black art album Credits
- Produced by Gerry Teekens
- Recorded December 14, 1993
- Recorded at RPM Studio, New York City
- Recording Engineer: Max Bolleman
- Photography: Ron Schwerin
- Cover Design: Gerry Teekens
- Darrell Grant, piano
- Wallace Roney, trumpet
- Christian McBride, bass
- Brian Blade, drums
If Miles was alive and playing like he did in the 60s, thirty-two year-old Darrell Grant could well be his pianist. This is not to imply that these proceedings offer anything in the way of nostalgia. In fact the opposite is true. Black Art is burning with the same electricity and passion that great jazz recordings of any era possess. It's just that Mr. Grant's chops and inventiveness harken back to those thrilling days of yesteryear when Miles and Wayne and Herbie and Ron and Tony were setting the jazz world on fire--stretching boundaries and kicking butt!
In fact, Darrell has a connection to that particularly memorable morsel of jazz history in that he's the current pianist with the Tony Williams group, which also includes trumpeter Wallace Roney. Grant's credits don't stop there. He's also worked with Roy Haynes, Betty Carter, and Woody Shaw.
But our story begins back in Pittsburgh, PA when a two-year-old named Darrell Grant attended a concert by singer Earl Grant. Once the novelty of being at a concert wore off, most two-year-olds would have gotten nasty and driven their parents to distraction. Instead, young Darrell sat spellbound. Not long afterwards, he further demonstrated his predilection for music by playing Nat King Cole records on the family phonograph as soon as he had the physical dexterity to do so. The family soon moved to Denver and classical piano lessons quickly followed. Then Grant discovered jazz via Wes Montgomery and Lou Rawls records in his parent's record collection. By the time he was ten, he was playing in jazz bands at school. "I just sort of found my way into jazz. One day at a record store, I picked up "Fingerpopping" by Horace Silver. That just totally blew my mind, I'd never heard any music that swung like that. I just couldn't take that stuff off."
By fourteen, Grant was winning classical music competitions and at the same time, trying to check out jazz in Denver clubs, but because he was underage, was forced to stand outside. His performing experiences included accompanying his family on a religious radio program they broadcast from their home. At fifteen, he joined a Denver Dixieland group called the Pearl Street Jazz Band, comprised of young players with an abiding interest in jazz The group worked regularly, playing local festivals and recording three albums. Grant received a B.A. in classical piano from the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester. Although he knew jazz was his future, at his parent's suggestion he decided to ground himself in classical music. ''I'm really glad I did because I got an incredible education there," Grant believes. "An appreciation for all kinds of music that I wouldn't have received at a strictly jazz school." From the frigid confines of upstate New York, Grant chose to further his education with a Masters in Jazz Studies at the University of Miami. "It was a totally different program than Eastman," Grant remembers. "Eastman was a conservatory, very much about classical music and performing. Miami was a very commercial school, about practicality and how to make a living. I got a lot of exposure to the studio there." In addition to his studies, Grant played gigs "eight days a week" with musicians like Duffy Jackson and Ira Sullivan. "That was the most valuable thing about being there, the gigs."
Many of Grant's grad school contemporaries migrated to LA and became successful studio players. But Grant decided to move to New York in 1986 to ''get to the center of the jazz scene and see what I could do. I knew I had something to say and New York was the place to meet the best players."
Grant's confidence was founded on his playing and his writing abilities. Composing since the age of ten, Grant is quick to acknowledge the significance of creating his own music "Colorado was really about original music," he remembers. You'd go to hear a band in a club and they wouldn't play standards, only their own music. So my perspective on being a musician was to do all your own tunes." Attending classes by Barry Harris and sessions at the Blue Note, Grant started meeting New York players and eventually, subbed for friend Mulgrew Miller with trumpeter Woody Shaw's fiery quintet. Gigs with Junior Cook soon followed, then the piano chair with drummer Charlie Persip's Superband. Grant's first long term engagement was with singer Betty Carter, who has a reputation for assembling trios with pianists of promise (Carter's keyboardists have included John Hicks, Benny Green, Stephen Scott, and Cyrus Chestnut). "I learned a lot from Betty," Grant recalls. "There are many ways to go about getting success and Betty taught me to keep doing exactly what I do until everybody catches on. She was a very shrewd and determined person and a great showman. Working with Betty in my first major performance situation was invaluable because she really knew how to structure a set, interact with an audience and how to entertain people."
Toward the end of his tenure, Grant formed his own group, Current Events, and released an album on Verve Forecast. The group played "some straight ahead, some fusion, some funk, a varied range of expression." Leaving Carter to devote himself to the group, he played some gigs but found "it was really tough breaking the band," so he decided to put the group on temporary hold, hoping to reassemble the ensemble at some future time.
