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Washington, Grover Jr.

Grover Washington, Jr.

Saxophonist, composer

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Robert Palmer of Rolling Stone called Grover Washington, Jr., the most popular saxophonist working in a jazz-fusion idiom. And because of Washingtons great success some critics have downgraded his music, calling it bland, too commercial, and not real jazz. However, Washington is an obviously talented musician who always surrounds himself with other top-notch musicians and who has had the good fortune to string together a long procession of hit albums. As Albert De Genova wrote in down beat, Grover Washington Jr. has found his niche, and though some are offended by his commercial ventures, no one can deny his musical abilities (or those of the musicians behind him). He creates mood music, soothing and pastoral, tinged with urban funk, done with taste and quality.

Washington was born in Buffalo, New York, on December 12, 1943. He came from a musical family; his father played tenor saxophone, his mother sang in a choir, one brother was an organist in church choirs, and his youngest brother, Darryl, became a drummer (who would later also join the professional ranks). Like his father, Washington soon took up the saxophone. I started playing at around age ten, he told Julie Coryell and Laura Friedman in Jazz-Rock Fusion: The People, The Music, and my first love was really classical music. He took lessons at the Wurlitzer School of Music and studied a variety of instruments. My early lessons were on the saxophone, then it was the piano, the drum and percussion family, and the bass guitar. Asked how he found the time for all these instruments, he said, It was basically what I wanted to do at a very early age, so I had the time. I could really get into all of them on the basic level. Washington also loved basketball as a child but quickly realized that music would be his future. I stopped growing at 5 8-1/2, he told People.

Washington played in his high school and for two years was a baritone saxophonist with the all-city high school band. He also studied chord progressions with Elvin Shepherd. At the age of 16, Washington finished high school and left Buffalo to become a professional musician, joining the Four Clefs. Based in Columbus, Ohio, the band was on the road much of the time. The Four Clefs split up in 1963 and Washington joined organist Keith McAllisters band. Two years later, in 1965, Washington was drafted into the U.S. Army. Stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, he was headed for Vietnam until, according to Joy Wansley of People, he talked his way into the base band. Besides playing with the 19th Army Band, he also played in Philadelphia during his free time, working with a variety of organ trios and rock groups. In addition, he played in New York City with jazz drummer Billy Cobham.

For the Record

Born December 12, 1943, in Buffalo, N.Y.; father was a saxophonist, mother was a singer in a choir; married, 1967, wifes name, Christine; children: Grover III, Shana. Education: Attended Wurlitzer School of Music and Temple University School of Music.

Saxophonist in musical group the Four Clefs, 1960-63; played with Keith McAllister, 1963-65; following induction into the U.S. Army became member of 19th Army Band, also appeared with numerous musicians and musical groups in the Philadelphia/New York City area, including Billy Cobham, 1965-67; played with Don Gardners Sonotones, 1967-68; worked for a record distributor, Philadelphia, 1969-70; with Charles Earlands band, 1971; recording artist, featured and solo performer, 1971. President of G.W. Jr. Music, Inc. (music publishing company) and of G-Man Productions, Inc. (production company).

Awards: Grammy Award for best jazz fusion performance, vocal or instrumental, 1981, for Winelight; winner of 1983 outstanding achievement in the arts award at the Pitt Jazz Seminar, University of Pittsburgh; holder of one platinum and six gold albums.

Addresses: Office c/o Lloyd Z. Remick, 700 Three Penn Center, Philadelphia, PA 19102; and 1515 Market St., Suite 700, Philadelphia, PA 19102. AgentABC, 1995 Broadway, New York, NY 10023.

It was at one of his off-post gigs that Washington met his future wife, Christine, who was then an editorial assistant. Christine told People, We met on a Saturday and he moved in on Thursday. They were married in 1967. Washington was discharged from the service that same year. Washington and his new wife then moved to Philadelphia. From 1967 to 1968 he played with Don Gardners Sonotones. In 1969 he took his first full-time job out of the musical arena, working for a local record distributor. I was totally immersed in jazz at the time, he told Coryell and Friedman, and this taught me another side of music. I got to check out people like Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tuli, and John Mayall. In 1971, he returned to music, playing with Charles Earlands band. He also began recording as a sideman with various musicians such as Joe Jones, Leon Spencer, and Johnny Hammond.

