Henry Grimes (born November 3, 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is a jazz double bassist.
After more than a decade of activity and performance, notably as a leading bassist in free jazz, Grimes completely disappeared from the music scene by 1970. Grimes was often presumed dead, but he was rediscovered in 2002 and returned to jazz.
Early life & performing career
As a child, Grimes took up the violin, then began playing tuba, English horn, percussion, and finally the double bass at age 13 or 14, while he was in high school. Grimes furthered his musical studies at The Juilliard School, and established a reputation as a versatile bassist in the mid 1950s. He recorded or performed with saxophonists Gerry Mulligan and Sonny Rollins, pianist Thelonious Monk, singer Anita O'Day, clarinetist Benny Goodman and many others. When famed bassist Charles Mingus experimented with a second bass in his band, Grimes was the person he selected for the job.
Gradually growing interested in free jazz, Grimes performed with most of the music's important names, including pianist Cecil Taylor, trumpeter Don Cherry, saxophonists Steve Lacy, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Albert Ayler. He released one album, The Call as a trio leader for the ESP-Disk record label in 1965. The album features Perry Robinson on clarinet, Tom Price on drums and is considered to be of a great quality representative of his career.
Disappearance & resurrection
In the late 1960s, Grimes seemed to disappear completely after moving to California. Many assumed Grimes was dead; he was listed as such in several jazz reference works. Then Marshall Marrotte, a social worker and jazz fan, set out to discover Grimes's fate once and for all. In 2003, he found Grimes alive, but nearly destitute, renting a tiny apartment in Los Angeles, California, writing poetry and doing odd jobs to support himself. Having suffered from bipolar disorder and long ago sold his bass, Grimes had fallen out of touch with the jazz world, but was eager to perform again.
Word spread of Grimes's "resurrection" and many musicians offered their help. Bassist William Parker donated a bass (nicknamed "Olive Oil", for its distinctive greenish color) and had it shipped at considerable expense from New York to Los Angeles, and others assisted with travel expenses and arranging performances. Grimes's return was featured in The New York Times and on National Public Radio. A documentary film is planned, as is a biography.
Grimes has made up for lost time: In 2003 he performed at over two dozen music festivals or other appearances. Grimes received a returning hero's welcome at the free jazz-oriented Vision Festival, and is teaching lessons and workshops for bassists. His November 2003 appearance on trumpeter Dennis González' Nile River Suite was the bassist's first recording in more than 35 years. In 2004 he recorded as leader with David Murray and Hamid Drake; in 2005 with guitarist Marc Ribot, who also wrote an introduction to Grimes' first book, Signs Along the Road, published in March 2007 by Buddy's kKife Jazzedition in Cologne, Germany, a collection of Grimes' poetry, in which he presents his selection of entries from thousands of pages of his writings. Also in 2007, Henry Grimes recorded with drummer Rashied Ali. In many venues around New York and on tour in the U.S., Canada, and 19 countries in Europe, working mostly as a leader since 2003, Henry Grimes has been making music with Marshall Allen, Fred Anderson, Marilyn Crispell, Ted Curson, Andrew Cyrille, Bill Dixon, Dave Douglas, Andrew Lamb, Joe Lovano, William Parker, Cecil Taylor (with whom Henry resumed playing in October, 2006 after forty years), John Tchicai, and others. Grimes is now a resident of New York City and has a busy schedule of performances, clinics, and international tours.
Master jazz musician (acoustic bass, violin) HENRY GRIMES has played more than 3OO concerts in 23 countries (including many festivals) since May of 'O3, when he made his astonishing return to the music world after 35 years away.
He was born and raised in Philadelphia and attended the Mastbaum School and Juilliard. In the '5O's and '6O's, he came up in the music playing and touring with Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson, "Bullmoose" Jackson, "Little" Willie John, and a number of other great R&B / soul musicians; but drawn to jazz, he went on to play, tour, and record with many great jazz musicians of that era, including Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Haynes, Lee Konitz, Steve Lacy, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Sunny Murray, Sonny Rollins, Roswell Rudd, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, and Rev. Frank Wright.
