Henry Grimes Biographies
HISTORY IS * STILL * IN THE MAKING!!
On this page:
- Capsule Bio – for press & publicists
- Full-length Bio
- Historical Bio – Part 1
- Historical Bio – Part 2
As of the beginning of 2016, master jazz musician HENRY GRIMES (acoustic bass, violin, poetry, illustrations) had played more than 615 concerts in 31 countries (including many festivals) since 2003, 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 (1949-52) and Juilliard (1952-54). As a youngster in the ’50’s and early ’60’s, he came up in the music playing and touring with Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson, Arnett Cobb, “Bullmoose” Jackson, “Little” Willie John, King Curtis, 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, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Sunny Murray, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, and McCoy Tyner. 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 ’60’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 in 2002 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, 2003 to play in the Vision Festival. Since then, often working as a leader, he has played, toured, and / or recorded with many of this era’s musical and literary heroes, such as Chris Abani, Rashied Ali, Geri Allen, Marshall Allen, Barry Altschul, Fred Anderson, Tatsu Aoki, Newman Taylor Baker, Billy Bang, Harrison Bankhead, Amiri Baraka, Joey Baron, Hamiet Bluiett, Dave Burrell, Roy Campbell Jr., Alex & Nels Cline, Cooper-Moore, Marilyn Crispell, Connie Crothers, Ted Curson, Andrew Cyrille, Thulani Davis, Toi Derricotte, Bill Dixon, Pierre Dorge, Hamid Drake, Paul Dunmall, Cornelius Eady, Kahil El’Zabar, Douglas Ewart, Bobby Few, Charles Gayle, Melvin Gibbs, Yoriyuki Harada, Craig Harris, Graham Haynes, Karma Mayet Johnson, Edward “Kidd” Jordan, Andrew Lamb, Nathaniel Mackey, Maria Mitchell, Nicole Mitchell, Roscoe Mitchell, Elaine Mitchener, Louis Moholo-Moholo, Meredith Monk [recording only], Jemeel Moondoc, Jason Moran, David Murray, Sunny Murray, Amina Claudine Myers, Zim Ngqawana, Kresten Osgood, William Parker, HPrizm (High Priest, Kyle Austin), Odean Pope, Avreeayl Ra, Tomeka Reid, Vernon Reid, Marc Ribot, Matana Roberts, Orphy Robinson, Brandon Ross, Lee Mixashawn Rozie, Mark Sanders, Rasul Siddik, Wadada Leo Smith, Warren Smith, Tyshawn Sorey, Sekou Sundiata, Tani Tabbal, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Aldo Tambellini, Greg Tate, Cecil Taylor (reunion), Chad Taylor, John Tchicai, Pat Thomas, Henry Threadgill, Edwin Torres, Dwight Trible, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Ed Wilkerson Jr., James Zollar, John Zorn, and too many others to list here. In the past few years, Henry has also held a number of residencies and offered workshops and master classes on major campuses, including: Berklee College of Music (Boston); Buffalo Academy for Visual & Performing Arts (upstate New York); CalArts, hosted by Wadada Leo Smith (Valencia, California); the Carlucci School, with Andrew Lamb and Newman Taylor Baker (Portugal); Hamilton College of Performing Arts, with Rashied Ali (upstate New York); Humber College (Toronto); JazzInstitut Darmstadt (Germany); Mills College, hosted by Roscoe Mitchell (Oakland, California); New England Conservatory (Boston, Massachusetts); Scuole Bruscio and Scuole Poschiavo (Switzerland); the University of Gloucestershire at Cheltenham (U.K.); University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois; University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; and several more. Henry can be heard on about a dozen new recordings, made his professional debut on a second instrument (the violin) at the age of 70 alongside Cecil Taylor at Lincoln Center, has seen the publication of the first volume of his poetry, “Signs Along the Road,” by a publisher in Cologne, and creates illustrations to accompany his new recordings and publications. He has received many honors in recent years, including four Meet the Composer grants. Mr. Grimes can be heard on 90+ 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. He is the subject of a new biography published in London, “Music to Silence to Music: A Biography of Henry Grimes” by Dr. Barbara Frenz, with a beautiful foreword by Sonny Rollins (http://tinyurl.com/h9f8mo4). And on July 7th, 2016, Henry received a Lifetime Achievement Award and played a full evening of concerts with groups of his own choosing in the Arts for Art / Vision Festival at Judson Memorial Church in New York City , where he had also played and recorded with Albert Ayler’s group back in the ’60s. Henry Grimes is now a permanent resident of New York City and welcomes students here.