His first big musical break came quite by accident. Commercially-minded record producer Creed Taylor had put together a set of pop-funk tunes for alto saxophonist Hank Crawford. On the eve of the recording date, Crawford was arrested on a two-year-old driving charge, Washington told Rolling Stone. Taylor then called in the little-known Washington as a last-minute replacement and had him play the alto parts. The album, Inner City Blues, was released in 1971 under Washingtons name. It became a hitan album, Palmer wrote in the New York Times, that sold hundreds of thousands of copies and did much to break down barriers between jazz and pop. As Washington admitted to Wansley, My big break was blind luck.

He continued to record as a sideman with Randy Weston, Don Sebesky, Bob James, and others, as well as record his own albums. In 1972 he released All the Kings Horses, followed by Soul Box in 1973. It was his next album, Mister Magic, released in 1974, that established Washington as a major jazz star. It was the first of several of his albums to reach number one on the jazz charts and go gold. Succeeding best-sellers included Feels So Good, Live at the Bijou, and need Seed.

Washington developed what is called a jazz-pop or jazz-rock fusion musical style. It consists of jazz improvisation over a pep or rock beat. Although he came from a jazz background, influenced by such artists as John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, and Oliver Nelson, Washingtons wife got him interested in pop music. I encouraged him to listen to more pop, Christine told Rolling Stone. His intent was to play jazz, but he started listening to both, and at one point he told me he just wanted to play what he felt, without giving it a label. Recognizing that Washington is unrestrained by labels and tradition, Joachim Berendt wrote in The Jazz Book: From New Orleans to Rock and Free Jazz that he plays contemporary music not worrying about styles and schools. A versatile musician, Washington plays tenor, alto, soprano, and baritone saxophones, plus clarinet, electric bass, and piano. He also composes some of his own material.

The popularity of Washingtons brand of jazz-pop helped make jazz-pop music a success. Keyboardist Bob James told Wansley, Grover was one of the main people to make this crossover movement happen. We had people intrigued by jazz, but a lot of it was so complex they didnt relate to it. Grover maintained a very high level of musicianship and yet his playing was very melodic and direct.

Critics had mixed reactions to Washingtons music, some praise and some pans. The commercialism of his music was what usually earned the pans. In a review of his 1979 album Skylarkin, Frank-John Hadley of down beat said that were commercial jazz saxophonists exalted to monarchic positions, Grover Washington Jr. would be the sovereign. Hadley added that Washingtons credo might read: Let my music reach out and spread love. Alas, his past recordings have been as superficial, contrived and dishonest as a Harlequin romance. The Skylarkin album, on the other hand, received high marks from Hadley because of the emotion of Washingtons playing. Now and then his phrases are predictable, tremolos as cliches, but theres enough unrehearsed excitement and compassion in his playing to permanently exile the affected waxings of any dozen commercial jazz pretenders.

Respected critic Ron Welbum noted in Radio Free Jazz that Grover is perhaps the strongest young fusion reedman in the tradition of Hal Singer, Gatortail Jackson, and Junior Walker. That which is predictable about his music can be excused because of the power and sincerity of his projections. Although some writers considered his music fuzak, Palmer, in Rolling Stone, stated: Powerful live performances make it clear that, whatever his commercial proclivities, Washington knows his soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones thoroughly. On soprano and alto especially, his sound is attractively personal; he combines liquid grace with an understated residue of R&B grit.

Even some fellow jazz musicians knocked Washingtons music. Wansley reported that bassist Percy Heath accused Washington of bastardizing jazz. But he defended himself against the barbs: My music is for the everyday personpeople music. Theres no pretense. Its honest. It transmits feelings and moods. Thats about all you can hope to achieve.

In 1980, Washington released his most successful album everWinelight. And from that album came a smash hit singleJust the Two of Us, with vocalist Bill Withers. Both the album and the single had wide appeal. As People noted, the two recordings were simultaneously among the top five sellers on five record charts: soul singles and LPs, pop singles and LPs, and jazz LPs. The popular jazz saxophonist achieved even broader popularity. The album eventually went platinum and the single went gold. Remarked the New York Times, [Washingtons] commercial success is unusual for a contemporary jazz instrumentalist.

Ever since he moved to Philadelphia, Washington had been a big fan of the Philadelphia 76ers professional basketball team. His love for the 76ers, and particularly their star player, went public with the Winelight album. One of the tracks on the record is called Let It Flow (For Dr. J), dedicated to the teams Julius Dr. J. Erving. Around the same time, Washington approached the team and began playing the national anthem occasionally before games. Why not? he said to Lisa Twyman of Sports Illustrated. I was at the games anyway

Also in 1980, Washington applied for a doctoral program in music composition at Temple University. He explained to Wansley that he was told he had to audition. The next day, he smiles,I came back with a stack of my albums and told them to listen and let me know if they thought I could play. He was admitted.