Sadly, a trip to the West Coast to work with Al Jarreau and Jon Hendricks went awry, leaving Henry in Los Angeles at the end of the '6O's with a broken bass he couldn't pay to repair, so he sold it for a small sum and faded away from the music world.
Many years passed with nothing heard from him, as he lived in his tiny rented room in an S.R.O. hotel in downtown Los Angeles, working as a manual laborer, custodian, and maintenance man, and writing many volumes of handwritten poetry.
He was discovered there by a Georgia social worker and fan in 2OO2 and was given a bass by William Parker, and after only a few weeks of ferocious woodshedding, Henry emerged from his room to begin playing concerts around Los Angeles and shortly afterwards made a triumphant return to New York City in May, 'O3 to play in the Vision Festival.
Since then, often working as a leader, he has played, toured, and / or recorded with many of today's music heroes, such as Rashied Ali, Marshall Allen, Fred Anderson, Marilyn Crispell, Ted Curson, Andrew Cyrille, Bill Dixon, Dave Douglas, Andrew Lamb, David Murray, William Parker, Marc Ribot, and Cecil Taylor.
Henry has also given a number of workshops and master classes on major campuses, released several new recordings, made his professional debut on a second instrument (the violin) at the age of 7O, has now published the first volume of his poetry, "Signs Along the Road," and has been creating illustrations to accompany his new recordings and publications. He has received many honors in recent years, including four Meet the Composer grants and a grant from the Acadia Foundation.
He can be heard on more than 8O recordings on various labels, including Atlantic, Ayler Records, Blue Note, Columbia, ESP-Disk, ILK Music, Impulse!, JazzNewYork Productions, Pi Recordings, Porter Records, Prestige, Riverside, and Verve. Henry Grimes now lives and teaches in New York City.
Biography by Scott Yanow
After over three decades of being "lost," Henry Grimes has made a remarkable comeback. He was born and grew up in Philadelphia, studying violin while in junior high school and also playing tuba a bit in high school before settling permanently on bass. Grimes moved to New York City in the early '50s, studied at Juilliard, and then began playing with major jazz musicians. He toured with the bands of Arnett Cobb and Willis Jackson and spent time back in Philadelphia, where he worked with Bobby Timmons and Lee Morgan. Grimes worked with Anita O'Day and Sonny Rollins in 1957 and was a member of the Gerry Mulligan quartet in 1957-1958, during the period that Art Farmer was in the band. A very versatile bassist who could play with anyone, Grimes really stretched himself at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival when he performed quite capably with the Benny Goodman big band, Lee Konitz, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk.
Grimes had stints with Lennie Tristano (1958) and Sonny Rollins (touring Europe in 1959, right before the tenor's temporary retirement) and was greatly respected by stylists from all jazz fields. In 1961 he became an important contributor to free jazz, working with Cecil Taylor off and on during 1961-1966 in addition to playing regularly with Perry Robinson (1962), Sonny Rollins (1962-1963), Albert Ayler (1964-1966), and Don Cherry (1965-1966). Grimes led a record date (The Call) for ESP in 1965 and, in addition to the musicians mentioned, recorded with Mose Allison, Chet Baker, Bill Barron, Karl Berger, Gary Burton, Gil Evans, Burton Greene, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Haynes, Steve Lacy, Charles Mingus, Sunny Murray, Jerome Richardson, Annie Ross, Pharoah Sanders, Shirley Scott, Archie Shepp, Billy Taylor, Charles Tyler, McCoy Tyner, Marzette Watts, and Frank Wright. (Not too many musicians have recorded with both Benny Goodman and Albert Ayler!)
