the Master of
Jazz Guitar (1935 - 1979)
Jazz guitarist Grant Green launched his professional music career in the end of the 1950s. With his unique, elegant, bluesy and laidback style, mixed with an exemplary technical brilliancy, he quickly established himself as one of the world's leading jazz guitarist during the 1960s and 70s.
Grant Green was born on June 6th, 1935 in St. Louis, Missouri where he grew up and where he from an early start were exposed to blues and jazz music. During the 40s and the 50s, St. Louis was namely a city totally permeated by jazz and blues and which had produced such musical legends as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.
Grants father, who was a guitarist, encouraged Green into start playing the guitar at an early age. As a result of that, Green's started playing the guitar already in grade school, while he at the same time took guitar lessons from his father. Young Grant soon became so obsessed by the instrument that he used to sneak his ukulele into class in fifth grade, and plinking and planking all day much to the dismay of his teacher, Miss Stokes. Green soon showed proof of great talent, and by the age of 13 he started playing professional in a gospel group. In an article by Dan Morgenstern in Down Beat, Green gave the following comment regarding his first stumbling steps with the guitar. "The first thing I learned to play was boogie woogie. Then I had to do a lot of rock and roll. It's all blues, anyhow". Greens reputation as a guitarist grew, and it did not take long until he started playing at local clubs with several local blues and R n'b bands in his hometown and in East St. Louis, Illinois. In 1957 he made his first professional gig with tenor saxophone player Jimmy Forrest and his Quintet, which except from Grant consisted of, among others Harold Mabern and legendary drummer Elvin Jones (Jones and Green would later become consistent recording partners at Blue Note).
During the late 1950s, Green continued to play and collaborate with several different artists and performers in St. Louis, as Harry Edison and organ player Sam Lazar. In 1960 Green eventually got discovered for "real" by alto saxophone player Lou Donaldson, who were in St. Louis on tour when he heard Green play at a down town bar. Donaldson quickly realized the whole extent of Green's talent, and immediately encouraged him to move to New York. After finishing a tour with Donaldson, Green moved to "the Big Apple" in June of 1960. In New York Donaldson easily persuaded the founders of Blue Note Records, Alfred Lion and Francis Wolf, to sign Green to the label. Due to his versality, his unique sound, and great skills, Green immediately established himself as one of Blue Notes top jazz guitarists, and became the sideman of choice for many veteran Blue Note artists. He especially received lots of credits for his tasteful and elegant guitar playing with the many organ trios (organ/guitar/drums) he collaborated with. Journalist Dan Morgenstern wrote the following lines after hearing Green live at an uptown New York club.
"What first strikes the listener about Grant Green's playing is its remarkable relaxation. Sitting on the stand, eyes closed and legs crossed, Grant seems utterly absorbed in his music, unfazed by the loud conversation and laughter in the bar."
Grant Green 1961
During the 1960s, Green's career emerged from total anonymity into extreme and huge successes in "the Big Apple". Between 1961 and 1965 he recorded more Blue Note LPs as a solo artist and as a sideman than anyone else. His first album was released in 1961 and was simply titled "Grant's First Stand" and was later that year followed by two albums, "Green Street" and "Grantstand". His recordings consisted of a wonderful blend of personal and sophisticated interpretations of ballads and standards in soulful and groovy be-bop and soul/jazz versions. His soulful works easily and quickly established him as one of the fastest rising guitar stars on the vibrant New York jazz scene. Gaining exposure that led to the best new star award nomination in Down Beat Critics Poll in 1962, in turn resulted in an increasing exposure and influence that spread far wider than New York. He was hired by numerous of different artists like Herbie Hancock, Lee Morgan, Elvin Jones, Lou Donaldson and Ike Quebec. During the 60s Grant also had a great interest and love in playing with jazz organ trios and collaborated with several organ heavyweights of that time as Brother Jack McDuff, Sam Lazar, Baby Face Willette, Big John Patton, Larry Young and Gloria Coleman.
