Label: Blue Note Records.
On January the ’13th’ 1962 Grant Green journeyed to New Jersey, and what were by now the familiar environs of the Van Gelder Studio. He was twenty-five and had already recorded eight albums for Blue Note Records since he signed for the label in 1960. Grant Green had his friend Lou Donaldson to thank for that.
He thought back to that day in 1959 when alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson discovered him playing in a bar in St. Louis. He was so impressed that he hired Grant Green for his touring band. This was just the start for Grant Green.
Having moved to New York, Lou Donaldson introduced Grant Green to Alfred Lion the cofounder of Blue Note Records. When he heard Grant Green play his guitar he was so impressed that he arranged for him to record an album as bandleader rather than sideman. This was almost of unheard of, but Grant Green was a special talent who thought and played like a horn player. He had a different mindset and this was apparent throughout his career.
Grant Green like so many musicians who had just signed to Blue Note Records travelled to the Van Gelder Studio on November ’16th’ 1960, where he led a quartet that recorded five tracks. However, when Alfred Lion heard the recordings he shelved the project, and decided to record another session which would become his debut album.
Sadly, what became First Session wasn’t released until 2001, and by then, Grant Green had been dead for twenty-two years. The album featured seven tracks including two takes of Woody ‘N You recorded on October the ’27th’ 1961.
Critics were won over by First Session and felt that the album featured an album who had already matured and was blossoming when surrounded by an all-star band.There was a simplicity to Grant Green’s playing as well as a warmth and urgency on the album. First Session more than hinted at what was to come from Grant Green who would become one of the great jazz guitarists of the sixtes and seventies.
Grant’s First Stand.
After his first recording was shelved, Grant Green returned to the Van Gelder Studio on January the ‘28th’ 1961. This time he was accompanied by drummer Ben Dixon and organist Baby Face Willette. The trio recorded six tracks including three by Grant Green. Alfred Lion who was producing must have felt vindicated as he watched on.
Grant’s First Stand was a stunning album of hard swinging soul-jazz. The album was released to widespread critical acclaim in May 1961, and later, was regarded as the purest album of soul-jazz Grant Green ever recorded. He had set the bar high early on in his career.
Alfred Lion wasted no time getting Grant Green back into the Van Gelder Studio, and on June the ‘4th’ 1961 he led a quartet that recorded Sunday Mornin’. Drummer Ben Dixon returned and was joined by bassist Ben Tucker and pianist Kenny Drew. They recorded an album that combined new compositions and cover versions
Eighteen months passed before Blue Note Records released Sunday Mornin’ in November 1962. It was Grant Green’s fourth album and was well received by critics. Some felt it was his finest album and a flawless set with a distinctive sound. Already Grant Green had established his own sound.
There was no rest for Grant Green between his session work and recording his solo albums. He returned to the Van Gelder Studio, and on August the ‘1st’ 1961 and with an all-star that featured drummer Al Harewood, bassist Ben Tucker, organist Brother Jack McDuff and Yuseef Lateef who played flute and tenor saxophone. With Alfred Lion producing the quintet recorded a smoking album of soul-jazz.
When Grandstand was released in April 1962, the album was hailed as another stunning and swinging album of soul-jazz. The new band clicked and were responsible for what’s new regarded as another of Grant Green’s finest soul-jazz albums.
Four weeks after he recorded Grandstand, Grant Green returned to the Van Gelder Studio on the ‘29th’ August 1961 for another session. This time, it was a trio recording with drummer Al Harewood and bassist Wilbur Hare accompanying Grant Green. The new band recorded an album of standards which later became Remembering.
Just like Grant Green’s debut album First Session, the tracks that became Remembering weren’t released by Blue Note Records Japan until 1980.
By then, Grant Green was dead and jazz critics and fans were Remembering one of its great guitarists. Critics were won over by Remembering and praised Grant Green’s playing. They realized that they were hearing him at the peak of his powers on this pared back trio recording. It was a welcome addition to Grant Green’s discography.
Two days before Christmas 1961, Grant Green made his way to the Van Gelder Studio to record what became Gooden’s Corner. He was joined by a different lineup to the one that featured on Remembering.
Drummer Louis Hayes, bassist Sam Jones and pianist Sonny Clark accompanied Grant Green. They recorded six tracks that ranged from standards to a cover of Shadrack which gave Brook Benton hit single and two Grant Green compositions Gooden’s Corner and Two For One.
Just like Remembering, Gooden’s Corner wasn’t released until 1980. This was ironic as it was released to critical acclaim with the interplay between Grant Green’s guitar and Sonny Clark’s piano playing starring roles in the sound and success of what’s a sometimes overlooked album.
It was a case of deja vu as Grant Green travelled to the Van Gelder Studio at 445 Sylvan Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on on the ‘13th’ of January 1962. Grant Green had recorded a solo album just three weeks previously and here he was again making the same journey again. It was the perfect environment to record an album, and he felt at home in Rudy Van Gelder’s custom built recording studio with its high ceilings. The studio had opened in 1959 which was the year Grant Green was discovered by Lou Donaldson. Now he was about to record one of the most important albums of his career Nigeria, which has just been reissued by Blue Note Records as part of their Tone Poet series.
