Drum­mer-singer worked with jazz leg­ends

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - IN MEMORY - By Richard San­domir

Grady Tate, a jazz drum­mer known for his work with Peggy Lee, Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzger­ald and many oth­ers, and whose warm bari­tone led to a sec­ond ca­reer as a singer, died Sun­day at his home in New York. He was 85.

His wife, Vi­vian, con­firmed the death and said he’d had de­men­tia.

Tate started drum­ming pro­fes­sion­ally in the late 1950s and even­tu­ally be­came one of the busiest side­men in jazz, record­ing with stars like Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz, Clark Terry and Billy Tay­lor.

“Lis­ten to Quincy Jones’ fa­mous record­ing of ‘Killer Joe,’” Loren Schoen­berg, a sax­o­phon­ist and found­ing di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Jazz Mu­seum in Har­lem, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “Lis­ten to Grady’s drums. It’s just phe­nom­e­nal tim­ing and rhythm that’s al­most trans­par­ent. He was there to serve the mu­sic with­out the im­po­si­tion of a de­fined per­son­al­ity or style.” Bassist Chris­tian McBride re­called the first time he saw Tate per­form, at the Man­hat­tan night­club Indigo Blues with pi­anist Sir Roland Hanna. “Mr. Tate is one of those rare, un­sung he­roes of the drums who you rarely kept your eye on when he played be­cause you were busy danc­ing, mov­ing and groov­ing,” McBride said in an email. “Like a truly great rhythm sec­tion player, you no­ticed his ab­sence more than his pres­ence.” On records, Tate ac­com­pa­nied a wide range of singers, from Lena Horne and Aretha Franklin to Bette Mi­dler and Paul Si­mon. He was also heard on the sound­track of the orig­i­nal “Twin Peaks” se­ries. The All Mu­sic web­site lists more than 1,000 record­ing cred­its for him.

ONE OF TATE’S fa­vorite per­form­ers was Lee, whom he ac­com­pa­nied on tour and on record­ings. Tate told one of Lee’s bi­og­ra­phers, Peter Rich­mond, that the real shows be­gan af­ter their night­club gigs had ended, when the band jammed with her in her ho­tel suite. “There were some per­for­mances you wouldn’t be­lieve,” he was quoted as say­ing in “Feve r: The Life and Mu­sic of Miss Peggy Lee” (2006). One night, he re­called, “I heard this voice, and the song that she was singing, what­ever it was, she sounded more like Bil­lie Hol­i­day than Bil­lie ever sounded.”

Lee en­cour­aged Tate’s de­sire to sing pub­licly. She had him sing “The Wind­mills of Your Mind” in 1968 as part of her set at the Copaca­bana in Man­hat­tan.

“You know, that was not only a great thing Peggy did for me, it was also un­prece­dented,” Tate told Down­beat magazine in 1971. “Singers are a funny lot. The stage is all theirs and as a re­sult, quite of­ten they don’t want any­thing that has the re­motest chance of up­stag­ing them. That’s why the mu­sic is geared just so, the lights just so. But Peggy is a beau­ti­ful lady.”

He re­leased sev­eral al­bums as a vo­cal­ist, start­ing in 1968 with “Wind­mills of My Mind.” He also sang “I Got Six” and “Naughty Num­ber Nine” on “School­house Rock,” ABC’s long-run­ning se­ries of short ed­u­ca­tional car­toons.

GRADY BERNARD Tate was born on Jan. 14, 1932, in Durham, N.C. Grow­ing up he played drums and sang, but when his voice changed he stopped singing.

In the Air Force, Tate played in a 21-piece state­side band. Af­ter his dis­charge, he grad­u­ated from North Carolina Cen­tral Univer­sity with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in English and drama and then moved to Wash­ing­ton, where he briefly taught at a high school and worked in the post of­fice.

Af­ter an im­promptu set with or­gan­ist Wild Bill Davis at a Wash­ing­ton club, Tate was asked to tour with the band. He stayed with Davis for a few years and then moved New York City to study act­ing. But he soon grav­i­tated back to mu­sic. In 1962 Tate joined Quincy Jones’s big band, which had lost its drum­mer as it pre­pared to go on tour. Work­ing with Jones led Tate to decades of stu­dio work. He was also a mem­ber of the “Tonight Show” band for sev­eral years be­fore the show moved from New York to Cal­i­for­nia in 1972.

COURTESY PHOTO The mu­si­cian cred­ited Peggy Lee with giv­ing him a chance to sing

Grady Tate:

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