Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
A master of melodies, guitarist Grant Green's crisply enunciated single-note lines flow as smoothly as the Mississippi River which runs through his hometown of St. Louis. Green recorded more than twenty albums for Blue Note Records in the sixties, before turning towards funk and soul late in his career.
Grant Green was born on June 6, 1935, in St. Louis, Missouri, and began to perform professionally on the guitar around age twelve. One early influence on his playing was guitarist Charlie Christian, although he said that he stopped listening to other guitarists, as he gained confidence and sought to forge his own way of playing melodic lines.
Green said that he preferred the lines of horn players like saxophonist Charlie Parker, for their lyrical directness. This influence can clearly be heard on his 1961 recording of "Old Folks," a track Parker recorded for Verve Records in 1953.
Green developed a concept of phrasing based upon the way a horn player pauses for breath during solos and melodic lines. Like Parker, his style was rooted in the blues, and would become noted for his inventive yet simplistic melodic playing which was almost voice-like in its phrasing and emotional directness,
Green first recorded in St. Louis with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest for Delmark Records in 1959, along with a then-unknown drummer, Elvin Jones. Green also recorded at this time as a sideman with organist Sam Lazar for Argo, and with bassist Willie Dixon for Chess Records.
Alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson heard Green playing in a St. Louis bar, and asked him to join his touring group. Touring with Donaldson gave Green a bigger picture of the life of a professional musician. At the end of the tour in 1960, Green returned with Donaldson to New York, where the saxophonist introduced him to the founder of Blue Note Records, Alfred Lion.
At the time, Lion frequently took recommendations from other artists on his label, testing out new talent as sidemen before signing them as leaders. However, Lion was so impressed with Green that he signed him to record as a leader straight away. This led to Green's first album in 1961, Grant's First Stand, which were followed by two more later that same year, Green Street and Grantstand, which included "Old Folks."
This avalanche of unexpected talent earned Green an award for "best new star" in Down Beat magazine's annual critic's poll for 1962. From 1961 to 1965, Green made more than twenty albums for Blue Note as a leader, more than any other artist, as well as on albums by saxophonists Stanley Turrentine, Ike Quebec, Hank Mobley, and Harold Vick as well as organists such as Larry Young, Baby Face Willette, Jimmy Smith and Big John Patton.
Green'z zenith at Blue Note was the 1963 album Idle Moments, whose title track contains some of his most melodic playing. It also contains "Jean de Fleur," which shows what Green could do melodically under speedier circumstances.
Some feel Green recorded so prolifically for Blue Note during this period so he could continue to receive cash advances from the label. Many of Green's best-known albums weren't even issued until many years after they were recorded, making it seem as if Blue Note was stockpiling sessions. In any case, the label's release schedule could not compete with the speed in which Green could come up with new ideas and record them.
Nonetheless, Green captured the ears of a large number of jazz fans not only with his terse melodic statements but with his ability as a leader to maximize interplay between musicians, as can be heard on the song"Talkin' About JC," where Green, drummer Elvin Jones and organist Larry Young create an exciting melodic soundscape.
Green's Blue Note recordings have been so revered by fans of jazz guitar that even he had trouble living up to their expectations. Suffering from heroin addiction, Green left the label in 1966, and never recaptured this early success. By 1969, when Green returned to Blue Note, guitarists like Wes Montgomery and George Benson had taken over the spotlight, filling the void left by Green.
Green's second phase at Blue Note was largely devoted to the sounds of funk and rhythm-and-blues, which confused some of his longtime fans. Harmonically, Green took a minimalistic approach to the guitar in this period, but produced some electrifying results on songs like "Ain't It Funky Now."
Critics took Green to task for abandoning the virtuosic purity of his jazz recordings, but Green's funk work sold well, and his records from this period have become a touchstone for many contemporary hip-hop producers, who sample his tight grooves and pentatonic licks.
After a string of funk-fueled albums, Green left Blue Note again n 1974 and recorded for a variety of labels, doing even more commercially-focused work. Green's last LP, Easy, recorded in 1974, was an album of popular R&B songs with a wash of orchestration that virtually buries Green's guitar licks in the mix.
With mounting medical bills and little income coming in, Green went against the advice of his doctors who warned him to stay home and rest and decided to return to touring to try to earn money to pay his debts. While flashes of Green's former brilliance appear from time to time on his later albums, these short bursts of exquisite guitar playing are fewer and farther between than during Green's early work for Blue Note.
At the young age of 47, Green finally succumbed to his illnesses. He died in New York City after arriving to play a gig at George Benson's Breezin' Lounge from a heart attack while sitting in his car outside the club on January 31st, 1979.
First Session 1961 Blue Note
Grant's First Stand 1961 Blue Note
Green Street 1961 Blue Note
Sunday Mornin' 1961 Blue Note
Grantstand 1961 Blue Note
The Latin Bit 1962 Blue Note
Goin' West 1962 Blue Note
Feelin' The Spirit 1962 Blue Note
Am I Blue? 1962 Blue Note
Idle Moments 1962 Blue Note
Solid 1962 Blue Note
Talkin' About! 1962 Blue Note
Street of Dreams 1962 Blue Note
I Want To Hold Your Hand 1965 Blue Note
His Majesty, King Funk 1965 Verve
Iron City 1969 Cobblestone
Carryin' On 1969 Blue Note
Green Is Beautiful 1970 Blue Note
Alive! 1970 Blue Note
Live At Club Mozambique 1971 Blue Note
Visions 1971 Blue Note
Shades Of Green 1971 Blue Note
The Final Comedown 1972 Blue Note
Live at the Lighthouse 1972 Blue Note
The Main Attraction 1976 Kudu
Easy 1978) Versatile
Contributor: Scott Homewood