Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Before & After With Larry Grenadier

Searching for something fundamental

Mel Torme
Miroslav Vitous, Skopje Jazz Festival, Oct. 2011
Larry Grenadier(photo: Pat Kepic)
Larry Grenadier(photo: Pat Kepic)

Prior to settling into steady gigs with the Brad Mehldau Trio and Fly, bassist Larry Grenadier cut his teeth with Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Betty Carter, Gary Burton and Pat Metheny, all before his 35th birthday. Despite this impressive résumé, Grenadier, now 49, has never rested on his laurels; an eternal student, he took time in the early 2000s to study with Ron Carter. Over the past decade, Grenadier’s constellation of collaborators has become tighter and more long-term, a rarity in a scene that all but requires musical chairs stay afloat.

Grenadier lives in Ulster County, 90 miles north of New York City, with his wife, vocalist Rebecca Martin, and their son. (Martin is a solo artist and a founder of the vocal trio Tillery, along with Gretchen Parlato and Becca Stevens, and the alt-folk group Once Blue.) Even with the move Grenadier has remained very active, if more selective, in his touring schedule. He recently toured Japan and Hong Kong with guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel and drummer Jeff Ballard, a collaborator in Mehldau’s trio and Fly, followed by a residency at Rockwood Music Hall with Upstate, a new band featuring Martin and pianist-composer Guillermo Klein. He is currently preparing for a spring tour with Mehldau, as well as honing a duo project with Ballard. In early January, Grenadier sat down at Columbia University for his first Before & After session.

1. Miles Davis

“Dear Old Stockholm” (from ‘Round About Midnight, Columbia). Davis, trumpet; John Coltrane, tenor saxophone; Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Philly Joe Jones, drums. Recorded in 1955-56.

BEFORE: It’s so obvious who it is right away. It’s amazing how it doesn’t sound dated whatsoever. It’s just the best on every level of what we try to do-sound, rhythm, melody. [Chambers] is getting to stretch out, man. It’s amazing that he got the first solo. It tells you how much Miles respected him as a soloist. This is one of the first Miles records I heard when I was just picking up the upright bass, but I hear [Chambers] in the same way I heard him back then. What attracted me, even as a 13-year-old, was the clarity of the information and how beautifully melodic it was, but it seemed so powerful.

I saw Ray Brown at around the same time, and to compare the two, this was really different. They really reinvented the instrument. When I heard Ray Brown it was such powerful rhythm. It was like a locomotive, and with Paul Chambers it was a little smoother and driving in a different way. He was such a complete bass player and a complete musician-the way he played on this or [Herbie Hancock’s] Inventions & Dimensions and [Miles’] Porgy and Bess. It was a revolutionary way of playing jazz. I could talk about Paul Chambers all day.

2. Oscar Pettiford

“Why Not? That’s What!” (from Montmartre Blues, Black Lion). Pettiford, bass; Allan Botschinsky, trumpet; Erik Nordström, tenor saxophone; Louis Hjulmand, vibraphone; Jan Johansson, piano; Jørn Elniff, drums. Recorded in 1959-60.

BEFORE:
AFTER: This is his response to “So What.”

Pettiford claimed that “So What” was inspired by his own “Bohemia After Dark.”

It’s got modal elements. He really bridged the gap between swing and bebop. As a bass player he’s the epitome of how to be really clear: sonically, rhythmically-his basslines are supportive. He really connected to dance music; it’s so groovin’. With Copenhagen, it’s amazing how they caught on to what was happening so quickly. Oscar died there-a tragic story. He always sounds great, especially when he started doing “Stardust” and solo versions of tunes. I’m sure he’s one of the first guys to do that at such a high level.

3. Charles Lloyd Quartet

“Third Floor Richard” (from Of Course, Of Course, Columbia). Lloyd, flute; Gabor Szabo, guitar; Ron Carter, bass; Tony Williams, drums. Recorded in 1965.

BEFORE: Of Course, Of Course. I love Ron on this. This is one of my favorite records. It’s always great to hear Ron and Tony in another context, outside of Miles. They’re so advanced and so fundamentally swinging. It’s like R&B, in a way. It’s great to hear Ron on a blues, and hear how he took the bassline to another level. I’ve played this with Charles before. It’s a great recording too-great sound, perfectly constructed basslines. He was such a huge influence on every bass player after him.