Washingtons next albums carried on his familiar mellow sound and the critics continued their mixed reactions. In a 1982 review of his recording Come Morning, De Genova said: Commercial? Yes. Trite? No. Appropriately titled, this album sets a cool summer morning, grass still wet with dew, lover laying next to you mood. He added that Gravers sincerity and his natural, almost whimsical saxophone interpretations make his refreshingly lyrical phrasing a pleasure to listen to. However, De Genova maintained, Some may call this music vinyl Valium, and depending on personal taste, the album may become monotonous. Similarities in mood, texture, and tonality often make some of the tunes seem to blend together.

In addition to producing some of his own albums, Washington has also worked as a producer for the group Pieces of a Dream. In a review of their 1982 recording We Are One, Robert Henschen of down beat proclaimed, With Grover Washington in a producers role, you know the final mix is going to have a light, enjoyable touch. It does. Washington also had a featured solo on one of the songs and his playing, Henschen said, was as sweet as ever. Reviewing Washingtons 1983 album, The Best Is Yet To Come, People suggested that he definitely is capable of better. This album is more pop than jazz, taking wing only in occasional bursts from Washington that break out of a staid set of arrangements. Better things did happen to him when he attended the annual Pitt Jazz Seminar at the University of Pittsburgh and was presented with the years Outstanding Achievement in the Arts award.

In 1984 Washington released the album Inside Moves. Robert Hiltbrand of People remarked that Gravers jazz is accessible to listeners of all musical tastes. Turn him loose on choice material, as on Inside Moves, and his fluid and graceful style is incomparable. Describing some of the cuts, Hiltbrand said, Dawn Song moves from soft and dreamy to sharp and funky. The title cut undergoes a similar change, with Washington blending alto, tenor and baritone saxes over the sweet opening and then pulling out all the stops on top of a bass-percussive riff that is reminiscent of the pioneer fusion ensemble Weather Report.

The next year saw Washington collaborate on an album with jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell. A review by Ralph Novak of People stated that Even those people who find Washingtons popular solo-saxophone albums too bland and unchallenging dont question his sense of melody and tone. This LP lets him unleash those talents with a passionate vengeance. Burrell and Washington mesh well together according to Novak. There are few more enjoyable moments in jazz than when two imaginative soloists mix and match with each others moods, and this album is full of such moments.

Washington will undoubtedly continue to create his smooth, melodic saxophone sounds for years to come. And if he follows the advice of Hadley, he will also continue his present policy, the policy of circulating warmth.

Selected discography

Inner City Blues, Kudu, 1971.

All the Kings Horses, Kudu, 1972.

Soul Box, Kudu, 1973.

Mister Magic, Kudu, 1974.

Feels So Good, Kudu, 1975.

Secret Place, Kudu, 1976.

Soul Box, Volume 2, Kudu, 1976.

Live At the Bijou, Kudu, 1978.

Reed Seed, Motown, 1978.

Paradise, Elektra, 1979.

Skylarkin, Motown, 1979.

Winelight, Elektra, 1980.

Baddest, Motown, 1981.

Come Morning, Elektra, 1982.

The Best Is Yet to Come, Elektra, 1984.

Inside Moves, Elektra, 1984.

Anthology Of, Elektra, 1985.

Strawberry Moon, Columbia, 1987.

Then and Now, Columbia, 1988.

Greatest Performances, Motown.

Anthology, Motown.

At His Best, Motown.

Has also recorded as a sideman or featured artist with numerous musicians, including Eric Gale, Bob James, Ralph MacDonald, Don Sebesky, Randy Weston, and Bill Withers.

Also producer of and occasional guest performer on albums by musical group Pieces of a Dream, including We Are One, 1982; has also produced Jean Came.

Sources

Books

Berendt, Joachim, The Jazz Book: From New Orleans to Rock and Free Jazz, translation by Dan Morgenstern, Barbara Bredigkeit, and Helmut Bredi Lawrence Hill & Co., 1975.

Coryell, Julie, and Laura Friedman, Jazz-Rock Fusion: The People, The Music, Dell, 1978.

Feather, Leonard, and Ira Gitler, The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Seventies, Horizon Press, 1976.

Pareles, Jon, and Patricia Romanowski, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 1983.

Periodicals

down beat, October 1980; June 1982; December 1982; February1983.

New York Times, April 24, 1981.

People, May 18, 1981; February 7, 1983; October 29, 1984; April 22, 1985.

Rolling Stone, October 18, 1979.

