Remembering Henry Grimes

November 3, 1935 – April 15, 2020

 

A tribute to the adventurous bassist

Bassist Henry Grimes passed away on April 15, 2020 at the age of 84.

He was born Nov. 3, 1935 in Philadelphia, playing violin, tuba and English horn before settling on the bass while in high school, and he studied at Juilliard.

His technical and creative skills along with his versatility were recognized early on and during 1957-58 Grimes recorded with Charles Mingus, Lee Konitz, Tony Scott, the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker, Annie Ross, Sonny Rollins, and Lennie Tristano.

At the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, he worked with six different groups: Benny Goodman, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, Tony Scott, and Lee Konitz.

While Grimes also worked and recorded in the 1960s with Billy Taylor, Mose Allison, Carmen Leggio, Rolf Kuhn, Shirley Scott, Jerome Richardson, Roy Haynes, McCoy Tyner, and Sonny Rollins again, he became more interested in playing avant-garde jazz.

Grimes was on recordings by such cutting edge artists as Cecil Taylor (1961), Don Cherry, Perry Robinson, Steve Lacy, Archie Shepp, Frank Wright, Sunny Murray, Burton Greene, Charles Tyler, Pharoah Sanders and, most notably, Albert Ayler.

But then in 1967, Henry Grimes disappeared and was not heard from in the jazz world for 35 years; many thought that he had died.

As it turned out, Grimes had moved to Los Angeles, dropped out of music, conquered some mental problems, and did odd jobs while struggling in poverty.

In 2002 he was discovered by a social worker, Marshall Marrotte, who helped get him back on his feet; bassist William Parker gave him a string bass and soon he made a triumphant return to the jazz scene.

During 2003-19, Grimes again became an important part of the avant-garde jazz scene in New York, performing often, giving lessons, and making quite a few recordings.

Among those who he worked with during his second period were David Murray, Rashied Ali, Marilyn Crispell, Marshall Allen, Fred Anderson, Dave Douglas, Joe Lovano, Roscoe Mitchell, Wadada Leo Smith, and Cecil Taylor among many others.

It was an unlikely but very successful comeback for the great bassist.

Here he is in 2010, celebrating his 75th birthday with a performance that also includes tenor-saxophonist Kidd Jordan.

-Scott Yanow

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