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

The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Grant Green

A look at the outsized musicianship and influence of the legendary guitarist

Grant Green in 1961
Grant Green rehearsing for the 1961 Blue Note recording session that would become the “Standards” album (photo: Francis Wolff/Mosaic Images)

Odd as it seems, Grant Green (1935-1979) is simultaneously one of the most and least celebrated guitarists in jazz history. He was certainly one of the most prolific. The writer and radio personality Bob Porter, in his Soul Jazz: Jazz in the Black Community, 1945-1975, notes that the St. Louis native played on 15 sessions for Blue Note Records in 1961, 18 more in 1962 and another 18 in 1963. He made 22 albums as a leader between 1960 and 1965, according to veteran producer Michael Cuscuna. Only 14 were released at the time, but soon after Green’s tragic death at age 43, the shelved material began to surface. More and more has emerged from the vaults over the decades, the latest additions being two live albums from Resonance Records, Funk in France: From Paris to Antibes (1969-1970) and Slick! Live at Oil Can Harry’s (from Vancouver, 1975).

However, despite Green’s level of exposure, this swinging, bluesy, lyrical musician remains an underdog in the guitar pantheon. Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall are more commonly mentioned as influences. In soul-jazz and organ jazz, Green’s protégé George Benson became the dominant force, followed by Pat Martino. Though Green worked regularly and had staunch admirers, he chafed at the fact that “the premier black jazz guitarist slot was never opened up to him, even after Wes Montgomery’s death [in 1968],” as Sharony Andrews-Green wrote in her 1999 biography Grant Green: Rediscovering the Forgotten Genius of Jazz Guitar.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published