But then, in 1967 when he was just 31, Henry Grimes disappeared completely from the jazz scene. Decades passed and he became one of jazz's most prominent missing persons. He was long presumed dead because no one in jazz heard a word from him. So in 2002 it was a major surprise when Grimes was discovered living in a hotel in South Central Los Angeles, where he had resided for the past 20 years. Grimes, who had become frustrated with the music world and suffered from some ambiguous mental problems, had spontaneously quit music and worked odd jobs for years. He had long since sold his bass for the money and was unaware of the musical developments of the past 35 years. Grimes was discovered by Marshall Marrotte, a social worker and writer, and was soon interviewed by Sound to Noise magazine. Word went out that Henry Grimes was alive, basically pretty well but destitute, and desiring to play bass again. William Parker donated and sent him a bass in December 2002 and since then Grimes has regained his former form and begun to play in public again. Grimes played at Billy Higgins' World Stage and the Jazz Bakery in addition to several other clubs in the Los Angeles area, began teaching an improvisation class at a local high school, and appeared at the Vision Festival in New York. His comeback became one of the great jazz stories of 2003, an unlikely case of a missing figure suddenly re-emerging on the jazz scene after a 35-year "vacation." He began playing dates and festivals around the world, released several new recordings, took up the violin, and even published a volume of Signs Along the Road.
A Fireside Chat With Henry Grimes
By Fred Jung
There once was a man from Philly named Henry Grimes. After studying at Juilliard, this bassist played alongside Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Gil Evans, Roy Haynes, Steve Lacy, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, Sunny Murray, Anita O'Day, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Cecil Taylor. In 1967, at the peak of his assent, the man disappeared.
Thirty-five years later, Grimes was found by a fan of the music living in a hotel in downtown Los Angeles. With no bass, the call went out that Grimes expressed interest in playing the instrument once more and William Parker answered the call. Since, the bass player on such monumental recordings like Albert Ayler's Spirits Rejoice, Don Cherry's Symphony for Improvisers, and Sonny Rollins' Our Man in Jazz, has been playing the instrument he helped define for generations of musicians in Los Angeles and New York. The journey of Henry Grimes is an interesting one. The disappearance of Grimes is a puzzling one.
But the reemergence of Grimes is the best story to come out of music in years. I spoke with Grimes shortly before a trip to New York, his second since leaving in 1967. The following is my conversation (unedited and in his own words) with a musician who defines just what a true musician is, never failing to live a musical life, even if the music is in silence.
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
HENRY GRIMES: When I was younger than eighteen, I would say about twelve years old or even before that, it was a love of swing music, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey. Later on, it was Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and all the quality musicians of those schools. I knew them for years and just trying to contemplate what they were playing just led me where I am.
FJ: Have you always played bass?
HG: No, I played violin, then I took the tuba in high school, tuba, English horn, percussion, and then the bass.
FJ: When did you pick up the bass?
HG: Thirteen or fourteen years old in high school. First, I used to play violin and then I switched to bass, playing in orchestras, but by the time I got out of high school and into Juilliard, I was a bass player. I was enrolled there for two years. The school was great. I was studying a lot of harmony and theory writing, base studies. I took a lot of orchestra training playing for opera singers. That I sort of enjoyed and during that time, I played a little opera music. It was very interesting.
FJ: The violin wasn't for you?
HG: I liked it, but it just was something that I didn't like about it. Maybe it is just that I am not a violin player. I'm a bass player, so that must be what it is.
FJ: Why did you leave Juilliard?
HG: It was certain difficulties with financial and transportation. I was commuting between New York and Philadelphia everyday. I just had to give that up. Now, I am in New York again, but that was the first time I was in New York. The second time, I was beginning to play with musicians like Sonny Red and playing at Birdland and going through the whole scene that way.
FJ: Philly, at that period, was a bastion for the music.
HG: I think it was as far as musicians. There were a lot of musicians that were coming up. It wasn't so vibrant as far as getting the musicians work and letting a lot of free expression of the music occur, but there were a lot of musicians who did make it occur like Jimmy Garrison, John Coltrane, and a lot of other musicians. Miles Davis and Charlie Parker used to be somewhat familiar with Philadelphia.
FJ: How did you get the Sonny Rollins gig?
HG: About my second or third time in New York, I worked with Anita O'Day and Gerry Mulligan's groups. I met Sonny Rollins and he enlisted me for his group. The music was great. Sonny is a great teacher without realizing it. The reception for the music in Europe was tremendous and also here too. I know that when I first met Sonny, he was working with Clifford Brown and Max Roach, their group. I sat in with them in Philadelphia and that is how I knew him in New York after that. The reception for his music was very great. He really knows how to play this music to crowds. He is very good that way. There were a lot of positive things happening for the music.
