Rodgers Grant (1935-2012), one of Latin-jazz's most dependable keyboard sidemen whose syncopated piano riffs can be heard on many of Mongo Santamaria's 1960s recordings for Columbia and Atlantic, died on April 12. He was 77.
Grant was the pianist on Santamaria's Watermelon Man, a song written by Herbie Hancock and performed by Santamaria's band in late 1962 at a Brooklyn nightclub—the Blue Coronet. In the audience that night was Santamaria's producer at Riverside, Orrin Keepnews. Blown away by the audience reaction to the song, Orrin agreed to record it, though the dance tune was a bit of a departure for the Latin-jazz conga player.
Though Chick Corea had been Santamaria's pianist at the time, he had already given notice by the Brooklyn gig and had been replaced by Grant.
"Our Battle Records subsidiary was originally founded in Detroit by Von Battle, a well-known gospel singer and producer. My partner at Riverside, Bill Grauer, bought Battle in early 1962. As Riverside's producer, I loved a wide range of music, but I also wanted to keep the different genres of music we recorded separate, so consumers wouldn't be confused. That's why Watermelon Man was on Battle, not Riverside.
"I didn't ordinarily make a habit of going to Brooklyn to hear musicians. I was there to hear Mongo, to see what he was doing differently. At the time, I often put myself in a position to be very open to what was going on musically—jazz, soul and other forms.
"It's not that I was bright enough to find these new sounds or that bright had anything to do with why I was there in Brooklyn on that occasion when the song was being performed by Mongo. Herbie was the guy who had written and recorded the song months earlier for Blue Note [on Takin' Off], and I wanted to hear Mongo's Latin interpretation. What I heard was a powerful reaction on the part of the people there dancing and listening. I had to record it.
"Listen, I can't take credit for Watermelon Man. I didn't do anything special. But being open was the kind of thing that I did. I had a habit of putting myself as often as possible in a position of hearing people and new things and new compositions. I will take credit for that."
"Rodgers was the soul in Mongo Santamaria's rhythm section when I was in the band. His funky compositions were uniquely hip and stylish, and his spirited playing established the groove that swung the band.
"Rodgers played jazz, funk and Latin—and all of them authentically. He had a great sense of humor and a keen ear for a musican's faux pas. Although he was unable to play the piano in his final years, I'm sure there are many of his original works in his music notebook that have never been heard. He never stopped composing.
"Rodgers was among the last remaining pianists who had the knowledge and ability to play many different kinds of music and make them all swing. His music will stand the test of time, and he will be missed by all who knew him."
Roy Ayers. Want some fabulous free music? The Roy Ayers Project features a collection of young producers who have remixed and reloaded Ayers' great works from the '70s and '80s. If you love Ayers as I do, trust me, you're going to dig these grooves. Go here.
Charles Mingus radio. Starting Saturday night at midnight (EDT), WKCR-FM will present its annual Charles Mingus Birthday Broadcast, playing his music around the clock for 24 hours. My boy "Symphony Sid" Gribetz, jazz radio's million-dollar scholar, will be on the air from 6 to 9 p.m., with a focus on late vibist Teddy Charles, who collaborated extensively with Mingus. Tune in from anywhere in the world on your computer here.
Jack Walrath radio. Jazz musician and educator Bill Kirchner will host "Jazz From The Archives" on WBGO-FM Sunday night from 11 p.m. to midnight (EDT) series. Trumpeter, composer and arranger Walrath spent much of the '70s with Charles Mingus, followed by a career as a leader. Tune in from anywhere in the world on your comptuer here.
Chet Baker in '64: This past week I posted about Chet Baker's wonderful album with Phil Urso, The Most Important Jazz Album of 1964-65. For some reason, comments from readers seemed to be about everything except this album, which tells me it may not be well-known. So, for your listening pleasure, go here. You'll be able to stream the entire album. The link came to JazzWax courtesy of Dan Matiesanu.
Jazz in July Festival. Wish you could hear the Count Basie Band with Frank Wess? Actually you can, almost. New York's 92nd St. Y each year hosts a jazz festival called Jazz in July. This year, the lineup includes a tribute to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, pianists Dick Hyman and Bill Charlap, the music of Bill Evans and, yes, the Count Basie Orchestra with special guest tenor saxophonist Frank Wess. For more information and tickets, go here.
Liverpool, U.K. In the wake of my trip to Liverpool to interview Mike McCartney [pictured] for the Wall Street Journal (with special goodies posted at JazzWax), I received the following from Bill Forbes in England...
"Hi Marc. Your trip to Liverpool reminds me that, having lived so long in this part of the world, it's not surprising that I knew those who rubbed shoulders with the greats—before they were great.
"In the 70s I was teaching in an art college in Warrington, half-way between Manchester and Liverpool. John Robinson, who taught jewelry and silversmithing, was a Liverpool College of Art graduate. He told me that when he was at college, he had a girlfriend named Cynthia who was 'stolen' from him by another student. That student was John Lennon.
"Next, my friend Barry Naylor told me that in the early '60s in a Manchester basement club, he sat on the edge of the stage during intermission. 'Get away from the f—ing drums,' shouted an aggressive band member. Once again, it was John Lennon.
Lastly, my friend since school days, Paul Woodrow, who now lives in Calgary, Alberta, has played blues piano and keyboards since he was a teenager. In the early '60s he was invited to sit in with a blues group in a London club. But the group's singer intervened and said no. The singer was Mick Jagger."
Bob Mintzer. Jazz video maestro Bret Primack spent time recently with tenor saxophonist Bob Mintzer and guitarist Chico Pinheiro on a big band project...
Blogs you should know. Ann Ruckert, the widow of trumpet great Burt Collins, hosts Musings on the Music Business, here... Singer Carol Sloane hosts SloaneView here... Devra Hall Levy, widow of bassist and personal manager John Levy and daughter of guitarist Jim Hall, hosts DevraDoWrite here.
Pre-America Beatles, in color. I love this video clip. Hope you do, too. I believe it's London, November 1963. That theater looks like the Hammersmith Odeon, and She Loves You went to No. 1 in September in the U.K....
Oddball album cover of the week. For the life of me, I have
no idea what this polka album cover is trying to say. Some things are left best untranslated. But if your brain started running all kinds of scenarios, you're not alone. Perhaps growing a 10-inch pickle is cause for celebration in some parts of the world, particularly if that pickle happens to be larger than most of the village's inhabitants. As Sigmund Freud (the deli owner) once said, "Sometimes a pickle is just a pickle."