Increasing drug abuse and personal problems sadly interrupted Green's career in 1967 and forced him off stage for two years till 1969. During this time he spent a short period of time in jail due to his heroin addiction. In 1969 he returned back into the limelight with a new, more funk influenced band and made a successful comeback in the late 60s- and in the beginning of the 70s with several brilliant recordings. Like the music of many other jazz artists during the early 70s, Green's music were as well, drawn in a more commercial direction. In Green's case it resulted in a more jazzy, funk influenced music which in turn generated huge commercial successes and increased record sales. All thanks to mellow and groovy jazz/funk tunes as "Sookie, Sookie", "Green is Beautiful" and the soundtrack to the movie The Final Comedown etc. Like the career of guitar college Wes Montgomery, Green was during the 1970s accused of selling out to commercialism when funk was vogue, and was therefore in focus of hard criticisms from many directions.
In 1974 Green decided eave Blue Note and started to record for several other record companies as Verve and Muse with varied success. Due to a degenerated state of health, primarily caused by an increased drug abuse, Green is in 1978 forced to spend almost the entire year in a hospital bed due to an heart aliment. Against the advice of the doctors he decides to leave the hospital in the beginning of 1979 to go back on the road again to earn a living. While in New York playing at an engagement party at George Benson's Breezin' Lounge on January the 31st in 1979, Green collapses in his car and suffer a fatal heart attack. Survived by six children he is buried in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.
Grant Green was an exceptionally talented, versatile and expressive jazz guitarist with an enormous mastery of everything from be-bop and blues to pure soul/jazz and 70s-funk. With a totally unique sound, combined with a mastery of expressions and simplicity ahead of technical expertise, he became one of all times greatest jazz guitarists. During the years as an active musician he recorded more than 93 albums as a solo artist and as a sideman. Beginning with pure, down home blues, continuing with some hard hitting soul/jazz during the 60s, and finally rounding it all up in a more commercial direction in the mid 70s, Green established himself as one of the top-leading guitarist in jazz history. Green's guitar playing is characterized by his pure, almost bell like, unique sound and his love for using single notes for comping instead of advanced jazz chord progressions as common in jazz. The fact is that he completely avoided chordal playing which he considered to clutter the music. Green's ability to play a few notes with a quickness and a fluidity as few, also very strongly contributed to his unique sound. When listening to Green's unique guitar sound, you can very easily distinguish his influences from his biggest sources of inspiration, trumpet player Miles Davis and saxophone player Charlie Parker, which in many aspects built their music in the same way.
Green was, and still is, an never ending source of inspiration for numerous guitarists like George Benson among others. Sadly enough, Green never really received all the attention, respect and acknowledgement that he so well deserved during his lifetime. Thanks to CD reissues of classic albums, and also due to the fact that his funky 70s recordings have been sampled a numerous amount of times by several different groups from Madonna to Us3 and A Tribe Called Quest, has he during the last years gained and received increasing respect and credits for his contributions. As a proof of his increasing popularity it is worth mentioning that his album Idle Moments, recorded more than 30 years ago, was ranked number 9 on Rolling Stones Magazines Alternative chart in December 1994. For those of you that want to find out more about Grant Green and his life and times, an American biography was released in January 1999 on this jazz giant titled, "Grant Green: Rediscovering the Forgotten Genius of Jazz Guitar" by Green's daughter in law, Sharony Andrews Green. The book can be ordered from any bookstore or directly online from e.g., www.bokus.com or www.amazon.com.
Here follows a list of recommended recordings for those of you that want to hear more of Green's superb guitar playing. If you are looking for a complete discography I recommend visiting some of the suggested links at the bottom of this page.
"Talkin'About" (Blue Note) 1964
"The Complete Blue Note With Sonny Clark" (Mosaic) 1961
"Born To Be Blue" (Blue Note) 1961
"Street Funk & Jazz Groove (the best of Grant Green)" (Blue Note) 1993
"Solid" (Blue Note) 1964
"Idle Moments" (Blue Note) 1963
"Matador" (Blue Note) 1964
"Grant made the guitar come alive and sing" George Benson
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