[This bio last updated Dec., 2016.]
THE MIRACULOUS RETURN OF
THE GREAT HENRY GRIMES!
There’s a great new musician now living, working, and teaching in New York City. He’s new, but he has tremendous musical knowledge, unsurpassed credentials, and the highest levels of artistry at his command.
Who can this be?
Master bassist Henry Grimes, missing from the music world since the late ’60’s, has made an unprecedented comeback after receiving the gift of a bass (a green one called Olive Oil!) from fellow bassist William Parker in December, ’02 to replace the instrument Henry had given up some 30 years earlier. Between the mid-’50’s and the mid-’60’s, the Juilliard-educated Henry Grimes played brilliantly on some 50 albums with an enormous range of musicians, including Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Haynes, Lee Konitz, Steve Lacy, Charles Mingus (yes, Charles Mingus), Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Sunny Murray, Sonny Rollins, Roswell Rudd, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, Charles Tyler, McCoy Tyner, Rev. Frank Wright, and many more … and then one day in 1968, Henry Grimes left New York in a car driven by drummer Clarence Becton and rode to San Francisco with his bass strapped to the car roof to work with Jon Hendricks, Al Jarreau, and others. When these gigs were over, and not finding enough work in San Francisco to survive, Henry took his bass (by then developing cracks from having spent several days baking on top of the car in the desert) to Los Angeles, finding some music work at first while living in a house with pianist Lamont Johnson and a group of musicians working with Lamont and all following Scientology. Henry did not want to join Scientology, and the group eventually closed the house and left town without him. Henry’s bass was now no longer playable, so he took it to a repair man, who gave him a high price for the necessary work, and since Henry was unable to pay, the repairman gave him a small sum for the bass instead, Henry apparently believing he’d be able to get it back after a while. Sadly, this turned out not to be the case.
Many years passed with nothing heard from the great Henry Grimes, as he lived in a tiny rented room in a single-room occupancy hotel in downtown Los Angeles and sustained himself with survival work not related to music (construction, maintenance, janitorial, etc.), writing many handwritten books of poetry, philosophy, and metaphysics, and studying yoga. Yet after only a few short weeks with his new bass from William Parker, Henry Grimes emerged from his tiny room to begin playing concerts with Nels and Alex Cline, Joseph Jarman, and others at Billy Higgins’s World Stage, the Howling Monk, the Jazz Bakery, and Schindler House in the Los Angeles area in early ’03. On his triumphant return to New York City in May of that year, Henry Grimes played as special guest on two nights of the six-night Vision Festival, gave live concerts and lengthy interviews on the air daily during a five-day WKCR Henry Grimes Radio Festival, and offered a bass clinic before 50 New York-area bassists who haven’t stopped talking about him since.
Henry Grimes moved back to New York in July of ’03, and since then, in many venues around New York and on tour in the U.S., Canada, the Far East, and 20 countries in Europe, he has been making music with master musicians of today such as Rashied Ali, Marshall Allen, Fred Anderson, Marilyn Crispell, Ted Curson, Andrew Cyrille, Bill Dixon, Dave Douglas, Edward “Kidd” Jordan, Andrew Lamb, Joe Lovano, Bennie Maupin, David Murray, William Parker, Charli Persip, Marc Ribot, John Tchicai, Oluyemi Thomas, Cecil Taylor, and many more. Since his return, he has held residencies and / or taught workshops and master classes at David Gage’s shop, Berklee College of Music, City College of New York, Bard College (upstate New York), JazzInstitut Darmstadt (Germany), New England Conservatory, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Scuole Brusio and Scuole Poschiavo in Switzerland (Uncool Festival), second-grade students at the Carlucci School in Sintra, Portugal (see some very dear photos and commentary at caislisbon), and the University of Gloucester at Cheltenham (U.K.), among others. At the age of 70 at Lincoln Center with Cecil Taylor, Henry made his professional debut on a second instrument, the violin, and at 71 he became a published author for the first time with his book “Signs Along the Road” (released in Cologne and available from Small Press Distribution, spdbooks).
To the astonishment and joy of all, Henry Grimes is playing at the very height of his artistic powers (or indeed anyone’s), surpassing himself and all expectations! He is still healthy and strong, and his gentle, humble bearing and courageous life story have inspired all those privileged to know him, hear him, play music with him.