I love Charles on flute. And how Ron solos, it’s really an extension of the bassline. … When he starts soloing he frees it up a bit, but he’s functioning as a bass player the whole time. I love the R&B side of him. That’s why he plays on some of those great records. It really fits so well with the way he played bass. He didn’t have to play electric bass: On upright, it’s super groovin’.

4. Mel Tormé

“Games People Play” (from A Time for Us, Capitol). Tormé, vocals; Carol Kaye, bass; Harold Jones, drums; various horns, including trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison. Recorded in 1969.

BEFORE: It’s Carol Kaye-ish. Is it Carol Kaye? You’re nailing my earliest influences. Is this Mel Tormé?

AFTER: I love Carol Kaye.

Allegedly, she improvised this bassline on the spot to wake up the drummer, who was falling asleep in the studio and dragging.

If you listen to some of these records, and to the soundtracks to TV shows [of the 1960s and ’70s], you go to her right away. A lot of this tune is what she’s playing. It’s like what James Jamerson was doing with Motown and his basslines. It’s such an integral part of the tune. I love that about the bass. It kind of wipes out the whole genre issue, because the bass does the same thing in every type of music. Here, the bass is up in the mix. Electric bass players like her, and Jerry Jemmott, these guys were huge in how I think about bass. I always tell people when I do lessons, “Steal from everybody.” The electric bass players have so much to offer us.

5. Miroslav Vitous

“Freedom Jazz Dance” (from Mountain in the Clouds, Atlantic). Vitous, bass; Joe Henderson, tenor saxophone; John McLaughlin, guitar; Herbie Hancock, electric piano; Jack DeJohnette, drums. Recorded in 1969.

BEFORE: Miroslav. It’s an amazing record, and I think it’s overlooked. Weather Report is about to start, and Miles is doing his last of the ’60s stuff. What a shift! Talk about wiping out genres. Imagine seeing this live. Miroslav is just a towering figure on the bass. I don’t think anybody plays the bass physically better than he does. He really gets through the instrument so well. He’s so free, and very conversational in his phrasing. I think of him, especially in this moment in time, like [Gary] Peacock, Albert Stinson-the way they phrase is very vocal. It’s not really bebop phrasing; it’s as we talk. It’s more geometrical.

I love Jack [DeJohnette] so much. And what a way to play guitar. Who would play guitar like this now? Funky Joe [Henderson]-Joe’s kind of like Miles, in the sense that he knows exactly when to bring everything back into focus, and there’s no doubt about it. So he goes off on his trails, you join him, and then you’re back in and it’s really clear. It’s amazing that they got to that in the studio. That’s what’s really hard to do in a studio situation. This is something that happened more at the turn of the decade, such a fertile moment. It sounds so great, and just as a bass-player record it really moved the instrument along.

6. Stan Getz

“Day Waves” (from Captain Marvel, Columbia). Getz, tenor saxophone; Chick Corea, electric piano, composer; Stanley Clarke, bass; Tony Williams, drums; Airto Moreira, percussion. Recorded in 1972.

BEFORE: Is this a Stan Getz record with Stanley? I don’t really know this record. Captain Marvel? It’s Tony and Chick. There’s that great video of them playing at Montreux [now available on DVD and CD from Eagle Eye Media as Live at Montreux 1972].

AFTER: I love hearing Stanley on upright. I grew up with him. He was a big influence on me at first, one of the first bass players I heard. In a way, I like hearing him play upright more than electric. I think he’s great on both.

What a testament to Stan Getz to have such a young band and to also give them a writing opportunity. He can play anything. He went through history staying completely contemporary, yet he always sounded like Stan Getz. Miles did that, but not too many other people really maintained their identity and the way they approached music.

I like the acoustic bass with the Rhodes. That’s a distinct Stanley way of playing the samba, too. He really came up with his own way of playing the bass. This must be right before Return to Forever. Maybe it’s his classical training, but he’s not really playing with a typical bebop vocabulary. It’s his own language, and now you hear it everywhere.

To read the rest of this story, purchase the issue in print or from the Apple Newsstand. Print and digital subscriptions are also available. Originally Published