Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Geissman, Grant

Geissman, Grant, guitarist, composer, author; b. Berkeley, CA, 13 April 1953. Although no one in his family had previously made music a career, his was a musical family nonetheless: his father, Charles Giessman, was a jazz drummer before World War II, and his grandparents, Frank and Chrissy Burgess, played banjo and piano respectively. After a divorce from Charles, his mother (born Christine Burgess) married Irving Butcher and settled in San Jose, California, where Grant spent his formative years. His half brother, Bret Butcher, was born in 1959. Grant initially became fascinated with the guitar at about age eleven when he heard some older kids on the block rehearsing surf music in their living room. After the Beatles arrived on the scene, he badgered his parents relentlessly for a guitar for six months; he was finally presented with a $25 Stella acoustic guitar on Christmas morning, 1964. He immediately started taking guitar lessons from a succession of local San Jose players, including Geoff Levin of the pop group PEOPLE! and local jazz favorites Bud Dimock, Don Cirallo, and Terry Saunders. Encouraged by these teachers to learn jazz standards and to improvise, Grant began playing in a variety of settings, including in rock bands at weekend gigs, and in both small group and big band jazz settings. As a senior in high school, Grant began formal study with avant-garde guitarist Jerry Hahn, who introduced him to the music of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman.

After graduating from Prospect High School, Grant attended De Anza Junior College, where he played in both the Junior College jazz band and the "Daddio" Band (made up of older professionals), which were both led by the well-known jazz educator Dr. Herb Patnoe. Dr. Patnoe was the director of Stan Kenton's Jazz Clinics, and as the Kenton band didn't have a guitar player at that time, Patnoe recommended Grant to teach at Kenton's summer clinics in both Sacramento and in Southern California, which he did for several successive summers. While teaching at these clinics, Grant first met (and played with) drummer Peter Erskine and pianist Dan Haerle. Grant moved to the Los Angeles area in 1973 where he attended one semester at Cal State Fullerton, where he played in the band led by pianist/clarinetist Tom Ranier. Transferring to Cal State Northridge at the beginning of 1974 to be closer to the Hollywood studio scene, Grant began playing in the Northridge "A" band led by jazz educator Joel Leach. While at Northridge, Grant began playing in both Gerald Wilson's Big Band and with Louie Bellson's Big Band, recording several albums with Bellson.

Grant also began playing in local jazz joints with Tony Rizzi's guitar band, recording "Tony Rizzi's Five Guitars Play Charlie Christian," which featured Tom Ranier and Pete Christlieb (released in 1976). In late 1976 Grant got a call from fluegelhornist/composer Chuck Mangione, who was looking to add a guitar player to his band. Grant's first gig with Chuck was at the Santa Monica Civic auditorium on November 9th, 1976. A short tour of the Pacific Northwest followed, and soon after Chuck asked Grant to become a permanent member of the band. Because of personnel changes, Chuck would soon be putting a new band of players together, including Grant, Charles Meeks on bass, Chris Vadala on woodwinds, and James Bradley, Jr. on drums. With Mangione, Grant appeared on most of the major TV/variety shows of the time, including The Tonight Show, Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin, Phil Donahue, The Midnight Special, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, and Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve.

Grant left Chuck's band in at the end of 1981 to pursue other endeavors, including his own albums, session work, and composing. To date Grant has released twelve albums as a leader. He has also recorded with such artists as Quincy Jones ("Q's Jook Joint," 1995), Keiko Matsui, 3rd Force, David Benoit, Cheryl Bentyne, Lorraine Feather, and Dianne Schur. His playing has been heard on such TV shows as "Dawson's Creek," "Family Affair," "Boy Meets World," "Touched By an Angel," and "Lizzy McGuire," among many others. Grant can also be heard playing the Django-esque acoustic guitar on the theme for the television show "Monk," starring Tony Shalub. He was nominated for an Emmy award in 2000 for co-writing the song "No Puedo Olvidar" for the daytime drama "Passions," and was also nominated for an ANNIE award for his work producing Van Dyke Parks's songs for "Harold and the Purple Crayon"(HBO). Grant has also written additional music for the films "The Ponder Heart," "Call Me Claus," and "Monday Night Mayhem." Over the last several years-schedule permitting-Grant has again worked with Chuck Mangione. His early musical influences finally came full circle in 2003 when Grant got to play Dobro on Beatle Ringo Starr's "Ringorama" album.

Quite apart from his musical career, Grant is an expert on MAD magazine and the old 1950s EC comic books ("Tales from the Crypt," "Vault of Horror," "Weird Science," et al). He has written two books on the subject: "Collectibly MAD" (Kitchen Sink Press, 1995) and "Tales of Terror! The EC Comics Companion" (with Fred von Bernewitz, Fantagraphics, 2000), as well as compiling and/or writing annotations for ten other MAD-related books. Grant married Lydia Van Dam (now Geissman) in 1986, and their daughter, Greer, was born in 1988.

Good Stuff (1978); Put Away Childish Toys (1983); Drinkin' From The Money River (1986); Snapshots (1987); All My Tomorrows (1988); Take Another Look (1989); Flying Colors (1990); Reruns (1991); Time Will Tell (1992); Rustic Technology (1993); Business As Usual (1995); In With The Out Crowd (1998)
As sideperson:
Louie Bellson's 7: Live at the Concord Summer Festival; Chuck Mangione: Feels So Good (1977), Children of Sanchez (1978), Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1979), Fun and Games (1980), Everything For Love (2000)

Leonard Feather: Grant Geissman, in: Jazz Times, 21/7 (Oct.1991), p. 12-13, 76 (BT)
Jonathan Widran: Profile. Grant Geissman, in: Jazziz, 13/3 (Mar.1996)

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