Grant Green had come a long way in a relatively short space of time. He was twenty-six and had come a long way since his days playing in bars in St Louis. That was where his friend Lou Donaldson had discovered him. Now Grant Green was about to record another album with some of the best jazz musicians America had to offer.
For the Nigeria sessions drummer Art Blakey, bassist Sam Jones and pianist Sonny Clark accompanied Grant Green. They were about to record five tracks with producer Alfred Lion. This included Sonny Rollins’ Airegin and the standards It Ain’t Necessarily So, I Concentrate On You, The Things We Did Last Summer and The Song Is You. These tracks Grant Green must have hoped would be his next album.
Sadly, history repeated itself and just like Remembering and Gooden’s Corner, Nigeria wasn’t posthumously released until 1980. For eighteen years jazz fans missed out on hearing Nigeria, which ironically was one of Grant Green’s finest albums.
Opening Nigeria was the Sonny Rollins’ composition Airegin, which is Nigeria spelt backwards. Sonny Rollins said that: “It was an attempt to introduce some kind of black pride into the conversation of the time.” Airegin was originally recorded on the album Miles Davis With Sonny Rollins and later on Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet which featured John Coltrane. On Nigeria, Art Blakey’s thunderous drums power the arrangement along while Grant Green’s playing is clear, clean and melodic and then when he improvises he comes into his own during what’s a breathtaking performance. Pianist Sonny Clark also enjoys the opportunity to shine during the solos and so does Art Blakey. The quartet set the bar high and whet the listener’s appetite for the rest of the album.
The tempo drops on George and Ira Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So. Art Blakey plays his trademark shuffle and Sam Jones is responsible for a walking bass line. Having locked into a groove, pianist Sonny Clark and Grant Green improvise and seem to feed off other as the all-star band drive each other to even greater heights. As they do, this much-love standard is transformed into a ten minute opus. It takes on a late-night bluesy sound and seductive and sensual sounding.
In Grant Green and his quartet’s hands Cole Porter’s I Concentrate On You takes on new life. Their uptempo take on this standard glides along the arrangement spacious and propelled by the rhythm section who ensure that arrangement swings. Art Blakey adds fills while Sonny Clark’s piano accompanies Grant Green and provides the perfect foil to the guitarist and bandleader. His playing seems effortless as he plays an elegance and fluidity and a sound that is instantly recognisable as Grant Green. Later he leaves space for a Sonny Clark solo and lets him shine as he plays a supporting role in the sound and success of this timeless take on a standard.
Sammy Cahn wrote The Things We Did Last Summer which Grant Green and his ensemble rework. It’s best described as laid-back, understated, melodic and mellifluous with Grant Green deciding taking a less is more approach. Sometimes, there’s a wistful, melancholy sound to Grant Green’s guitar. As the tempo increases his fingers fly across the fretboard and his playing is flawless. The same can be said of pianist Sonny Clark. They form a potent partnership and not for the first time play starring roles on Nigeria.
Closing Nigeria is Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern’s The Song Is You. The tempo rises and the quartet unleash a brisk swinging arrangement. Grant Green seems to have saved his best performance until last playing with speed, fluidity and a dexterity. Sonny Clark who has been Grant Green’s muse throughout the album plays a supporting role and then steps out of the shadows when he plays one of his finest solos. They seem to bring out the best in each other. Then bassist Sam Jones and drummer Art Blakey both showcase their considerable skills during the solos before Grant Green picks up where left off, before he and the rest of quartet take a well deserved bow.
Sadly, after the recording of Nigeria, Alfred Lion decided to shelf the album. It’s thought that he didn’t want to confuse Grant Green’s fans who had grown to love his soul-jazz sound, by issuing what was essentially an album of hard bop flavoured standards. However, many other artists signed to Blue Note Records released albums that were different stylistically.
For Grant Green the shelving of Nigeria must have have been huge disappointment. He had recorded seven albums and First Session, Remembering, Gooden’s Corner and Nigerian had all been had all been shelved and Grant Green never saw them released.
Grant Green was a solo artist between 1961 and 1970, yet still found time to work as a sideman, However, between
August 1971 and April 1978 he only recorded eight albums.
After that, his health deteriorated in 1978, and Grant Green was forced to spend much of that year in hospital. During this period, Grant Green wasn’t earning money, and before long the guitarist’s finances were in a perilous state.
Against doctor’s advice, Grant Green headed back out on the road to try to make some much-needed money. His final gig was at his fiend George Benson’s Breezin’ Lounge in New York, but sadly, Grant Green collapsed in his car of a heart attack and died on January the ’31st’ 1979 aged just forty-three. That day, jazz music lost a truly talented and versatile guitarist, bandleader and composer who left behind a rich musical legacy. This includes Nigeria, which was released posthumously in 1980 and is a reminder of Grant Green at the peak of his powers as he leads an all-star quartet on what’s now regarded a classic album.