Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Grimes, HenryAlonzo

Grimes, Henry Alonzo, bassist, violinist, poet, educator, b. Philadelphia, PA, 3 November 1935.  His twin brother Leon played clarinet and tenor saxophone. They began their musical careers at Barrett Junior High School in south Philadelphia, meeting drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath, pianist Bobby Timmons, and trumpeters Ted Curson and Wilmer Wise. Grimes played violin in both the school orchestra and in jazz groups outside of school. He studied at Mastbaum Technical High School in northeast Philadelphia, alongside trumpeters Lee Morgan and Ted Curson. It was at Mastbaum that Grimes added the bass to his musical arsenal. He was almost immediately a first-class player and was selected for the all-city orchestra, which performed challenging symphonic literature.

After graduation he attended the prestigious Juilliard School for one year. Grimes studied with the great classical bassist Fred Zimmermann of the New York Philharmonic and continued these lessons after leaving Juilliard.  He played in rhythm & blues groups including those of Louis Judge and was also playing jazz engagements with artists such as Anita O'Day, where Grimes was heard by Gerry Mulligan, whose quartet he joined in late 1957.  They quickly recorded several albums for the Pacific Jazz label, including meetings with trumpeter Chet Baker and with vocalist Annie Ross.

After leaving Gerry Mulligan, Grimes worked with Benny Goodman and Sonny Rollins. At the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, Grimes played with no fewer than five acts: Rollins, Goodman, Lee Konitz, Tony Scott, and Thelonious Monk, and he can be seen in the film "Jazz on a Summer's Day" playing with Monk. After Newport, Grimes worked extensively with Rollins, recording and touring both the USA and Europe. A number of broadcast recordings document their time together. Grimes's solid musical training allowed him to bridge the span between very conservative forms of jazz and the cutting edge free music. In this period, he worked in venues such as New York's Prelude Club and the Hickory House in piano trios led by Billy Taylor and John Bunch and also appeared on albums for Impulse with Roy Haynes and McCoy Tyner.

In 1963, Sonny Rollins added Don Cherry to his group and this quartet toured Europe, being broadcast on the radio frequently. The influence of Ornette Coleman was strong, and Grimes fit perfectly in the freer setting. Upon returning to the United States, the Rollins group played at the Newport Jazz Festival and made a landmark recording for RCA Victor, both with Coleman Hawkins.  Mr. Grimes traveled with Mr. Rollins to Japan in a band that included Paul Bley and Roy McCurdy.

Grimes was present for Albert Ayler's first US recordings in 1964. Two-bass teams became more frequent during this time, and Grimes also performed in this tandem configuration with Bill Folwell, Alan Silva, J-F Jenny-Clark, and Charlie Haden. He was flexible in playing pizzicato or arco and worked well no matter which was his partner's strength.

Beginning in 1965, Grimes, Robinson, and drummer Tom Price shared an apartment in the East Village, where they developed their musical concepts, jamming together almost every day. Grimes's sole recording as a leader during the sixties, 1965's "The Call," documents this trio. As well as recording for ESP and Impulse, Grimes participated in some of the most important avant-garde recordings made by the Blue Note label, and all of Cecil Taylor's and Don Cherry's Blue Note recordings include Grimes.

Even with such great artistic success, the financial realities were bleak, and Grimes was coming to grips with long-term personal issues that would radically change his life. He arrived in California in 1967 to join Jon Hendricks and continued playing for a short time in San Francisco, but eventually gave up his bass when he relocated in Los Angeles about a year later.  The bass was damaged after baking for several days in the desert during his cross-country travel and soon began developing cracks, and since he did not have enough money to get it repaired, he sold it instead.  Communication with his colleagues ceased, and his whereabouts were unknown to those in the musical community. Rumors spread over the next thirty years but were mostly silenced by the cryptic announcements in the spring of 1986 that he was 'reported' to have died in late 1984 (Cadence Magazine, March 1986). The idea that he might still be living in Los Angeles circulated around early 1999, but there was no confirmation immediately forthcoming.

Rediscovered after considerable research by fan and social worker Marshall Marrotte more than 30 years later, Grimes was the subject of great interest. He received a bass from William Parker, and others donated to help him rejoin the musical world. After only a short time practicing, he returned to the public stage. A few appearances in the Los Angeles area were followed by a trip to New York City in May 2003, performances at the Vision Festival, and a 103-hour continuous radio festival on WKCR-FM, with Mr. Grimes at the station all of the five days playing and speaking. The trio from "The Call" reunited there to perform live on the air. 
Henry Grimes moved back to New York in July of '03, and in many venues and festivals around New York, the U.S., Canada, and 17 countries in Europe, he has been making music, mostly as a leader, with Marshall Allen, Fred Anderson, Marilyn Crispell, Ted Curson, Andrew Cyrille, Bill Dixon, Dave Douglas, Andrew Lamb, Joe Lovano, David Murray, William Parker, Marc Ribot, Cecil Taylor, John Tchicai, and many more. Since his return, Henry Grimes has taught workshops and master classes at David Gage's shop in New York, City College of New York, Bard College in upstate New York, JazzInstitut Darmstadt (Germany), Edgefest in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the Uncool Festival in Poschiavo (Switzerland), among others.

To the astonishment and joy of all, Henry Grimes is playing at the very height of his artistic powers (or indeed anyone's), just as though he had never stopped at all.  At the age of 70, he returned to his first instrument as a child and began playing violin in concert, while continuing to play the bass.

