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Grady Tate: From the Heart

Presumably, all jazz singers study the masters, but none can claim as close scrutiny as Grady Tate. Though his official bio from Howard University, where he’s served on the faculty for nearly two decades, claims Tate began singing before he first picked up a pair of drumsticks, it is as an exceptional timekeeper and session drummer that he has earned his greatest fame, working on hundreds of recordings with the best in the business, including Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Lena Horne and Chris Connor (plus Stan Getz, Count Basie, Jimmy Smith and Quincy Jones). But in recent decades, Tate has shifted focus, accepting only occasional drumming gigs while concentrating on a singing career that has garnered him two Grammy nominations.

Tate’s rumbling baritone has often been likened, quite validly, to Johnny Hartman, Arthur Prysock and Lou Rawls. Stylistically, though, he more closely resembles the great (and, like Tate, significantly underappreciated) Bill Henderson. Perhaps taking a page from Henderson’s playbook, Tate opens this 58-minute set, recorded six years ago at New York’s Blue Note, with “You Are My Sunshine,” the same tune that ignited Henderson’s landmark 1963 album with the Oscar Peterson Trio. As Henderson was then, Tate is provided superlative accompaniment, here from Bill Charlap on piano, Jay Leonhart on bass, Dennis Mackrel on drums, Glen Drews on trumpet and Bill Easley on sax and flute.

The nine-track set’s literal and creative centerpiece is a nine-minute journey through the Africa-meets-Brazil majesty of “Little Black Samba” (a tune well-known to Tate, since he played drums on Grover Washington Jr.’s 1980 recording). Equally noteworthy, particularly for Charlap fans, are twilit voice-and-piano treatments of “Lush Life” and “It Might as Well Be Spring” as inspiring as anything accomplished by Henderson with Peterson.

Originally Published