Tag Archives: Grant Green

Musical Man of Mystery: Baby Face Willette

Baby Face Willette

Baby Face Willette

With a name more suitable to a gangster from Capone’s Chicago and a frustratingly short biography Baby Face Willette skidded across the face of American popular music for a brief span of time in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I don’t know if there was a pan involved but Baby Face’s career certainly was over in a rapid flash.

The biography begins with his birth in New Orleans, Louisana. Or was it, as some claim, really Little Rock, Arkansas? Both stories have their supporters. Everyone agrees, though, that wherever he entered this world, he was given the grand name of Roosevelt, after, one assumes (but we cannot be sure) of the newly inaugurated President of the USA: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 1933 was the year.

After some time learning how to play the piano in his hometown church the young (and young faced) musician decided to try his luck in the big city. He found himself in New York where he played and recorded with such soul-jazz luminaries as Lou Donaldson (sax) and Grant Green (guitar). He had by now left the piano behind and was fast mastering the Hammond B-3. Like so many other young men and women he idolized Jimmy Smith, probably the greatest B3 player to come out of the US and jazz world.

For whatever reasons after leaving his musical imprint as a sideman and leader on several records he moved to Chicago. Here he seemed to find an audience. He played regular gigs in clubs across the windy city, continuing right up to the early 1970s, when all trace of him disappears. His end, like his beginning, shrouded in uncertainty.

The record we share tonight, Stop and Listen, was recorded in Chicago in 1961 with his friend Grant Green on guitar and the favoured drummer of many B3 players, Ben Dixon on the traps. Baby Face may have been named like a gangster but he played the organ like an angel. His touch is light and dreamy almost delicate; he can swing (listen to the intense drive of Jumpin’ Juniper, with that left hand keeping the beat roiling in the lower register) and importantly knows how to play with others. The sympatico atmosphere he creates with Green and Dixon allows all three to shine and contribute, not just serve him as leader.

This record has been in the vaults for many years and I’ve really loved listening to it over and over in the last few days. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do. And as our musical man of mystery himself did in making it!

Stop And Listen 1

Track Listing:
01 Williow Weep for Me

02 Chances Are Few

03 Jumpin’ Jupiter

04 Stop and Listen

05 At Last

06 Soul Walk

07 Worksong

08 They Can’t Take That Away From Me

BFW

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It Certainly Is!: Grant Green

Grant Green

Grant Green

My favourite jazz guitarist has always been George Benson (sans the singing, except on Breezin’, which is simply one of the most delightful albums on the 1970s) but it is Grant Green that I love listening to more these days.  Green is a guitarist who puts the tune above the technique. Whatever he played seemed not just to swing, but to sing, as well.  And I love soul-jazz which Grant became known for in his latter years.

Often overlooked by jazz critics and snobs, Grant Green, is now building a posthumous reputation as an exceptionally expressive and talented musician.

Green was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He first performed in a professional setting at the age of 12. His influences were Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and Jimmy Raney, he first played boogie-woogie before moving on to jazz. His first recordings in St. Louis were with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest for the United label. The drummer in the band was Elvin Jones, later the powerhouse behind John Coltrane. Grant recorded with Elvin again in the early Sixties. Lou Donaldson discovered Grant playing in a bar in St. Louis. After touring together with Donaldson, Grant arrived in New York around 1959-60.

Lou Donaldson introduced Grant to Alfred Lion of Blue Note Records. Lion was so impressed with Grant that rather than testing Grant as a sideman, as was the usual Blue Note practice, Lion arranged for him to record as a group leader first. However, due to a lack of confidence on Green’s part the initial recording session was only released in 2001 as First Session.

Despite the shelving of his first session, Green’s recording relationship with Blue Note was to last, with a few exceptions, throughout the Sixties. From 1961 to 1965, Grant made more appearances on Blue Note LPs, as leader or sideman, than anyone else. Grant’s first issued album as a leader was Grant’s First Stand. This was followed in the same year by Green Street and Grantstand. Grant was named best new star in the Down Beat critics’ poll, in 1962. He often provided support to the other important musicians on Blue Note, including saxophonists Hank Mobley, Ike Quebec, Stanley Turrentine and organist Larry Young.

Sunday Mornin’ , The Latin Bit and Feelin’ the Spirit are all loose concept albums, each taking a musical theme or style: Gospel, Latin and spirituals respectively. Grant always carried off his more commercial dates with artistic success during this period. Idle Moments (1963), featuring Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson, and Solid(1964), are thought of as two of Grant‘s best recordings.

Many of Grant’s recordings were not released during his lifetime. These include McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones (also part of the Solid group) performing on Matador (also recorded in 1964), and several albums with pianist Sonny Clark. In 1966 Grant left Blue Note and recorded for several other labels, including Verve. From 1967 to 1969 Grant was, for the most part, inactive due to personal problems and the effects of heroin addiction. In 1969 Grant returned with a new funk-influenced band. His recordings from this period include the commercially successful Green is Beautiful and the soundtrack to the film The Final Comedown.

Grant left Blue Note again in 1974 and the subsequent recordings he made with other labels divide opinion: some consider Green to have been the ‘Father of Acid Jazz’ (and his late recordings have been sampled by artists including US3A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy), whilst others have dismissed them (reissue producer Michael Cuscuna wrote in the sleeve notes for the album Matador that “During the 1970s [Green] made some pretty lame records”).

Grant spent much of 1978 in hospital and, against the advice of doctors, went back on the road to earn some money. While in New York to play an engagement at George Benson’s Breezin’ Lounge, Grant collapsed in his car of a heart attack in New York City on January 31, 1979. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, and was survived by six children. Since Green‘s demise, his reputation has grown and many compilations of both his earlier (post-bop/straight ahead and soul jazz) and later (funkier/dancefloor jazz) periods, exist. (Wikipedia)

Ain’t It Funky Now! is the third of three thematically organized Grant Green compilations in the Blue Note Original Jam Master Series — all of which focus on his final period recording for the label, between 1969 and 1972. Green was deeply interested in popular Black music in his late period and that is reflected in these seven cuts taken from six different albums. The title track, of course, is the a read of the James Brown classic and also features Blue Mitchell on trumpet and Idris Muhammad on drums, among others. At nearly ten minutes, it’s a deep-stretch groove piece with Green‘s guitar playing gritty and dirty center-stage. Other highlights include “Ease Back,” a Meters cover from Green‘s Carryin’ On outing, and a nasty version of the Isley Brothers‘ “It’s Your Thing,” with Chuck Rainey and Muhammad in the rhythm section. The set closes with a decidedly non-funky yet very soulful cover of the Stylistics‘ “Betcha by Golly Wow” with Wilton Felder on bass, Hall Bobby Porter on congas, and fine soprano and tenor work from Claude Bartee, Jr..  (AMG)

Ain't It Funky Now_ Original Jam Master 1

Track  Listing:

01 Ain’t it Funky Now!

02 Ease Back

03 It’s Your Thing

04 Love on a Two-Way Street

05 Let the Music Take Your Mind

06 I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing

07 Betcha by Golly Wow

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