Sports Illustrated, July 11, 1983.

Greg Mazurkiewicz

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Washington, Grover Jr. 1943–

Grover Washington, Jr. 1943

Jazz saxphonist

Snuck Out to Jazz Clubs

Breakthrough as Session Substitute

Recorded Acoustic Jazz

Selected discography

Sources

One of the finest musicians ever tagged with the charge of commercialism by purists, Grover Washington, Jr. was one of the founders of the smooth jazz-pop style that gained wide public favor from the 1970s through the 1990s. By the late 1990s he had outlasted many of the styles other early practitioners and seen his music influence such commercial giants as Kenny G. Music lovers appreciation for Washingtons own albums and live performances has hardly diminished.

Born in Buffalo, New York on December 12, 1943, Washington came from a musical family. His mother sang in church choirs, and his father, who played the saxophone and maintained a large collection of jazz 78 RPM records, bought a sax for his son at the age of ten. We came out of the ghetto, Washington was quoted as saying by Irwin Stambler, but despite that fact, and despite Buffalos cold winter climate, the city had a warm creative atmosphere, as far as I was concerned. His parents encouraged him to study classical music as well as jazz, and these studies proved beneficial later in Washingtons career, honing his sight-reading skills and instilling in him a bent toward musical composition.

Snuck Out to Jazz Clubs

As a teenager Washington snuck out to jazz clubs and even performed with a blues band. Id play in a club until three oclock in the morning, then be at school at quarter to eight, he recalled, according to Stambler. His brother Darryl became a jazz drummer who backed such stars as Angela Bofill and Gato Barbieri. Washington also hoped for a basketball career, but was frustrated by his small stature (he stands 5 feet, 8 ½ inches tall). Graduating from high school at the age of 16, he immediately formed a rhythm-and-blues group called the Four Clefs, which toured with some success around the Midwest and the rest of the country.

This phase of Washingtons career was cut short when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965, just as American troops were becoming enmeshed in the Vietnam conflict. Washington assumed he was headed for Southeast Asia, but his musical talents came to the rescue; he won a spot in the 19th Army Band. Stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Washington found himself conveniently situated for an attempt to continue building his musical career. He played with various ensembles in

At a Glance

Born December 12, 1943 in Buffalo, NY; married wife Christine in 1967; children Crover III and Shana. Education: Attended Wurlitzer School of Music, Temple University, Philadelphia. Military service: United States Army, 1965-67.

Career: Saxophonist with over 25 solo albums; has also appeared on albums by other artists. Debut release Inner City Blues (1971 ) came about when Washington filled in for another saxophonist; released million-selling Mister Magic (1975), Signed with Motown Records, late 1970s; signed with Elektra Records, 1979; Winelight album (1980) featured hit single lust the Two of Us/ topped Billboard jazz chart for 31 weeks. Signed with Columbia Records, 1987. Performed at inauguration of President Bill Clinton, 1993.

Awards: Six gold albums (sales of 500,000 units), one platinum album (sales of 1,000,000 units, for Winelight) from Recording Industry Association of America; one Grammy Award (1981, Best Jazz Fusion Performance, again for Winelight); numerous other awards.

Addresses: c/o Zane Management, Inc., The Bellevue, 6th floor, Broad and Walnut Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19102.

the New York and Philadelphia areas, and performed and made friends with drummer Billy Cobham, another jazz-pop pioneer.

Breakthrough as Session Substitute

Discharged from the Army in 1967, the newly married musician worked for a record distributor while steadily gaining recognition as a jazz baritone-sax sideman. His breakthrough in the music profession came in 1971, when he was snared by Kudu record label producer Creed Taylor as a last-minute recording-session replacement for the absent saxophonist Hank Crawford. Washington was to fill in on alto saxophone, an instrument he had not played since he had left the Army. Playing a rented instrument, Washington delivered a recording, released under his own name as Inner City Blues, that in the words of New York Times critic Robert Palmer, sold hundreds of thousands of copies and did much to break down barriers between jazz and pop.

Washingtons subsequent albums for Kudu continued his upward trajectory, with Mister Magic (1974) and Live at the Bijou (1978) meeting with special success. Washington energetically promoted his records on his own, and, in search of stronger label backing, moved first to Motown and then to Elektra at the end of the 1970s. The Winelight album of 1980, his second for Elektra, made him a superstar. It remained on Billboard magazines pop chart for 102 weeks and was Number One on the jazz chart for 31 weeks. On the album Washington performed a duet with vocalist Bill Withers, Just the Two of Us; the two musicians, with their shared sophisticated-yet-earthy styling, complemented each other perfectly, and the recording remains one of Washingtons best known.