Henry Grimes was named “Musician of the Year” by “All About Jazz / New York” in ’03; he’s received three prestigious Meet the Composer awards; he’s twice been nominated for an “L.A. Weekly” Best Jazz Artist Award. Since his return to the music, he has been featured in virtually every major press outlet around the world, including National Public Radio, ABC-TV News, the BBC, “The New York Times,” “All About Jazz,” “Downbeat,” “JazzTimes,” “Signal to Noise,” “Time Out Chicago,” “Time Out New York,” “The Village Voice,” and hundreds more throughout the world.
In addition, Henry’s trio with Andrew Lamb and Newman Taylor Baker was named best jazz trio of the year by “NYPress” in ’04; Jez Nelson of BBC Radio’s “Jazz on 3” chose the Henry Grimes Quartet’s performance in Vision Festival ’05 one of the year’s dozen best live broadcasts; the Jazz Journalists Association nominated Henry Grimes for “Acoustic Bassist of the Year” (’06), the other nominees in this category being Ron Carter, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, Christian McBride, and William Parker; Henry strolled onto the “Downbeat” critics’ poll for bassists at #12 in 2006 (many of the others having learned from Henry to begin with, as they’ll tell you themselves if you ask them); and the Cecil Taylor Trio with Henry Grimes and Pheeroan akLaff was designated a critic’s choice for one of the 10 best concerts of the year by “All About Jazz” at the end of ’06 (thanks, Russ Musto!), and another by the same trio by “Time Out New York” at the end of ’07 (“Chalk it up to [Cecil Taylor’s] reunion with bass heavy Henry Grimes and four-on-the-floor drummer Pheeroan akLaff”).
So fans, if you’re anywhere within reach of a Henry Grimes concert … buy a ticket and be there! Musicians, clubs, schools, festivals: When you’re looking for a great teacher, master musician, powerful bandleader, eloquent poet, brilliant improviser… please get in touch with Henry Grimes!
A Lost Giant Found
By Michael Fitzgerald
[An edited version of this essay appeared in Signal To Noise magazine, Winter 2003 issue, accompanied by a 2002 interview of Henry Grimes conducted by Marshall Marrotte.]
In an age when giants of jazz depart from this life on a regular basis, a resurrection is unheard of. Yet this is what has come to pass. Henry Grimes was rediscovered in autumn 2002, over thirty years after he left the music world. He was long the subject of rumor and speculation, and in 1986 Cadence Magazine even reported Grimes as having died “in late 1984.” However, as Mark Twain once said, these reports of his demise were “greatly exaggerated.”
Photo by Francis Wolff
For about a decade, Henry Grimes was one of the most in-demand bassists on the jazz scene. Beginning in 1957, he worked extensively in the groups of baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. While continuing to associate with more mainstream players, in 1961 Grimes performed on pianist Cecil Taylor’s recording session for the Impulse label (issued as Gil Evans: Into the Hot) and worked with clarinetist Perry Robinson. In 1963 he renewed his relationship with Sonny Rollins, joining a group that also included trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Billy Higgins, both formerly with saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s quartet. This moved Grimes more into the realm of the experimental and as the sixties progressed, he played with the influential avant-garde tenor saxophonists Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, and Pharoah Sanders, as well as with Cherry and Taylor. He also participated on numerous important recording sessions for the ESP and Impulse labels. At the height of his activity and without warning, he left New York for the west coast and the seemingly final documented appearance of Grimes was in April 1969 in San Francisco as part of saxophonist Archie Shepp’s ensemble which performed at the Both/And club. Following that, he dropped off the jazz radar screen. Until very recently, the curious death notice in Cadence closed the book on a great creative musician.
Henry Grimes was a significant player who stood out due to the strength of his sound and his exceptional bowed work, developed through classical studies at the Juilliard School of Music. He was born November 3, 1935 in Philadelphia, home to an outstanding musical community. His twin brother Leon played clarinet and tenor saxophone and their older sister owned a record player, making her an important figure in their circle.
