When we talk about great guitarists, we think modernly of Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and, perhaps, even David Gilmour. When we think of great Blues and Jazz guitarists, many fans will point in a unified direction to Wes Montgomery. Today, I want to challenge you to discover the incredible Soul Jazz guitar of Grant Green and to help remember him forever.
“Soul Jazz” — in case that’s a new musical term to you — grew out of the Hard Bop movement that developed from of Gospel and The Blues. To my ear, “Soul Jazz” has a creamy sound that electrifies as is enchants.
Wes Montgomery is more of a strict Jazz Guitarist, and while he set the standard for many Jazz pieces, he also didn’t break many molds. Grant Green could take a familiar song and make it something new, but still recognizable in its essence. He had a stunning ability to race up and down the fretboard without leaving you breathless and in need of catching up to him. Grant leads. Your ear trippingly follows.
Here’s a taste of what you’ve been missing if Grant Green is new to you. This is, sorrowfully, the only video recorded of Grant Green in performance. In less than 60 seconds you certainly get to know precisely who he is what what he stood for as a man and as an artist.
As you page through the Grant Green discography — he made over 30 records — you can see he did a lot of group work, he recorded almost exclusively for the Blue Note label, and he had a wide variety of tastes and musical abilities. He was also an uncredited session player for many Blue Note recording artists. Grant Green’ sound is unmistakable once your ear tunes to his tone.
Grant Green died in 1979. He was 44. He started performing at the age of 12.
The reason we lose so many of our Blues and Jazz greats to an early grave is because a life has a hard expiration mark upon which it can no longer can no longer tolerate the pain and torture of fighting through the historical yearning and hardships of our ancestors in order to musically bring the lessons of those lives upon the lighted ears of new listeners.
You can’t successfully play The Blues without precipitously shortening your life — and it is that dangerous dagger against our own mortality — that leads each of who dare to tempt The Blues deeper into the addiction to the Devil Note.
That’s the curse and the blessing of the True Artist — and it appears to be especially deadly in the realm of the early American Blues and Jazz greats like Grant Green. You aren’t just playing music — you’re expressing all the sorrow that came before you.
We are left to wonder in the wake of Grant Green’s unfortunate anonymity why he wasn’t able to find more success during his lifetime. Was it because he preferred playing for others on their records instead of insisting he be the lonely star performer? Was he unable to abide the silliness and the strenuousness of a backbreaking Blues business that chewed up and swallowed more talents than it grew?
Grant Green left us with a musical breadcrumb trail back to his greatness and it is our duty as moral beings, not just musicians, to pick up his path, and gnaw on what he left behind, and try to taste the bitterness and the joy of the truth of the lives he fought so hard to help us remember.