Unusually, I have two audio tracks to celebrate Grover Washington’s birthday. A full mix of tracks that Grover played on, I tried to pick less well known tracks rather than the GWJ classics. At the end of the post is retrospective by Christian McBride, show host of WBGO Jazz 88.3FM‘s JazzNight, and fantastic bass player himself.
PRESS PLAY AND READ ON. (Playlist with notes on this entry The Grover Washington Birthday Playlist – Creed Taylor Produced (ctproduced.com))
Getting Started With CTI
How did the “Inner City Blues” album come about? The Hank Crawford, Grover Washington Jr recording session swap, is well documented and repeated below. What is less well known is how Creed Taylor knew about Grover Washington Jr. in the first place.
When first moving to Philadelphia, Washington spent his days working at a One Stop for a weekly pay check, and it was here he met had met local DJ Gregg Hall(Record World Feb. 19th, 1972 P21). In 1972, Hall would be appointed Director of National Promotions for CTI and KUDU Records. Gregg’s first assignment for CTI, according to the Feb 5th, 1972 issue of Record World, was promoting Grover’s “Inner City Blues album“.
Around the same time as meeting Hall, guitarist Maynard Parker, called Washington to tell him that “a horn player was needed for a one week session in Newark”.(Record World Feb. 19th, 1972 P21). It was not the last time Washington would be a last minute replacement on sax, it is not known who Grover was replacement for. The tracks from the sessions at the Key Club in Newark, which were recorded by Rudy Van Gelder(Rudy discusses recording these sessions in the Rudy Van Gelder – A Work In Progress), and released on Prestige, as Charles Earland’s “Living Black!”, produced by Bob Porter.
That lead to another Porter/Prestige production recording session, this time with Johnny “Hammond” Smith. This was Smith’s last album for Prestige, it was also the last time “Hammond” Smith nom de plume was used, becoming just Johnny Hammond for his future recordings.
Hammond’s session was the very first recording for Creed’s breakout new soul/jazz label, KUDU. On June 3rd and 4th, 1971 – a small group of Creed Taylor sidemen, gathered to record the organist Jimmy Hammonds “Breakout” album. Among the sidemen were both Hank Crawford and Grover Washington Jr. Washington.
Hammond had the title track for his album, and as was often the way, Creed and Hammond had picked a number of potential “popular” tracks to include based on how Creed wanted the album to sound and appeal.
On the list of potential tracks was Carole King’s 1971 chart-hit “It’s Too Late“. Washington did the arrangement for what became a 10+ minute jam session, and arguably the best on the “Breakout” album.
It was only natural, that in September later that year, and Grover was lined up as a sideman for Crawford, and when Crawford was a no-show, that Creed would then ask Washington to stand-in. The rest as they say is “smooth jazz” history.
Crawford would eventually get his shot as leader, in August ’71. They recorded the title track “Help Me Make It Through The Night” at Van Gelder’s studio. The remainder of the tracks were to have been recorded in September, but that’s when Crawford was a no-show and Washington stepped in. The remainder of Crawford’s album tracks were recorded, and in January 1972, and the album release shortly afterwards.
Despite their well documented breakup and resultant legal/contractual lawsuits, Grover held no malice towards Creed. It is often overlooked that in the 1990-1996, the final original CTI recordings period, Grover, at the peak of his career, once again appeared as a sideman on CTI/KUDU albums with leaders such as Jim Hall, Larry Coryell, Charles Fambrough, and the Acid-Jazz group, Thus Spoke Z, in 1996. This meant, effectively Grover recorded on the very first, and the very last original albums on the KUDU label, and was without a doubt the labels star.
The Mister Magic Story
[The following was adapted from the Tina Kelly, New York Times, Obituary, syndicated and in found in the Austin American-Statesman, December 19th, 1999.
Grover was born Dec. 12, 1943, in Buffalo, N.Y. His father was a tenor saxophonist, and his mother sang in a choir. He started playing the saxophone when he was 10. He attended Temple University’s School of Music and the Wurlitzer School of Music.