[ADDENDUM from Margaret Davis Grimes: Henry Grimes grew up at 17th and Fitzwater / Christian / Carpenter in south Philadelphia and attended Arthur Elementary School on Catharine & South 2Oth St’s, then Barrett Junior High at 16th and Wharton, then Mastbaum Technical High School at Frankford & East Allegheny Ave., and then the Juilliard School in New York City. His father, Leon James Grimes, Sr., played trumpet and his mother, Georgia Elzie Grimes, played piano before Henry was born, and Henry believes they both played professionally but that at some point they both decided to stop playing music, for reasons they never explained, and he doesn’t remember ever hearing them play. His maternal grandparents had a small farm somewhere in New Jersey with chickens and a vegetable garden, and he remembers them as old-fashioned people, and strict. He has no memories of his father’s parents, other than one of his grandfathers enjoyed making clocks, but he couldn’t make a living at it and didn’t have much time to spend on it. In Henry’s childhood, both his parents worked in Horn & Hardart Automats around 15th St. and 9th St. in Philadelphia, his father as a cook and his mother cleaning. There was a piano in the house, but the only person Henry remembers playing it (other than himself) was the great pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali as a youngster (later “the Legendary Hasaan”), who roamed from house to house playing people’s pianos.]
Bebop was the music of the day, and Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Clifford Brown were favorites. [ADDENDUM from Margaret: When Henry was a youngster, he attended his older sister’s graduation from her all-girls’ high school (he was 12, his sister 18), and the school orchestra played, and young Henry was overwhelmed by the sound of the violins — as well as the beauty of all those “older women” in their long formal gowns — and he began longing to play a violin of his own and went home and told his mother he needed to have one. His parents found a local violin teacher named Carl Whitman, and Mr. Whitman came to the house carrying a “banged-up fiddle” for Henry. To Henry’s memory, he studied violin with Mr. Whitman from about age 12 to 16, and after that with a Hungarian violin teacher whose name he remembers as Luba Hiawatha (!), up until he went to Juilliard and devoted himself entirely to the bass.]
Henry began his musical career at Barrett Junior High School in south Philadelphia, where he met drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath, pianist Bobby Timmons, and trumpeters Ted Curson and Wilmer Wise. The bass had not yet entered the picture, and Grimes was playing violin in both the school orchestra and in jazz groups outside of school. Wise recalled one of the earliest of these extracurricular units. “The first band I played in was a band called the Barsity Boys, like ‘varsity’ but spelled with a B – why? I don’t know. The personnel was… a fellow named Edward Gregg played on my trumpet case, Henry, I think played the violin. He was a violinist when I first met him. And Leon played clarinet. And it must have been a godawful sounding group.”
Soon after this, Grimes was performing with more professional ensembles. While Leon Grimes and Wilmer Wise attended Bok Technical High School, Henry studied at Mastbaum Technical High School in northeast Philadelphia, alongside trumpeters Lee Morgan and Ted Curson. The school’s curriculum was very demanding, on the level of college programs, and students studied harmony, solfeggio, orchestration, and ear training. It was at Mastbaum when he was around 15 that Grimes added the bass to his musical arsenal. He had been playing a school bass and was sometimes permitted to take it home, but he began wanting his own bass. He remembers his parents taking him to a Wurlitzer store where there was one brand-new Kay bass for sale, and his parents bought it for him. He was almost immediately a first-class bassist and was selected for the all-city orchestra, which performed challenging symphonic literature.
Ted Curson commented that while Henry was somewhat introverted, his artistic abilities extended beyond the musical sphere and made him a popular figure in high school. “He wasn’t a really talkative guy. I don’t remember him maybe saying a hundred words. But even through school, he did something that no one else did. He had a comic strip. He was a great artist and had a good sense of humor. He had all of us in this comic strip. And we’d be waiting for the end of the week for it to come out. He had us like hanging by our fingernails waiting to see what he was…. Henry definitely had this comic strip all through Mastbaum and it was wild! A lot of stuff you agreed with, a lot of this stuff made you angry. But that’s the way it was! He was the only one I knew that had something like that. He’d draw the pictures of you and put all the text in and it would be passed all around school.” This appreciation of cartoons did not end there, as Grimes titled his later compositions “Farmer Alfalfa” and “Son of Alfalfa” after an animated character.
At Juilliard (1952-54), Grimes played bass with the opera orchestra and studied with the great classical bassist Fred Zimmermann of the New York Philharmonic. Henry was also working jazz engagements with artists such as Anita O’Day and it was while performing with her at the Red Hill Inn in Pennsauken, NJ that Grimes was heard by Gerry Mulligan. Upon leaving Juilliard and moving to New York City, the Mulligan quartet was the next big step for Grimes. In the span of just a few weeks, they recorded several albums for the Pacific Jazz label including meetings with trumpeter Chet Baker and with vocalist Annie Ross.