FJ: You also had a close association with free jazz cult figure Perry Robinson, featuring him on your lone session as a leader, The Call (ESP), as well as Robinson's Funk Dumpling (Savoy).
HG: We used to do a lot of dates at that time.
FJ: And you also did some sessions with Cecil Taylor.
HG: Oh, yeah, Cecil has always been very impressive to me. He is sort of this wild pioneer that would sort of come up to the piano and play more notes than there are on the piano. Musicians like that, you just don't stand up there, you study. That is what happens when you are standing up there playing with them, you just don't stand on the bandstand and play music and forget about it. You have to study certain things that you learned then and there. That is really beautiful about Cecil and other players like that. Cecil is definitely one of my favorites.
FJ: What attracted you to free jazz?
“It didn't happen until about thirty years or so after that. I wasn't thinking of how long it was taking. I was just trying to gain perspectives. It was a way of imposing self-isolation.”
HG: I had an idea about what free music was and so I guess having an idea, it automatically enlists you into what a lot of free playing musicians are. That is what happened to me. Before I could realize anything, they were all kind of interested in what I was doing. Before I could even recover from my own surprise, I was in with Albert Ayler, Denis Charles, Mingus, Cecil Taylor, and on and on and on. I really enjoyed playing free music. The freedom of expression, that was the main point with me. The expression, you just have free will to play just what you feel. Your own free will dictates to you to play. There were no other influences that could override your own influences to play free music. I encourage a lot of classical musicians to get with some jazz musicians and see what it is to develop free music. The free music of jazz outweighs a lot of expressions in other music because it is moving forward and ahead and it has very much to do with free sounds and things that have never been heard before, being done.
FJ: The Call (ESP) was you only session as a leader. Why did you not record more?
HG: I wasn't offered too many. It is my own doing because I didn't drag my way into a lot of musicians and writers and try to get them to recognize me. That is the kind of feeling I had. I didn't want to be over-ego about it. That is something that I am still struggling with and I have to get over it. That is all there is to it. I don't seriously think that I am not able to play. I just love playing. That is my main impulse. I love it and when I get a chance to do it, that is the only thing that I want to do.
FJ: In 1967, at 31, you dropped out of the scene entirely and for over three decades, your bass remained silent. Why did you stop playing?
HG: I stopped playing in order to eyeball my own perspective better. That had nothing to do with music. As I was waiting, it is a matter of waiting to see if I would run into some way of musical expression like I wanted to. It didn't happen until about thirty years or so after that. I wasn't thinking of how long it was taking. I was just trying to gain perspectives. It was a way of imposing self-isolation. That is the only thing I can think of what it is. Only publically, I stopped playing. I wrote a lot of poetry to make up for it, so I could express myself with words instead of with music.
FJ: As an artist, you must have had yearnings to create and the poetry helped fill the void music left behind.
HG: Oh, yeah, yeah. I was able to do it in my private environment, no audience. I was going through experiments like that. I don't think I am really an introvert, but I think what I really like is to try to have more things to say and more interesting points to make.
FJ: Did you sell your bass?
HG: That is true. I sold it for the money. The only thing is, I didn't make enough money from it. I didn't make enough money from the sale. For one thing, it needed repairs and the repairs were expensive. I just sold it to this violin maker and that was that.
FJ: How much did you sell it for?
HG: It was about five hundred dollars, I think. That was in 1968, when I came down here from San Francisco to L.A. That is when I sold it.
FJ: How did you sustain yourself and make a living?
HG: I did labor work, a lot of casual labor work. I did a little construction and a lot of janitorial work. I did both days and nights. I worked all night. I had a graveyard shift job at a bowling alley. I would clean up this little alley and then later on, I worked in a school, a Jewish school. First, it was in the day time and then it was in the night time, so I would alternate sometimes night time shifts and sometimes day time.