Washington began his professional Career as a saxophonist with the Four Clefs from 1959 to 1963, then completed a two-year stint in the 19th Army Band. He played with Don Gardener’s Sonotones in 1967 and 1968 and made many recordings with Randy Weston, Bob James, Ralph MacDonald and Eric Gale.
In 1971, he began his solo career, specializing in soprano and alto saxes. His big break came in the early 1970s when record producer Creed Taylor commissioned a set of pop-funk arrangements featuring saxophonist Hank Crawford, who failed to show up for the recording session. Washington was called in as a replacement.
The resulting album, “Inner City Blues,” helped break down barriers between pop music and jazz, sold hundreds of thousands of copies and helped launch Washington’s solo career.
Grover Washington Jr. released some 30 solo albums, won a Grammy Award and jammed with the President during his career. Of his albums five earned gold records: “Come Morning,” “Mr. Magic,” “The Best is Yet to Come,” “Then and Now” and “Time out of Mind.“
He won a Grammy Award for best fusion jazz performance, vocal or instrumental, in 1981 for “Winelight,” his platinum album, which included the hit single “Just the Two of Us,” with Bill Withers. Between the album and the single, “Winelight” appeared on five record charts at once: soul singles and LPs, pop singles and LPs, and jazz LPs. In 1996, he played at President Clinton’s 50th birthday celebration at Radio City Music Hall, and he played in a jazz and blues jam with the president in 1993, along with jazz greats Herbie Hancock and Winton Marsalis.
“Grover Washington was as versatile as any jazz musician in America, moving with ease and fluency from vintage jazz to funk, and from gospel to blues to pop,” Clinton said the
NEW YORK Grover Washington Jr., 56, the jazz saxophonist and composer, producer and arranger of jazz fusion, died Friday in New York City after taping four songs for a television show. Washington died of an apparent heart attack after he performed the songs for “The Saturday Early Show” on CBS, said Patricia Mannino of Washington’s Philadelphia record company, G W Jr. Music Inc. Known for his jazz-rock fusion style, which was occasionally criticized for sounding too commercial, Washington two weeks ago had released his most recent album, “Prime Cuts,” Mannino said. A classical album he recently completed will be released shortly, she said.New York Times – Tina Kelly, 19 December, 1999 – Austin American-Statesman P49
It’s arguable who is sampled most for the Creed Taylor pantheon, Bob James or Grover Washington, Jr. James is sometimes called the “Father of Hip-hop”, and of course, many Washington’s tracks were arranged, and/or produced by James. There are 536 known tracks that have sampled Grover Washington, Jr. The top three tracks sampled are:
- Hydra from Feels So Good – Sampled 96-times, actually what’s often sampled from this is Kenny Rice’s drums, especially the NWSF The Notorious B.I.G. – One More Chance, also Tribe Called Quest – Check the Rhime.
- Just the Two of Us (1981) – Post CTI Grover Washington, Jr. and Bill Withers soul-jazz classic is sampled 58-times.
- Mister Magic – sampled 55-times, notably the cover by Amy Winehouse, Mr Magic (Through the Smoke).
Grover Washington, Jr. discography [via discogs]
KUDU label discography [via discogs]
Rudy Van Gelder – A Work in Progress [video via youtube]
Grover Washington, Jr – Discovery – The First Recordings [via discogs]
Here is a couple of bonus videos, I posted earlier this year, of Grover at his soulful best playing on the Mike Douglas show in 1977.
The second vide is a full length concert from a 1982 laserdisc, “In Concert”, and features sidemen such as Steve Gadd(Drums), Eric Gale(Guitar) and Richard Tee(Keyboards), Anthony Jackson(Bass Guitar) and Ralph MacDonald(Percussion, Congas). Fascinatingly, the video was directed by Donny Osmond, yes that Donny Osmond. My copy of the laserdisc was supplied by a family relative of Donny.
Updated: 12/14/2020 1.07pm added playlist entry link
Updated: 12/19/2020 12:30pm Split text description of videos, attempt to identify sidemen in Mike Douglas show.