assessed.

Even before beginning work on this project it was apparent that there were contradictions and errors in the biographical details and in credits and titles of compositions. We worked to verify or disprove these definitively by using multiple sources. In digging deeper, we learned that Gryce's birth and death dates have regularly been misreported and that no published account of his life was without some kind of misinformation.

"So, whatever happened to Gigi Gryce?" was a frequent question we heard, not only from fans but also from some of the musicians who were close to him in the 1950s. Rumors were rampant and, if truth be told, Gryce himself contributed to the confusion. While this book cannot clear up the entire mystery, it will certainly present the clearest and most accurate account of his post-jazz life available at this time. It should be noted, however, that these years are not the focus of the book, which is concerned with the composer and performer.

Any biography of a musician must necessarily deal with that artist's recorded legacy and a complete discography was begun. This is the only comprehensive discography of Gigi Gryce ever to have been attempted, although general discographers (Raben, Bruyninckx, Lord) included the vast majority of sessions to one extent or another. Items were added and corrections made up until weeks before submitting the manuscript for publication. Items that had been issued but never documented were included and, in most cases, new information was added to amend the earlier work. An international community of record collectors supplied rare recordings and information relating to foreign issues.

One of the first thoughts regarding research strategy was to interview the musicians who knew and worked with Gryce. This logical idea led to compiling a list of survivors based on the most accurate discography. Added to this list were family members and then friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. The period with which we were primarily concerned was the years 1953—1963 and in the intervening decades a number of the participants have passed away. Even as we were conducting our research and writing the text of the first edition, we learned of the deaths of several important colleagues: Art Taylor (1995), Johnny Coles (1996), Gerry Mulligan (1996), Walter Bishop, Jr. (1998), Betty Carter (1998), Jaki Byard (1999), Art Farmer (1999), Milt Jackson (1999), Melba Liston (1999), Ernie Wilkins (1999), Al Grey (2000), Milt Hinton (2000), Alan Hovhaness (2000), Jerome Richardson (2000), Stanley Turrentine (2000), JJ. Johnson (2001), John Lewis (2001), and Makanda Ken Mclntyre (2001). Three of Gryces sisters also passed away during this time: Kessel Grice Jamieson (1997), Elvis Grice Blanchard (1999), and Harriet Grice Combs (1999). Regrettably, we were unable to communicate with some of them and, of course, these missed opportunities can never be regained. Some other subjects declined to be interviewed, and some were impossible to contact (though we certainly did try). In the end, we were fortunate to record over seventy-five conversations specifically on the topic of Gigi Gryce and his music.

Each of these presented new information and interesting anecdotes. We have tried in many cases to preserve in the text the actual words of the interviews. In the tradition of earlier books like Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya, this has elements of an oral history, but here the stories of the participants share the page with retrospection, critique, and our follow-up research which attempts to support and clarify the quotes. While neither of us ever met Gryce, we hope that through the words of those who knew him, something of him may be conveyed to future readers. (The code for each quoted interview is listed in a table.)

Another avenue of research involved going through the periodicals and literature with a fine-tooth comb. Sometimes even the smallest mention would eventually lead to a major discovery, particularly when several items were used in conjunction with each other, and with the interviews and photographic contributions. The bibliography included here does not detail all of these, but covers the publications that contain significant coverage related to Gryce s work and the world in which he operated.

Although this book is not targeted for musicians only, a great deal of examination was conducted on Gryces music, involving transcriptions and study of copyright deposits at the Library of Congress. It is hoped that any musical discussion here will be accessible to all readers. We anticipate that the printed compositions preface of Gigi Gryce will finally be made available in the near future and this will certainly generate more interest among the musical community.

We are eager to share our knowledge and enthusiasm and encourage future researchers to contact us with questions or new information. This has been a labor of love and although publication here brings some sense of finality, there will continue to be discoveries that will complete the picture of Gigi Gryce as man, musician, and teacher.

Addendum for the Second Edition

As predicted, further discoveries have indeed been made in the twelve years since the first edition was published. In many cases, these have been the result of the first edition's existence. Other new information has become known as a result of new digital research tools.

We have been able to pinpoint the timing of Gryce's mysterious trip to Paris in 1952, and we have gained access to materials that were previously unavailable to us, including unissued recordings as well as the full score of a large scale classical work that Gryce composed during his conservatory studies. Finally, having been able, at last, to identify and interview students in Gryce's classes during his twenty years as a teacher in New York City (as Basheer Qusim, the name he used during this period) has provided further insight into his methods as an educator. These discoveries and others now provide an even more complete study of this fascinating but often inscrutable individual.

The demand for Gryce's music continues to grow, and happily, it has become available. For the music student and professional, a number of Gryce's compositions have been published in lead sheet form thanks to the efforts of Don Sickler at Jazzleadsheets.

In sadness we must note that since publication of the first edition, we lost additional colleagues and family members, many of whom had provided valuable information: Valerie Grice Claiborne (2002), Henri Renaud (2002), Idrees Sulieman (2002), Mal Waldron (2002), Louis Victor Mialy (2003), Edwin Swanston (2003), Rev. Jerome A. Greene (2004), Walter Perkins (2004), Clifford Solomon (2004), Mort Fega (2005), Raymond Horricks (2005), Lucky Thompson (2005), Bruce Wright (2005), Don Butterfield (2006), Clifford Gunn (2006), Jack Lazare (2006), Bob Weinstock (2006), Art Davis (2007), Esmond Edwards (2007), Norman Macklin (2007), Cecil Payne (2007), Max Roach (2007), Harold Andrews (2008), Jimmy Cleveland (2008), Daniel Pinkham (2008), Dick Katz (2009), Mat Mathews (2009), Danny Bank (2010), Hank Jones (2010), Benny Powell (2010), Fred Baker (2011), Sam Rivers (2011), Teddy Charles (2012), Eleanor Gryce (2012), Hal McKusick (2012), Donald Byrd (2013), Donald Shirley (2013), Ed Shaughnessy (2013), Ben Tucker (2013), and Horace Silver (2014).

Lastly, we have made a significant decision regarding the revised and expanded discography and appendixes. These will not be found herein but rather online at Our reasons for doing this stem from the following considerations:

1. The files can be updated regularly as new information and corrections are discovered or reported to us.

2. Online publication allows the incorporation of more tabulated information in an easily viewable format that is impractical with a print version. In this regard, it should be noted that the discography has now been compiled using Steve Albin's BRIAN database application, a major breakthrough in the storage and display of discographical information (

So while this new approach may seem an inconvenience at first, we are confident that the reader will ultimately appreciate the advantages online publication of these sections offers in the digital age.

Noal Cohen and Michael Fitzgerald September 2014”

The following video tribute to Gigi Gryce offers a sampling of his arranging skills from his Jazz Lab association with trumpeter Donald Byrd. The tune is Horace Silver’s Speculation.

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