FJ: In the thirty some odd years, you must have heard music around you. Did you ever feel the yearning to play again?
HG: Yeah, I think whenever I heard any and wherever I was, I think I was studying the reaction of the people around me or imagining what reactions they would have about the music at that time. When I really got out of this was when I listened to some CDs of what I had done and I had done all this in the past and that was an amazing experience.
FJ: Why did you decide the time was right for your return?
HG: When I talked to Marshall Marrotte. I didn't want to say no because that is not the answer at all. The answer was that I wanted to play and that's really what I like to do. There I was, but Marshall, a man of understanding, helped me a lot with that. He still does.
FJ: Tell me about the first time you played the bass that William Parker sent to you.
HG: I guess I went over sketches of things in my own mind of things that I knew I had been familiar with in the past, a lot of free music, experimenting with my reaction. I enjoyed doing this in this kind of environment. I just gradually worked it out until it happened. I didn't forget. I couldn't forget.
FJ: How long was it before you felt comfortable playing publicly?
HG: It takes me about three days of solid practicing. If I get in there about three days, pretty soon, I am more and more comfortable. I practice once during the day now, maybe about twice or three times. I just practice different things. I have been practicing a lot of Monk and stretching my fingers on Brilliant Corners and music like that. His harmonic experience is pure genius. You can sit there and seek out your own experience by his harmony and theory.
FJ: You made an appearance at this year's Vision Festival, a return to New York.
HG: It was fantastic. That is the only way I can explain it. It was fantastic. It was a very spiritual experience. I am going to New York tomorrow and I think I am going to be doing more of that playing. I get the same sense of enjoyment that I had except now, it is like, my study is more introspective. It is really enjoyable and a pleasure. It is actually fantastic.
FJ: Any offers to record?
HG: Yes, no definite ones yet, but the way they came forward, it is pretty definite. I think I am going to be playing with William Parker and musicians like Campbell and musicians like that. A lot of musicians now play at top grade levels. There is more of them in New York, but there are some in Los Angeles like Alex Cline and Nels Cline, the Cline brothers, Roberto Miranda, and a lot of musicians like that.
FJ: Your return is the best thing to happen to improvised music in this town in years.
HG: I am glad to hear you say that. It really makes me feel good.
The Call (1965, ESP-Disk)
with Shafi Hadi:
"Debut Rarities, vol. 3" (OJC)
with Lee Konitz:
with the Gerry Mulligan:
"The Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker" (Pacific Jazz)
"The Gerry Mulligan Songbook" (World Pacific)
"Annie Ross Sings A Song With Mulligan" (World Pacific)
with Sonny Rollins:
"Sonny Rollins And The Big Brass" (Metrojazz)
with Lennie Tristano:
"Continuity" (Jazz Records)
with Billy Taylor:
"Custom Taylored" (Sesac)
"Warming Up" (Riverside)
with Rolf Kühn:
"Be My Guest" (Panorama)
with Mose Allison:
"I Love The Life I Live" (Columbia)
with Carmen Leggio:
"The Carmen Leggio Group" (Jazz Unlimited)
with Gil Evans:
"Into the Hot" (Impulse!)
with Cecil Taylor:
"Conquistador!" (Blue Note)
"Unit Structures" (Blue Note)
with Shirley Scott:
"Shirley Scott Plays Horace Silver" (Prestige)
with Roy Burns:
"Skin Burns" (Roulette)
with Roy Haynes:
"Out Of The Afternoon" (Impulse!)
with McCoy Tyner:
"Reaching Fourth" (Impulse!)
"Priceless Jazz" (GRP Records)
with Albert Ayler:
"Live Greenwich Village Sessions" (Impulse!)
with Archie Shepp:
"Further Fire Music" (Impulse!)
"On This Night" (GRP/Impulse!)
with Don Cherry:
"Complete Communion" (Blue Note)
"Symphony For Improvisers" (Blue Note)
"Where Is Brooklyn?" (Blue Note)
with David Murray and Hamid Drake:
"Henry Grimes Trio Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival" (Ayler Records)
with Rashied Ali:
Going to the Ritual (JazzNewYork Productions)