Washington was not the first jazz musician to adopt pop and R&B influences, but his mixtures were new and convincing ones. Like other instrumentalists he performed jazz improvisations over a rock or urban contemporary beat; his improvisations were musically sophisticated but never lost the directness of the popular forms in which they were based. Washington, who was encouraged by his wife Christine to listen to more pop music, saw his music become a staple of various urban contemporary radio formats through the 1980s and beyond. And he was no temporary pop phenomenon. Most of his 1980s Elektra albums remained in print in the late 1990s.

Recorded Acoustic Jazz

Signing with the Columbia label in 1987, Washington kept up a steady schedule of releases. It was not until the 1990s that he relaxed somewhat in his pace of making new music. While continuing to make music that appealed to his large fan base, he took steps to address the concerns of critics who deplored the commercialism of his style. He made two albums, 1988s Then and Now and 1994s All My Tomorrows, that moved in the direction of straight-ahead acoustic jazz, toning down the popular rhythm tracks that had defined much of his music. If you dont do things like this every now and then, Washington told Down Beat in 1994, people think you dont know how. Most of us are multi-faceted, just like diamonds. Other albums, such as 1992s Next Exit, were more commercially oriented.

His success and celebrity assuredhe performed at the inauguration ceremonies for President and fellow sax-man Bill Clinton in 1993Washington branched out into new areas in the 1990s. He collaborated with Boston Pops conductor John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra on a recording of music from the film A Place in the Sun for an album called The Hollywood Sound. And he remained alert to contemporary pop trends: the Soulful Strut album of 1996 ventured into hip-hop, acid jazz, and African rhythm. A Christmas album, his first, appeared late in 1997. Many of his concerts, though, continued to feature the jazz-pop instrumentals that brought him his own place in the sun. As a Washington Post critic noted in 1997, few people have played this music longer or more successfully than Washington.

Selected discography

Inner City Blues, Mo Jazz (originally released by Kudu), 1972.

Mister Magic, Mo Jazz (originally released by Kudu), 1975.

Winelight, Elektra, 1980 (contains Just the Two of Us).

Come Morning, Elektra, 1981.

The Best Is Yet to Come, Elektra, 1982.

Inside Moves, Elektra, 1984.

Strawberry Moon, Columbia, 1987.

Then and Now, Columbia, 1988.

Next Exit, Columbia, 1992.

All My Tomorrows, Columbia, 1994.

Soulful Strut, Columbia, 1996.

Anthology: The Best of Grower Washington, Jr., Motown, 1996.

Breath of Heaven, Columbia, 1997 (Christmas album).

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, volume 5, Gale Research, 1994.

Coryell, Julie, and Laura Friedman, Jazz-Rock Fusion: The People, The Music, Dell, 1978.

Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, St. Martins, 1989.

Periodicals

Billboard, December 20, 1997.

Down Beat, October 1980; September 1993; September 1994.

Los Angeles Times, February 12, 1989.

New York Times, April 24, 1981.

People, May 18, 1981; February 7, 1983; October 29, 1984; April 22, 1985.

USA Today, September 27, 1996.

Washington Post, June 6, 1997.

James M. Manheim

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Washington, Grover Jr. 1943–1999

Grover Washington, Jr. 19431999

Jazz saxophonist

Snuck Out to Jazz Clubs

Breakthrough as Session Substitute

Recorded Acoustic Jazz

Selected discography

Sources

One of the finest musicians ever tagged with the charge of commercialism by purists, Grover Washington, Jr., was one of the founders of the smooth jazz-pop style that gained wide public favor from the 1970s through the 1990s. By the late 1990s he had produced albums in a range of styles and seen his music influence such commercial giants as Kenny G. Music lovers appreciation for Washingtons music was hardly diminished by his untimely death in 1999.

Snuck Out to Jazz Clubs

Born in Buffalo, New York, on December 12, 1943, Washington came from a musical family. His mother sang in church choirs, and his father, who played the saxophone and maintained a large collection of jazz 78 RPM records, bought a sax for his son at the age of ten. We came out of the ghetto, Washington said in the Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, but despite that fact, and despite Buffalos cold winter climate, the city had a warm creative atmosphere, as far as I was concerned. His parents encouraged him to study classical music as well as jazz, and these studies proved beneficial later in Washingtons career, honing his sightreading skills and instilling in him a bent toward musical composition.