From the Gerry Mulligan quartet, Grimes joined another piano-less group, this one led by Sonny Rollins, who was working in a trio format. [ADDENDUM from Margaret: In April of 1958, due to a delay in Paul Chambers’s arrival in Cleveland, Henry Grimes played a couple of dates there at the Modern Jazz Room in a Miles Davis-led group that also included John Coltrane, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Bill Evans, and “Philly” Joe Jones.] Also that year, at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, Grimes played with no fewer than six groups: Benny Goodman, Lee Konitz, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, and Tony Scott. And though Henry’s name never even appeared in the festival’s printed program, “New York Times” critic Bosley Crowther took note of the remarkable young bassist and listed him as one of the festival’s primary players. (Henry can be seen in the film “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” playing with Thelonious Monk and Roy Haynes, and the photo above is a screen shot from that film.)
Gerry Mulligan also performed that year, and Grimes’s replacement in the bass position, Bill Crow, recalled Grimes working hard to keep up with the saxophonist. “He sounded very good to me. He seemed rather shy and it was not easy to draw him out or hang out with him because he didn’t have much to say. He looked like he was suffering a little with Sonny because Sonny had cut the group down. But I thought Henry was doing yeoman work, hanging in there with Sonny. That was a hard combination. It looked like he would have liked to have a piano player (laughs).”
Photo by Riccardo Schwamenthal / CTS Images
After Newport, Henry Grimes was working extensively with Sonny Rollins. They recorded and then toured both the USA and Europe. A number of broadcast recordings document their time together. Grimes’s solid musical training allowed him to bridge the span between very conservative forms of jazz and the cutting edge free music. In this period, he worked in venues such as New York’s Prelude Club and the Hickory House in piano trios led by Billy Taylor and John Bunch. He appeared on classic albums for Impulse with Roy Haynes and McCoy Tyner.
In 1963, Sonny Rollins took a huge step away from the mainstream when he added Don Cherry to his group. With this quartet Rollins again toured Europe, being broadcast on the radio frequently. The influence of Ornette Coleman was strong and Grimes fit perfectly in the freer setting. Upon returning to the United States, the Rollins group played at the Newport Jazz Festival and made a landmark recording for RCA Victor, both with the father of the tenor saxophone, Coleman Hawkins.
When Albert Ayler made his first recordings in America in 1964, Grimes was present and joined Ayler again for the Spirits Rejoice album, recorded in 1965. On the latter, Grimes worked as part of a two-bass team with Gary Peacock. Such a setup became more frequent during this time and Grimes also performed in this tandem configuration with Bill Folwell, Alan Silva, J-F Jenny-Clark, and Charlie Haden. He was flexible in playing pizzicato or arco and worked well no matter which was his partner’s strength.
The 1964 sessions by Ayler show the saxophonist fully developed in his style and moving between original compositions like “Witches and Devils” and “Saints” and traditional and contemporary spirituals like “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Ayler’s intense personal sound and conception made a huge impact on the musical community and as Bill Folwell said recently, “I think people are still scratching their heads trying to figure it out.”
Photo by Hans Harzheim
Perry Robinson had met Grimes in the late 1950s at a New York jam session and had kept in touch with him, visiting the bassist regularly after Grimes had moved to New York. They had recorded Funk Dumpling for Savoy in 1962, which features their compositions almost exclusively. A short time later the two worked together at Birdland along with pianist Richard Wyands. Over the next few years, there was much opportunity for discussion and Robinson recalled Grimes analyzing his bass playing. “Henry said that when he played he used to imagine himself walking on an endless conveyor belt, just constantly moving forward at a regular pace. Because what is it to swing? It’s a magic momentum that’s always moving; you’re walking, but at the same time you’re being conveyed because the rhythm is carrying you.” [from Perry Robinson: The Traveler by Perry Robinson and Florence Wetzel]
Beginning in 1965, Grimes, Robinson, and drummer Tom Price shared an apartment in the East Village at 272 E. 3rd Street between Avenues C and D (with Slugs’ a block away at 242 East 3rd St.). It was there that they developed their musical concepts, jamming together almost every day. Price says, “So much so that people began to complain after a while (laughs).” They were joined by neighborhood friends such as trumpeter Marc Levin and saxophonists Archie Shepp and Frank Wright. They also met the drummer Frank Clayton and his wife, vocalist Jay Clayton. Grimes was working steadily with clarinetist Tony Scott at The Dom, a nearby club, and the environment was fertile for creative expression.
