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The Miraculous Return of the Great Henry Grimes

The Miraculous Return of the Great Henry Grimes

by Margaret Davis

copyright © 2003 Margaret Davis

Master bassist Henry Grimes, missing from the music world since the late '60's, has made an unprecedented comeback after receiving the gift of a bass from fellow musician William Parker last December ('03) to replace the instrument Henry had given up some 20 years earlier. Between the mid '50's and the mid '60's, the Philadelphia-born, Juilliard-educated Henry Grimes played brilliantly on some 50 albums with an enormous range of musicians, including Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Haynes, Lee Konitz, Steve Lacy, Charles Mingus (yes, Charles Mingus), Gerry Mulligan, Sunny Murray, Perry Robinson, Sonny Rollins, Roswell Rudd, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, Charles Tyler, McCoy Tyner, Rev. Frank Wright, and many more . . . and then one day, for reasons largely related to troubles in the music world in those days, he walked away.

Many years passed with nothing heard from Grimes while he was living in a single-room occupancy hotel in downtown Los Angeles and doing survival work not related to music (construction, maintenance, custodial, etc.). Yet after a very short while with his new bass, he emerged from his room to begin playing concerts with Bobby Bradford, Nels and Alex Cline, Joseph Jarman, and others at Billy Higgins's World Stage, the Howling Monk, the Jazz Bakery, and Schindler House in the Los Angeles area. On his triumphant return to New York City last May, Henry Grimes played as special guest on two nights of the six-night Vision Festival, gave live concerts and lengthy interviews on the air daily during a five-day WKCR Henry Grimes Radio Festival, and offered a bass clinic before 50 New York-area bassists who haven't stopped talking about him since. He followed this with three virtually sold-out nights at Iridium in New York City, leading his own band. In New York, Henry Grimes has been working for the first time with Rob Brown, Roy Campbell, Jr., Andrew Cyrille, Sabir Mateen, William Parker, Marc Ribot, Warren Smith, and more. He's played at the Vermont Jazz Center and Harvard University and toured six cities in Italy and one in Slovenia in December. To the astonishment and joy of all, the man is playing at the very height of his artistic powers (or indeed anyone's), just as though he had never stopped!

In spring '03, The New York Times ran a nearly full-page profile of Henry Grimes; ABC-TV News broadcast an interview and concert footage from the Vision Festival; National Public Radio's Felix Contreras featured him on Morning Edition; Michael Fitzgerald, co-author of the award-winning biography "Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce," is writing a book about him; and David Gunderson is at work on a Henry Grimes documentary. Henry also received a Meet the Composer grant for his work in one of the California concerts this fall, and he was designated "Musician of the Year" by All About Jazz New York at the end of '03.

Grimes now lives, works and teaches in New York City. For further information, please see www.HenryGrimes.com.

Margaret Davis has become personal assistant to Henry Grimes, and can be reached via this e-mail form, or voicemail (212) 841-0899.

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