As a teenager Washington snuck out to jazz clubs and even performed with a blues band. Id play in a club until three oclock in the morning, then be at school at quarter to eight, he recalled to the Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul. His brother Darryl became a jazz drummer who backed such stars as Angela Bofill and Gato Barbieri. Washington also hoped for a basketball career, but was frustrated by his small stature (he stood 5 feet, 8-1/2 inches tall). Graduating from high school at the age of 16, he immediately formed a rhythm-and-blues group called the Four Clefs, which toured with some success around the Midwest and the rest of the country.

This phase of Washingtons career was cut short when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965, just as American troops were becoming enmeshed in the Vietnam conflict. Washington assumed he was headed for Southeast Asia, but his musical talents came to the rescue: he won a spot in the 19th Army Band. Stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Washington found

At a Glance

Born on December 12, 1943, in Buffalo, NY; died on December 17, 1999, in New York, NY; married Christine, 1967; children: Crover III, Shana. Education: Attended Wurlitzer School of Music; attended Temple University, Philadelphia. Military service: United States Army, 1965-67.

Career: Four Clefs, saxophonist, 1963; 19th Army Band, saxophonist, 1965-67; Don Gardners Sonotones, saxophonist, 1967-68; solo saxophonist, 1971-99.

Selected awards: Six gold albums; platinum album for Winelight, Grammy Award, Best Jazz Fusion Performance, for Winelight, 1981.

himself conveniently situated to continue building his musical career. He played with various ensembles in and around New York and Philadelphia, and performed and made friends with drummer Billy Cobham, another jazz-pop pioneer.

Breakthrough as Session Substitute

Discharged from the Army in 1967, the newly married musician worked for a record distributor while steadily gaining recognition as a jazz baritone-sax sideman. His breakthrough in the music profession came in 1971, when he was snared by Kudu record label producer Creed Taylor as a last-minute recording-session replacement for absent saxophonist Hank Crawford. Washington was to fill in on alto saxophone, an instrument he had not played since he had left the Army. Playing a rented instrument, Washington delivered a recording, released under his own name as Inner City Blues, that in the words of New York Times critic Robert Palmer, sold hundreds of thousands of copies and did much to break down barriers between jazz and pop.

Washingtons subsequent albums for Kudu continued his upward trajectory in the 1970s, with Mister Magic and Live at the Bijou meeting with special success. Washington energetically promoted his records on his own, and, in search of stronger label backing, moved first to Motown and then to Elektra at the end of the 1970s. The 1980 album Winelight, his second for Elektra, made him a superstar. It remained on Billboard magazines pop chart for 102 weeks and was Number One on the jazz chart for 31 weeks. On the album Washington performed a duet with vocalist Bill Withers, Just the Two of Us; the two musicians, with their shared sophisticated-yet-earthy styling, complemented each other perfectly, and the recording remains one of Washingtons best known.

Washington was not the first jazz musician to adopt pop and R&B influences, but his mixtures were new and convincing ones. Like other instrumentalists he performed jazz improvisations over a rock or urban contemporary beat; his improvisations were musically sophisticated but never lost the directness of the popular forms in which they were based. Washington, who was encouraged by his wife, Christine, to listen to more pop music, saw his music become a staple of various urban contemporary radio formats through the 1980s and beyond. And he was no temporary pop phenomenon. Most of his 1980s Elektra albums remained in print in the late 1990s.

Recorded Acoustic Jazz

Signing with the Columbia label in 1987, Washington kept up a steady schedule of releases. It was not until the 1990s that he relaxed somewhat in his pace of making new music. While continuing to make music that appealed to his large fan base, he took steps to address the concerns of critics who deplored the commercialism of his style. He made two albums, 1988s Then and Now and 1994s All My Tomorrows, that moved in the direction of straight-ahead acoustic jazz, toning down the popular rhythm tracks that had defined much of his music. If you dont do things like this every now and then, Washington told Down Beat in 1994, people think you dont know how. Most of us are multi-faceted, just like diamonds. Other albums, such as 1992s Next Exit, were more commercially oriented.

His success and celebrity assuredhe performed at the inauguration ceremonies for President and fellow saxman Bill Clinton in 1993Washington branched out into new areas in the 1990s. He collaborated with Boston Pops conductor John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra on a recording of music from the film A Place in the Sun for an album called The Hollywood Sound. And he remained alert to contemporary pop trends: the 1996 album Soulful Strut ventured into hip-hop, acid jazz, and African rhythm. A Christmas album, his first, appeared late in 1997. Many of his concerts, though, continued to feature the jazz-pop instrumentals that brought him his own place in the sun. As a Washington Post critic noted in 1997, few people have played this music longer or more successfully than Washington.

