Born June 6, 1936, in St. Louis, MO; died of a heart attack, January 31, 1979, in New York, NY. Education: Studied guitar with St. Louis musician Forrest Alcorn.
Upon winning the new star category in Down Beat's critics' poll in 1962, jazz guitarist Grant Green attracted national attention as a major new force in the New York jazz scene. Green's guitar style-- rooted in the swing approach of Charlie Christian, the blues, and African American religious music--is renowned for its warm, inviting tone and flowing single-note lines.
Critically acclaimed for his work with small combos and organ trios, Green recorded with the finest musicians on the famous Blue Note label in sessions that often paired him with saxophonists Hank Mobley and Ike Quebec as well as organists Jack McDuff and Larry Young. Though his name has fallen into obscurity in recent years, Green is no stranger to die-hard jazz fans and musicians who regard him as one of the premier guitar talents of the 1960s.
Grant Green was born on June 6, 1931, in St. Louis, Missouri. Green's father, a guitarist versed in Muddy Waters-style blues, bought him an inexpensive Harmony guitar and amplifier at an early age. After performing in a St. Louis gospel group, Green landed his first job with an accordion player, Joe Murphy, whose repertoire included gospel, boogie woogie, and rock and roll tunes. Drawn to the sounds of bebop modernism, he began to study the music of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. Green recalled in Guitar Payer that "listening to Charlie [Parker] was like listening to a different man every night." After only one year of formal study, with St. Louis musician Forrest Alcorn, Green began playing with the St. Louis bands of organist Sam Lazar and tenor saxophonist Jimmy "Night Train" Forrest, with whom Green made his recording debut on the Delmark label.
After hearing Green play in a local nightclub, jazz saxophonist and singer Lou Donaldson contacted Francis Wolff of Blue Note Records. Upon the invitation of Donaldson, Green moved to New York in 1960, and within a few months signed a contract with Blue Note. After recording an unissued date with Miles Davis's quintet in 1961, he recorded his first album as a leader, Grant's First Stand. The LP includes Grant's composition "Miss Anne's Tempo," a driving blues that has emerged as a guitar/organ trio classic.
Following the release of the albums Green Street and Grantstand in 1961, Green recorded Born to Be Blue in 1962. His 1963 release Idle Moments, featuring tenor-saxophonist Joe Henderson and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, has been considered by many critics as one of the finest jazz guitar records of the 1960s. Throughout the decade Green became a regular session man at Blue Note, recording on such dates as trumpeter Lee Morgan's LP Search for the New Land.
Grant's recordings and live performances soon made him a formidable talent on the New York music scene. While working at a club on 142nd Street, Green participated in "The Battle of the Guitars"--an impromptu jam session that often included guitarists Wes Montgomery and Detroit veteran Kenny Burrell, whom Green considered one of his favorite guitarists.
Though his career became overshadowed by the popularity of Wes Montgomery, Green remained a unique talent who, along with Montgomery and Burrell, formed the great triumvirate of postwar jazz guitar--a style exhibiting a strong swing/blues feel and advanced harmonic ideas. Green's early recordings with organist Jack McDuff, trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, and Donaldson were followed, in 1964, by several sessions featuring members of John Coltrane's legendary quartet, drummer Elvin Jones and pianist McCoy Tyner. Along with Jones and Tyner, Green recorded the outstanding albums Solid in 1964 and Matador in 1965.
In the years 1964 to 1965 and 1969 to 1972, Green recorded more than 30 sessions as a leader for the Blue Note label. His work as a sideman included dates with trumpeter Lee Morgan, pianist Herbie Hancock, saxophonists Stanley Turrentine, Ike Quebec, and Hank Mobley, and most of the label's organists. In 1966 Green periodically left Blue Note to record on several labels, including Muse, Verve, and Cobblestone. Due to personal problems and the effects of drug addiction, Green became intermittently inactive from 1967 to 1969.
In an effort to find new artistic avenues outside New York, Green moved to Detroit in 1970, where he lived for over five years. Although he returned to the studio a number of times during the decade, his commercially oriented recordings failed to live up to the quality of his earlier work. While in New York to play an engagement at George Benson's Breezin' Lounge, he collapsed in his car of a heart attack and died on January 31, 1979. Survived by six children, Green was buried in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.
Indebted to the horn-like phrasing of his early mentor Charlie Christian, Green's guitar style is reliant on single-note phrases, rather than the chordal inflections and octave figures of his contemporaries Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell. As music producer/writer Bob Porter stated, as quoted in the liner notes of Born to Be Blue, Green had the ability to "take any good melody and make it sing." It is this inherent skill that prompted Green to record both blues-inspired originals as well as ballads written by composers from Duke Ellington to Rogers and Hammerstein.
Like so many jazzmen, Green, after a brief, meteoric career, passed from life at an early age, leaving behind a musical legacy that became overshadowed by popular music trends and rock guitar heroes. In a review of one of Green's performances nine months before the guitarist's death, Gene Gray wrote in Down Beat, "Green, for those who may be unaware, does things on guitar better than anyone." To fans and serious students of jazz guitar, Green stands as an integral figure among the blues-based modernists of the postwar era. More than ten years after his passing, Green's guitar work remains a testament to genius--a music filled with soulful inspiration and broad artistic vision, which over time will no doubt earn its proper place in the history of modern American music.
by John Cohassey
Grant Green's Career
Played guitar with a gospel group and accordion player Joe Murphy; performed with the bands of organist Sam Lazar and saxophonist Jimmy "Night Train" Forrest; moved to New York and began a career as sideman and solo artist on the Blue Note label, 1960; recorded numerous sides for Blue Note before leaving the label in 1966; became inactive after recording for several smaller labels, late 1960s; returned to Blue Note, 1969; moved to Detroit, 1970; continued to record and make appearances, 1970s.
Grant Green's Awards
Named best new star in Down Beat critics' poll, 1962.
- Selective Works
- Grant's First Stand, Blue Note, 1961.
- Green Street, Blue Note, 1961.
- (With others) Quebec: Blue and Sentimental, Blue Note, 1961.
- Feelin' the Spirit, Blue Note, 1962.
- Am I Blue, Blue Note, 1963.
- Idle Moments, Blue Note, 1963.
- Street of Dreams, Blue Note, 1963.
- Matador, Blue Note, 1964.
- Grant Green Alive!, 1970.
- Iron City, Cobblestone, 1976.
- Solid, Blue Note, 1976.
- The Final Comedown (film soundtrack), 1976.
- Nigeria, Blue Note, 1980.
- Born to Be Blue, Blue Note, 1989.
- Grant Green: The Best of Grant Green, Volume 1, Blue Note, 1993.
- Ramsey, Doug, Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of Its Makers, University of Arkansas Press, 1989.
- Periodicals Down Beat, July 19, 1962; February 17, 1972; March 22, 1979; December 25, 1979; November 1980; April 1994.
- Guitar Player, January 1975.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from the liner notes to Matador, by Michael Cuscuna; to Grant Green: The Best of Grant Green, Volume 1, by Tom Evered; and to Born to Be Blue, by Richard Seidel.