In 1965 Henry Grimes also played at the Village Vanguard, New York’s great jazz basement, in a Cecil Taylor-led trio with drummer Andrew Cyrille in July (as described in “DOWN BEAT” Magazine of 8/26/65, page 16), and in a Tony Williams-led trio with saxophonist Sam Rivers in September (DOWN BEAT, 11/4/65, page 14). According to Cyrille, what set Grimes apart was “his sound, musical intelligence, creativity, and talent.”
Pharoah Sanders & Henry Grimes, photo by Ray Ross, Five Spot, mid-’60s
Pianist Burton Greene explained, “Henry was in my first quartet that recorded for ESP with Marion Brown. He was also on a legendary gig I’ll never forget that I did with Albert Ayler, Rashied Ali, Marion, and Frank Smith on tenor sax at Slugs’ Saloon on the lower east side of New York back in ’65 or ’66. Henry pulled the strings like a lion. He once showed me the calluses on his fingers that must have been almost a half an inch thick! He had the biggest sound in the business. Henry had a bigger sound in the days before amplifiers than all the cats you hear today with amplification! And he had the heart and the personality, too.”
As well as recording for ESP and Impulse, Grimes participated in some of the most important avant-garde recordings made by the Blue Note label and all of Cecil Taylor’s and Don Cherry’s Blue Note recordings include Grimes. The autumn of 1966 was exceptionally fruitful, with what are now considered to be essential historical albums being recorded every week or so: Don Cherry’s Symphony for Improvisers and Where is Brooklyn?, Cecil Taylor’s Conquistador, all on Blue Note, and Pharoah Sanders’s Tauhid on Impulse. On each, he adds to the power and beauty of the music. As Taylor once said, “Henry’s a giant.”
In this period, Henry Grimes also became involved in the civil-rights and Black Power movements and spent dedicated time in the mid-’60s in the clubs and at Babatunde Olatunji’s Center for African Culture on East 125th St., co-founded with John Coltrane, where Cecil Taylor and Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) convened many of the greatest minds in the Black Arts world to create / join / lead the movement forward from civil rights into Black Power. The musicians played fund-raising concerts and collaborated with poets and writers at the Center and elsewhere, and some also participated in political strategy meetings. Both Cecil Taylor and Amiri Baraka brought Henry Grimes in. Two important documents from 1963 crediting him for his civil-rights work are shown below.
Even with such great artistic success in the ’60s, the financial realities were bleak, and Grimes was coming to grips with long-term personal issues that would radically change his life. He abruptly moved to California in 1967 and continued playing for a short time in San Francisco, but gave up the bass entirely when he relocated in Los Angeles about a year later, his bass having been damaged in transit. In her masterpiece, As Serious As Your Life, Valerie Wilmer wrote, “Henry Grimes, who was, with Charlie Haden, the other great bass player of this era, went to California and became involved in acting before he, too, disappeared,” and in the most recent reprinting (1999), Wilmer’s preface reads: “And, although details have never emerged, it is generally believed that Henry Grimes died in California in the 1970s.” Communication with his colleagues ceased and his whereabouts were unknown to those in the musical community. Rumors spread over the next thirty years but were mostly silenced by the cryptic announcements in the spring of 1986 that he was ‘reported’ to have died in late 1984. The idea that Grimes might still be living in Los Angeles circulated around early 1999, but there was no confirmation immediately forthcoming. During all this time, his fellow musicians as well as music fans all over the world frequently wondered what had happened to him. Only now do we have the answer.
Those musicians who have learned of Grimes’s rediscovery are elated and are happy to reminisce about their past encounters. Burton Greene summed up the musical philosophy of the time: “All of us that had the chance to play with Henry remember how he could help kick a band out to the outer stratosphere and back, which of course was just what the explosive sixties were about. We weren’t there to be a slave to forms like so much banal, predictable, yuppie ‘jazz’ of today, or to ‘recreate the museum,’ as Cecil Taylor calls it. On the contrary, what we set up had the amazing energy and creativity which blew those forms apart and perhaps created new forms to be exploded again.”