Washington died on December 17, 1999, following the taping of an appearance on CBS-TVs Saturday Early Show. Jazzman Sonny Rollins told Downbeat: He was one of the best people we had in this music, both on a human level and as a great player. In 2001 Jason Miles worked with a range of recording artists to put together a tribute album called To Grover, with Love.

Selected discography

Inner City Blues, Mo Jazz (originally released by Kudu), 1972.

Mister Magic, Mo Jazz (originally released by Kudu), 1975.

Winelight, Elektra, 1980 (contains Just the Two of Us).

Come Morning, Elektra, 1981.

The Best Is Yet to Come, Elektra, 1982.

Inside Moves, Elektra, 1984.

Strawberry Moon, Columbia, 1987.

Then and Now, Columbia, 1988.

Next Exit, Columbia, 1992.

All My Tomorrows, Columbia, 1994.

Soulful Strut, Columbia, 1996.

Anthology: The Best of Grover Washington, Jr., Motown, 1996.

Breath of Heaven, Sony, 1997.

Prime Cuts: The Greatest Hits 1987-1999, Columbia, 1999.

Aria, Sony, 2000.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, Vol. 5, Gale, 1994.

Coryell, Julie, and Laura Friedman, Jazz-Rock Fusion: The People, The Music, Dell, 1978.

Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, St. Martins, 1989.

Periodicals

Billboard, December 20, 1997.

Down Beat, October 1980; September 1993; September 1994; March 2000.

Los Angeles Times, February 12, 1989.

New York Times, April 24, 1981.

People, May 18, 1981; February 7, 1983; October 29, 1984; April 22, 1985.

USA Today, September 27, 1996.

Washington Post, June 6, 1997.

Other

To Grover, with Love (tribute album), Atlantic, 2001.

James M. Manheim and Tom Pendergast

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"Washington, Grover Jr. 1943–1999." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Washington, Grover Jr. 1943–1999." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved May 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/washington-grover-jr-1943-1999

Urban Knights

Urban Knights


Jazz group


The smooth jazz group Urban Knights has brought together some of the best-known names in the field of smooth jazz, along with rising new talent, for a series of albums showcasing both new music and covers. The group's original lineup, created for a self-titled debut in 1995, featured Ramsey Lewis on piano and Grover Washington, Jr. on saxophone, backed up by Omar Hakim on drums and Victor Bailey on bass. As the mainstay of the group, Ramsey Lewis is the only member who has been with the group since its inception, appearing on all of their albums. The group's releases include Urban Knights in 1995, Urban Knights II in 1997, Urban Knights III in 2000, Urban Knights IV in 2001, and Urban Knights V, which hit music store shelves in 2003.


The collaborative group was the brain child of record label GRP's vice president, Carl Griffin. Griffin wanted to find a new project for Ramsey Lewis, who had been a GRP artist for some years, and he hit upon the idea of a "super group" composed of some of the brightest lights in smooth jazz.


Griffin realized right away that saxophonist Grover Washington would make a great addition to his proposed team. Washington and Lewis had played together previously, collaborating on two albums, Lewis's Live at the Savoy in 1982 and Next Exit, one of Washington's albums, in the early 1990s.


Looking for a rhythm section, Griffin hit upon bassist Victor Bailey and drummer Omar Hakim, who had played together in the band Weather Report, and who, at the time of the Urban Knights' formation, were on the road together as part of pop star Madonna's band.

Finally, Griffin found in Maurice White the perfect choice to produce and compose for the group. White had been the founder and leader of the highly successful group Earth, Wind & Fire, and had worked with Lewis as a drummer in the mid-1960s. He had also played in concert tours with Lewis as part of the Ramsey Lewis Trio. In 1975 White had produced a hit by Lewis titled "Sun Goddess."

The first Urban Knights studio sessions took place in Chicago in 1994. The sessions had an informal, improvisational flavor, with all of the musicians contributing to the creative mix. Many of the tunes for the first Urban Knights album were improvised on the spot and shaped into the final tracks with White's help. With three songs recorded each day of the studio sessions, often on a single take, the recording of the group's debut, Urban Knights, took only ten days.

For Hakim the sessions were a particularly heady time, since he had grown up listening to Earth, Wind & Fire albums and greatly admired White as the leader of that band. He acknowledged on the Verve Music Group website that for him the collaboration was a dream come true. He also praised the working relationship of all the band members on that first album as a kind of melding of minds, adding that it felt as though they had all been playing together for years. Hakim had been a member of the band Weather Report, and had played with Marcus Miller, Sting, David Bowie, and Miles Davis, among others, before launching a solo career as a drummer.

