Grant Green

Con­tin­u­ing his ex­plo­ration of the gi­ants of jazz gui­tar Pete Cal­lard fo­cuses on a sur­pris­ingly un­der­rated mas­ter of the genre: Grant Green.

Guitar Techniques - - Lesson: Jazz -

Grant Green was born on June 6, 1935 in St. Louis, Mis­souri. In­flu­enced by sax­o­phon­ists Char­lie Parker (GT161 & 162) and Lester Young, and gui­tarists Char­lie Chris­tian (GT216) and Jimmy Raney (GT217) he be­gan play­ing pro­fes­sion­ally at the age of 12 al­though, as he re­calls, jazz wasn’t his start­ing point: “The first thing I learned to play was boo­gie-woo­gie. Then I had to do a lot of rock’n’roll. It’s all blues, any­how.” Green toured with Lou Don­ald­son af­ter he was spotted by the alto sax­o­phon­ist play­ing in a St. Louis bar, and it was Don­ald­son who per­suaded him to re­lo­cate to New York around 1959-1960.

Sign­ing to leg­endary jazz la­bel Blue Note records - again on Lou Don­ald­son’s rec­om­men­da­tion - Green re­leased his first al­bum, Grant’s First Stand, in 1961, fol­lowed by Green Street and Grant­stand the same year. Green stayed with the la­bel for much of the 60s, and be­tween 1961 and 1965 played on more Blue Note re­leases than any­one else; in his ca­reer he ul­ti­mately fea­tured on 93 al­bums as leader or side-man.

Per­sonal prob­lems and heroin ad­dic­tion led to a pe­riod of in­ac­tiv­ity but Green re­turned to Blue Note in 1969 with Car­ryin’ On. A groove based mix of jazz-funk and R&B, Car­ryin’ On marked a ma­jor change of di­rec­tion and be­came the tem­plate for much of his sub­se­quent work. It also made him a post­hu­mous hero to the acid jazz move­ment and a source for break­beat sam­ples, leading to Green be­ing an un­wit­ting con­trib­u­tor to the foun­da­tion of hip-hop (Blue Note even re­leased a Grant Green com­pi­la­tion, Blue Break­beats, con­tain­ing some of his most widely sam­pled tracks). Health prob­lems led to him spend­ing much of 1978 in hospi­tal but he re­turned to the road to make some money, against the ad­vice of his doc­tors. Booked to per­form at Ge­orge Benson’s Breezin’ Lounge in New York on Jan­uary 31, 1979, Green col­lapsed in his car of a heart at­tack. Sur­vived by six chil­dren, he was buried in Green­wood Ceme­tery in St. Louis.

This month we’ll ex­am­ine ex­am­ples of Green’s play­ing from dif­fer­ent stages of his ca­reer, and dis­cuss key el­e­ments of his style. There’s a di­rect­ness to Green’s solo­ing that’s re­fresh­ing – he’s less con­cerned with tech­nique or com­plex­ity than with mu­si­cal­ity and en­gag­ing with the lis­tener. The blues plays an im­por­tant part in his vo­cab­u­lary, but his love of horn play­ers like Char­lie Parker and Miles Davis also in­form his sin­gle-note ap­proach. In fact, Green was very much a sin­gle-note player, rarely us­ing dou­ble-stops in his solo­ing and only us­ing chords when ac­com­pa­ny­ing some­one else.

The nine ex­am­ples hope­fully give some­thing of an over­view of Grant Green’s solo­ing ap­proach, tak­ing in pen­ta­tonic ideas, syn­co­pa­tion, mo­tivic play­ing, swept arpeg­gios, bluesy phras­ing, ideas on a mi­nor vamp, ma­jor and mi­nor II-V-Is, III-VI-II-V-Is and turn­arounds.

The gui­tar is a very per­sonal in­stru­ment. Noth­ing is re­ally wrong un­til you make it wrong.

Grant Green

Grant Green with Epi­phone Em­peror model

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