Thanks to Bill Crow, Ted Curson, Andrew Cyrille, Bill Folwell, Burton Greene, Marshall Marrotte, Florence Wetzel, Wilmer Wise.
by Margaret Davis [Grimes]
By now you’ve probably heard the great news that master bassist HENRY GRIMES, who’d been missing from the music world ever since the late ’60s, had been found in good health (though pretty much destitute) living in a single-room occupancy hotel in downtown Los Angeles. He’d been living in the same room for the last 20 years but had long ago sold his badly damaged bass and has since contented himself with writing poetry, trying a bit of acting, doing odd jobs, and surviving on Social Security income. The person who found Henry Grimes is a social worker and writer named Marshall Marrotte, who himself lives in Athens, Georgia.
When Marshall Marrotte found Henry Grimes, Henry told him that he very much wished he had a bass so he could start playing again. For me, a planet where the great Henry Grimes does not have a bass is not a place I want to be, and being unprepared for space travel, I decided to undertake a month-long nationwide search for a bass for him. I wrote to, called, or otherwise contacted about 5O of the musicians he played and/or recorded with before he disappeared, as well as many bassists who would know him as a music hero even if he was before their time. I put particular concentration on the West Coast because shipping a bass is a big expense in itself, I also thought the Western music community would want the opportunity to gather around him, and I thought it would be easy especially for those connected with academia or major cultural institutions out West to hook him up with practice space and an instrument to play, at the very least. So with Marshall Marrotte’s approval, I put the word out far and wide, and then we waited for a bass for Henry Grimes.
For quite a while, nobody moved.
Slowly a few people began to say they’d be willing to do something — make a donation, hold or play in a benefit concert, contribute a bow — kind, good offers, but not a bass for Henry Grimes to play. A couple of afflicted souls responded negatively, cynically, or even with hostility. Most just didn’t answer at all.
Then, just when I was beginning to despair, to question my lifelong belief in the term “music community” as something more than a concept or an ideal, but as an actual living entity that embraces and sustains its own, the great William Parker came home to New York City from another of his tours, got around to reading his accumulated Emails, and called me up to say he would send a bass and a bow to Henry Grimes. William did this partly because when he was 12 years old and growing up in a Bronx housing project without any great hopes for his future, he heard Henry playing bass in a Bronx bowling alley [!] and discovered then and there what his glorious future would be. But before sending the bass to Henry, first William wanted New York’s great luthier David Gage to make a small repair, and then David’s shop would build a shipping crate for the bass and arrange and pay for the shipping. One of David Gage’s employees, a bassist called Sprocket, even put up $100 of his own salary to help with shipping costs.
Henry Grimes received the bass William Parker named Olive Oil (more, I think, due to the green tinge of her finish than for Popeye’s girlfriend) on December 16th, 2002, was ecstatic to have Olive Oil, and has been practicing hard ever since. After only a couple of months with Olive Oil, he began to emerge from his room, with sensitive, caring encouragement and assistance from a young music student named Nick Rosen and classmates at the Oakwood School, where the youngsters persuaded the staff to pay Henry to give them improvisation lessons. Meanwhile, Henry practiced with quite a few area musicians and played beautiful concerts at Billy Higgins’s World Stage, the Howling Monk, and the Jazz Bakery in the Los Angeles area.
After having had his new bass for only five months, Henry returned to New York to play as special guest in New York City’s great Vision Festival on Memorial Day, May 26, ‘O3, in William Parker’s big band, as well as a surprise trio set with Mr. Parker and Rob Brown. At that time, Henry also participated in a five-day WKCR Henry Grimes Radio Festival (May 28 through June 1st), speaking and playing on the air daily, and he offered a bass clinic at David Gage’s shop on May 28th before nearly 5O New York-area bassists who haven’t stopped talking about him since. Shortly thereafter, he presented his own quintet for three nights at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City in July to universal acclaim.
Henry Grimes received a Lifetime Achievement Award in jazz from Long Island Public Radio (WLIU) and a Meet the Composer grant for one of his California performances. As of August, ‘O3, Henry Grimes was happily living, working, and teaching in New York City, he was designated “Musician of the Year” by “All About Jazz”/ New York (Dec., ‘O3), and his stellar musical path continues into the future. Let us give thanks!
Margaret Davis [later to become Margaret Grimes], 2OO3
For more current Henry Grimes news, please see the first two bio-
graphies (above), as well as the other pages on this site.
For bookings, high-resolution photos, interviews, further information, or to purchase a recording or book by the NEW Henry Grimes, please contact Margaret Davis Grimes: Email, voicemail 212-841-O899.