Victor Bailey came to the group with a broad range of experience working with famous jazz players such as Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter, as well as with rapper LL Cool J and R&B musician Kashif. Before joining the Urban Knights, the versatile bassist had proven himself equally adept at playing pop music (with Madonna's touring band), R&B (as part of Will Downing's band, in addition to Kashif), and jazz (with Roy Haynes).

Keyboardist Ramsey Lewis had been a successful recording artist since the 1950s. When he helped to found the Urban Knights, he was following a longstanding interest in fusing pop music with jazz. His jazz recordings had a strong pop sensibility from the beginning. The first group with which he recorded was a trio composed of himself, Eldee Young, and Red Holt. Formed in 1956, that group made its first album in 1958. Lewis found a wide following in the 1960s with his albums The In Crowd and Hang On. Lewis won two Grammy Awards in the 1960s, for his hit song "The In Crowd" in 1965 and for "Hold It Right There" in 1966. He also won a Grammy in 1973 for "Hang on Sloopy."

Grover Washington, already legendary as a saxophone player when he joined the Urban Knights, has been cited as an inspiration to a generation of sax players, including Kenny G. and George Howard. In addition to his prior work with Ramsey Lewis, Washington came to the Urban Knights with extensive experience as a producer for the likes of Barbara Strei-sand, Neil Diamond, and many other well-known recording artists.


Urban Knights became a critical and popular success after its 1995 release, landing high on the contemporary jazz charts. Although the quintet of White, Bailey, Hakim, Washington, and Lewis formed the creative center of Urban Knights at its inception, many other rappers, trumpet players, guitarists, keyboardists, and drummers have contributed as players to each of the group's albums. In fact, Lewis has remained the band's only ongoing member. After that first album, the overriding concept of the band became the idea that the quality and style of the music itself could remain consistent, even when played by an ever-changing lineup of musicians. The group's second studio outing, Urban Knights II, featured, in addition to Lewis, Gerald Albright and Najee on saxophones, Jonathan Butler as singer and guitarist, and drummer Sonny Emory. Hailing from South Africa, and contributing African and South American-inspired vocals on such tracks as "South African Jam" and "Brazilian Rain," Butler lent an international flavor to the proceedings. Urban Knights II was released on the GRP label in 1997.

By the Urban Knights' third album, Urban Knights III, Lewis had begun to see his group as a vehicle for showcasing promising young talent from the Chicago area as one of its missions. Also with this album, the group moved from GRP to the Narada label. Released in 2000, Urban Knights III featured, in addition to Lewis on piano, the talents of Kevin Randolph on keyboards, Sharay Reed on bass, Calvin Rodgers on drums, Stereo, and many others.

For the Record . . .

Members include Victor Bailey , bass; Omar Hakim , drums; Ramsey Lewis (born on May 27, 1935, in Chicago, IL), piano; Grover Washington, Jr. , saxophone; Maurice White , composer.


Group formed in Chicago, IL, 1994; released debut album Urban Knights on GRP label, 1995; released albums Urban Knights II on GRP, 1997; signed with Narada label; released Urban Knights III, 2000; Urban Knights IV, 2001; Urban Knights V, 2003.


Addresses: Record company Narada Productions, Inc., 4650 N. Port Washington Rd, Milwaukee, WI 53212, website: http://www.narada.com.

Urban Knights IV, released on Narada in 2001, saw Lewis again leading Randolph, Reed, Rodgers and a host of new musicians in playing both covers and original tunes. Urban Knights V was released in 2003.



Selected discography

Urban Knights, GRP, 1995.

Urban Knights II, GRP, 1997.

Urban Knights III, Narada, 2000.

Urban Knights IV, Narada, 2001.

Urban Knights V, Narada, 2003.



Sources

Periodicals

Los Angeles Times, May 25, 1997, p. 61.

St. Petersburg Times, September 29, 1995, p. 23.


Online

"Ramsey Lewis," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 13, 2003).

Ramsey Lewis Official Website, http://www.ramseylewis.com (November 13, 2003).

"Urban Knights," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 13, 2003).

Narada Productions, Inc., http://www.narada.com (December 15, 2003).

"Urban Knights," Verve Music Group, http://www.vervemusicgroup.com/product.aspx?pid=9378 (November 13, 2003).


Michael Belfiore

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"Urban Knights." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Urban Knights." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved May 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/urban-knights