Henry Grimes was named "Musician of the Year" by "All About Jazz / New York" in '03; he's received three prestigious Meet the Composer awards in the past few years and twice has been nominated for an "L.A. Weekly" Best Jazz Artist Award.  In addition, Henry's trio with Andrew Lamb and Newman Taylor Baker was named best jazz trio of the year by "NYPress" in '04; Jez Nelson of BBC Radio's "Jazz on 3" chose the Henry Grimes Quartet's performance in Vision Festival '05 one of the year's dozen best live broadcasts; the Jazz Journalists Association nominated Henry Grimes for "Acoustic Bassist of the Year" ('06); the "Downbeat" critics' poll named him top bassist #12 in August, '06; and the Cecil Taylor trio with Henry Grimes and Pheeroan akLaff was a critic's choice for one of the ten best concerts of the year by "All About Jazz" at the end of '06.  Still healthy and strong, his gentle, humble bearing and courageous life story have inspired all those privileged to know him, hear him, play music with him.

By Mike Fitzgerald (historical information) and Margaret Davis (current information)

The Call (1965); More Call (solo bass) (2003); Live at Kerava (2004); Sublime Communication (2004); Spiritual Unity (2005); Sublime Communication 2:  Live at Edgefest (2005); Going to the Ritual (2007)

As sideperson:
Lee Konitz: Tranquility (1957); Tony Scott and Jimmy Knepper: Free Blown Jazz (1957); Tony Scott: The Modern Art Of Jazz (1957), My Kind of Jazz (1957), Jazz Greats (1957), A Day In New York (1991, contains all of the above four albums); Gerry Mulligan: The Gerry Mulligan Songbook (1957); Gerry Mulligan & Chet Baker: Reunion (1957); Chet Baker: The Pacific Jazz Years; Annie Ross: Sings a Song of Mulligan (1957); Gerry Mulligan Quartet (1958); Benny Goodman: Live At Newport 1958 (1958), Live At Newport 1958, part 2 (1958); Lee Konitz: Newport Jazz 1958 (1958); Sonny Rollins: Live At Newport 1958 (1958); Thelonious Monk: Live At Newport 1958 (1958); Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (1958); Sonny Rollins: Sonny Rollins Brass/Sonny Rollins Trio (1958); Benny Goodman: The Yale University Music Library vol. 1 (1958); Lennie Tristano: Continuity (1958); Sonny Rollins: St. Thomas (1959), Sonnymoon for Two (1959), Aix En Provence (1959); Billy Taylor: Billy Uptown (1960), Custom Taylored (1960), Warming Up (1960); Mose Allison: I Love The Life I Live (1960); Rolf Kuhn & His Sound of Jazz: Be My Guest (c. 1960-61); Carmen Leggio Group (1961); Shirley Scott: Plays Horace Silver (1961); Roy Burns: Skin Burns (1962); Jerome Richardson: Going To The Movies (1962); Charles Mingus: In Concert (1962); Roy Haynes: Out Of The Afternoon (1962); Perry Robinson: Funk Dumpling (1962); Gil Evans: Into the Hot or Cecil Taylor: The New Breed (1961); McCoy Tyner: Reaching Fourth; Bill Barron: Music from West Side Story (1963); Walt Dickerson: Jazz Impressions Of Lawrence Of Arabia (c. 1963); Sonny Rollins: On the Outside incorporating Three In Jazz (1963); Steve Lacy: School Days (1963); Sonny Rollins: Sonny Meets Hawk reissued in Sonny Rollins: All the Things You Are (1963), Salle Pleyel 1963 (1963), Copenhagen 1963 (1963), Meets Don Cherry, Vol. 1 (1963), Meets Don Cherry, Vol. 2 (1963), Stuttgart 1963 (1963); Albert Ayler: Spirits (1964), Witches and Devils [reissue of Spirits], Mothers and Children [reissue of Spirits], Swing Low, Sweet Spiritual (Osmosis); Archie Shepp: On This Night (1965), Further Fire Music (1965); Albert Ayler: Spirits Rejoice (1965); Sunny Murray: Sonny's Time Now (1965); Frank Wright: Frank Wright Trio (1965); Don Cherry: Complete Communion (1965); Burton Greene: Burton Greene Quartet (1966); Charles Tyler: Charles Tyler Ensemble (1966); Cecil Taylor: Unit Structures (1966); Don Cherry: Symphony For Improvisers (1966); Cecil Taylor: Conquistador (1966); Don Cherry: Live At The Five Spot (1966), Where Is Brooklyn? (1966), Complete Blue Note Recordings (1993); Pharoah Sanders: Tauhid (1966); Karl Berger Quartet: From Now On (1966); Marzette Watts: Marzette Watts And Company (1966); Albert Ayler: In Greenwich Village (1966), The Village Concerts (1966); Dennis Gonzalez:  Nile River Suite (2003); William Parker Bass Quartet plus Charles Gayle:  Requiem (2006); Luis Perdomo:  Awareness (2006)

Henry Grimes has been the subject of numerous articles since his return, among them:
Musical rebirth, By Lynell George, Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2003
The New York Times, May 26, 2003, Silent 30 Years, a Jazzman Resurfaces By NEIL STRAUSS
NPR radio profile: http://discover.npr.org/features/feature.jhtml?wfId=1275049
and pieces in "Downbeat," "The Village Voice," "Signal to Noise" (summer issue), "JazzTimes," "Time Out New York," "Time Out Chicago," "All About Jazz," "Variety," etc.
Author Barbara Frenz is working on a biography of Henry Grimes
Selected poems by Henry Grimes appear in his first published book,  "Signs Along the Road" (2007, Buddy's Knife JazzEdition, Cologne, http://www.buddysknife.de).

Contact information:
Henry Grimes and Margaret Davis (partner and manager)
New York City, NY
Voicemail (212) 841-0899.

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