After Betty, he did more writing, and became the musical director for the American Tap Dance Orchestra, composing original material for their performances. He also served as musical director for singer Leslie Gore and worked with the infamous Little Anthony. Since 1990, he has worked with Greg Osby's Sound Theatre, Craig Harris' Tailgaters Tales and in a duo setting with Frank Morgan. "That was one of my most influential experiences, Grant believes, "because Frank Morgan is a musical sage. That was the gig where I really found myself musically." Other meaningful engagements have included an extended stay with the Tony Williams Group, and dates with Sonny Fortune and Roy Haynes. He also recorded with Don Braden (on the new Criss Cross recording After Dark), Marlon Jordan, Greg Osby, Charlie Persip and Craig Harris.
Darrell Grant postponed recording his own acoustic piano session until he felt "that I really had something to say." Obviously, this vibrant quartet date was worth the wait. Grant chose his session mates carefully, because "the best music gets made out of relationships, out of talking to people. That's when the communication begins. Sometimes it happens right off the bat but it usually comes when people who trust each other really listen."
Grant enjoys working with trumpeter Wallace Roney because "he never stops taking risks. Wallace doesn't rely on what he knows, he just goes way way out there.” "I've heard it time and time again with Tony. He likes to take chances, and he's willing to try for something different. Also Wallace has a lot of energy, and variety in his tone. He gets a very personal sound."
Bassist Christian McBride is a Grant favorite because of his sound and dedication with which he plays. We both grew up listening to funk groups and there's a commitment to the beat that happens in funk music because that's all there is. I really love Christian because he's someone who brings to jazz that same kind of commitment to the rhythm, the flow, and the continuity of the music. There's not a note that just goes by. Everything is about the beat."
Drummer Brian Blade "is a really original and creative drummer. He's young but he plays with confidence and daring. Brian reminds me in a way of the boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who’s natural and really light on his feet, deft and flashing. He's an intelligent player."
For his Criss Cross debut, Darrell Grant offers an eclectic blend of material, including two standards, two jazz tunes, and five savory originals.
“Freedom Dance,” the energetic opener, is "a Latin influenced tune that starts in seven-four and then moves to four-four in the B section. This tune is really celebratory, a dance of liberation and self-determination. It gives me the feeling there's room to move."
“Tilmon Tones” is "dedicated to Tony Williams. It's a really short, simple form. The melody is based loosely on a phrase from one of my favorite Tony Williams compositions, ‘Suite for Neptune, Part Three.’"
The Miles Davis/Bill Evans composition “Blue in Green” is a solo piano spot for Grant. He wasn't planning on doing the track but "the band had taken a break during the session, and I loved the piano so much that I started playing it. I quickly said, turn on the tape, and it just came out."
The title selection “Black Art” is a call to excitement that Grant wrote especially for the date. "I wanted something really open that was reminiscent of Joe Henderson's 'Caribbean Fire Dance.'”
As for the meaning of the phrase black art, Grant feels that it "comes from a sense of community, from the resilience, irrepressible nature, and deep and abiding humor found in black culture. Also, 'Black Art' connotes the mystical and the arcane and the secret, indescribable magic that is the essence of improvisation."
“Foresight” is perhaps the most standard type composition Grant has written. "It's a ballad in its way," he believes, "with a haunting melody, like a glimpse into the future that leaves you wanting more. This composition is something that really comes from my classical background, from melodies I've played by Schubert and Scriabin."
“Einbahnstrasse,” a Ron Carter composition, is "a tune I've been playing for a long time and really wanted to record. It contains so much humor and always struck me as something that really made me laugh. So I wanted to bring out the playful element, especially in the piano intro."
Grant has been playing “What Is Thing Called Love” since his tenure with Betty Carter. "We worked out an arrangement of it then that was successful because it treated a well known vehicle with drama and surprise. This arrangement has a lot of different flavors. This arrangement has a Latin kind of feeling but it's got a unique vamp. A combination of Ahmad Jamal, a little Les McCann, yet it's really me."
“For Heaven's Sake” is a duo for Grant and Wallace Roney. ''I chose this song because I wanted to do an intimate ballad with Wallace to showcase that side of our playing. We just sat down and played it, no rehearsal so it's about the moment and I really like that."
“Binkley's Blues” refers to a character in the comic strip "Bloom County." "This guy with a closet full of anxieties. It's a quirky blues, that twists and hits you where you don't expect."
Darrell Grant: "A musician goes through a training period, especially living in New York, where you try and learn the tradition and balance that with the demands of working in a viable manner and really finding your voice. For a young player, it's a process of really finding and declaring yourself. This record is part of my path, that same search for self expression."
Bret Primack, Somers. New York. August 1994