Monday, June 07, 2010

Gigi Gryce and his 50 years old Rat Race Blues

Gigi Gryce and his 50 years old Rat Race Blues (English) Gigi Gryce Rat Race Blues 50 jaar geleden opgenomen (Nederlands)

As always, very crisp, precise and bluesy Gryce ( Ron Wynn)
Hans Koert

Fifty years ago, in New York City the 7th of June, 1960, the Gigi Gryce album The Rat Race Blues was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder for Fantasy for its Prestige / New Jazz label.

Gigi Gryce was born in Pensacola Fl. November 1927 and passed away in that same place March 1983. In the mid-1950s he converted to Islam and got the name Basheer Quism, like more jazz musicians from that period. He didn't use that name until the early 1960s. He was one of those alto saxophone players who was influenced by Charlie Parker, like Frank Morgan and Herb Geller, but he developed into his own style with a much darker tone and broader vibrato, the phrasing less supple but with an emphatic vocal quality that carries over into his flute-playing, to quote Richard Cook & Brian Morton ( in Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings.) On the album The Rat Race Blues Gigi Gryce doesn't play the flute. His Quintet featured Richard Williams on trumpet, Richard Wyands on piano, Julian Euell on bass and Mickey Roker on drums.

Cover of the Prestige / New Jazz album The Rat Race Blues ( Prestige/New Jazz 8262)

He studied at the Boston Conservatory but also in Paris thanks to a Fulbright scholarship. He started his career as a musician in New York City in the early 1950s playing with Max Roach, Howard McGhee, Tadd Dameron and Clifford Brown. His recording debut was on Max Roach first album for Debut ( April and October 1953) with musicians like Idrees Sulieman, Hank Mobley and of course Roach on drums. Label OJC-081 ( NJ-8262)
In 1953 he visited Europe with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, but, regarding to the info in One Night Stand (Jazzconcerten in Nederland 1947-1967) he wasn't p
resent at the two concerts scheduled on the 19th of September, 1953 at the Kurhaus in The Hague and the Concertgebouw in Amsterda
m. It looks as if he replaced Bobby Plater, alto saxophone player in the band between 1946 and 1964 - fact is that Gigi was present in the Konserthuset in Stockholm on the 15th and in the Mustertmesse in Basel on the 25th of September. It puzzles me why he wasn't playing in The Netherlands? Or is the info in One Night Stand wrong? An anonymous photo in that booklet made me puzzling, although it seems a tenor sax player, made by photographer Peter Verbruggen, originally dated as 28th of October, 1954 (?).

It seems as if he stayed in Europe for a couple of month as he was present at several recording sessions for Vogue with his Gigi Gryce Ensemble and Orchestra, but also with the Clifford Brown Sextet between September 1953 up to February 1954. In 1954 he recorded with musicians like Art Farmer, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk and Lee Morgan before he founded his own Jazz Lab Quintet. In October 1955 he recorded a great album entitled Nica's Tempo.

Detail of the anonymous sax player ( photo courtesy: Peter Verbruggen / MCN)

Gigi Gryce will be remembered as a composer. I recently wrote about the Rein De Graaff 2005 tour with Herb Geller and John Marshall with a program dedicated to the music of Gigi Gryce. Gryce wasn't a superb virtuosic player, but important because of his compositions and arrangements and the way he wanted to revive the music of the bebop period. .... whose temperament directs that they be the ones to look more carefully at ground which has been covered, to see if what has already been done can not be done again in a fresh different way ( Joe Goldberg on the liner notes of the Rat Race Blues album (1960). Gigi is not one of those great experimenters, like, with a 1960 view, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy or Cecil Taylor ( list by Joe Goldberg). He has always been concerned with the re-exploration of previously introduced forms. In Gigi's opinion young musicians lack a certain maturity when they play. They all want to stake out new territories in jazz, love to be a soloists but forget to learn to play in a group. Joe Goldberg quotes in his liner notes a story that is told about Gigi, which I love to share with you. Once Gigi was playing with a drummer who was playing extremely complicated, inhibiting figures behind him. When the drummer man had to play his solo, Gigi didn't gave him any space, but continued playing. When the tune had finished the drummer asked Gigi why he did do so: Well, weren't you soloing during my solo? The Rat Race Blues album, recorded now 50 years ago, is one of those albums in which the band is more important then the musicians or the tunes. Gigi Gryce ( detail of the cover)
Gigi is always looking back - to the jazz musicians that created jazz ...... What a fundamental different with, for instant Brad Mehldau. I recently discussed the fact that Brad don't want to be labeled as influenced by the musicians who preceded him. Gigi said: Even Bird was not the greatest ...... He was the greatest at what he did, and he opened up new areas, which he should have done, but he was not the greatest. Neither was Hawkins. Gigi wants to say that he feels that even the greats owe things to other musicians unsung heroes of jazz, local musicians who have added much to the styles of men we revere, but who were never themselves acclaimed. Gigi gives some examples of saxophone players now complete forgotten: Ray Shep ( He played in the
Noble Sissle band), Goon Gardner ( Earl Hines Band), Harry Curtis ( Cab Calloway's Orchestra) and, last but not least, Julius Pogue ( a cab driver in New York 50 years ago who played occasionally.). Gigi said about the latter: He could make you cry with his tone. I think I'm going to find some recordings of these four forgotten reed players!!
Mouthpiece (Detail of the cover)

Love to share with you the tune Blues In Bloom, composed by Gigi's friend Norman Mapp as one of the Rat Race Blues album tracks.

Gigi stopped playing professionally early 1960s. He became involved in independent publishing of compositions from musicians, not usual in those days, which brought him into financial problems. He didn't use his name Gigi Gryce anymore, but used his Moslem name Basheer Quism and decided to leave the music business. He bacame a (music) teacher. His last recordings dates from January 1961 for Mercury with his orchestra ( Reminisin')

The kind of contribution which Gigi himself has made, can be heard instantly on this record, and if more men followed his example in giving credit where it is due, it might turn out that he has contributed importantly in an area he had not thought of. ( Joe Goldberg (1960))
Hans Koert

Gigi Gryce ( 1925-1983) is one of those jazz musicians that didn't got the recognition they deserve ...... As an alto saxophone player he was a follower of Bird and found his inspiration in the music played in the past ........ His legacy contains some fine tunes, which never have been given due homage - One of his last albums, The Rat Race Blues, released by Prestige / New Jazz was recorded 50 years ago. As always, very crisp, precise and bluesy Gryce ( quote ( Ron Wynn)
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