CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

Time Is on Dave Grusin’s Side

The pianist, composer, and executive is the subject of a revealing new film

Dave Grusin
Dave Grusin

During the documentary Dave Grusin: Not Enough Time, there’s a clip of the keyboardist and composer seated at his piano during a concert. He tells the audience, “I have a gratitude factor that I can’t even express about being allowed to have this kind of life.”

And what a life it’s been. Over a career spanning six decades, Grusin touched virtually every corner of the entertainment world. He scored dozens of major films, including Tootsie, The Firm, The Fabulous Baker Boys, and On Golden Pond, earning eight Oscar nominations and winning one, for his score of The Milagro Beanfield War in 1988. He composed the themes to a slew of hit TV shows like St. Elsewhere, Maude, Good Times, and Baretta. As a recording artist he’s won 10 Grammys, and as the co-founder of the massively successful jazz label GRP Records he helped pioneer digital recording technology. We all know his work, yet many people don’t know his name or the astonishing breadth of his artistry. Dave Grusin: Not Enough Time aims to change that.

“For a long time, we were going to call the film He Did That?” the documentary’s director and producer, Barbara Bentree, says by phone from her Santa Fe home. “I didn’t even know some of the stuff that he had done.”

Part oral history, part affectionate tribute, Dave Grusin: Not Enough Time traces the now 85-year-old artist’s ascent from singer Andy Williams’ pianist/bandleader (in one delightful clip, a twentysomething Grusin participates in a comedy bit with Williams and Jack Benny on Williams’ 1960s TV show) to Hollywood giant.

Throughout the film, Grusin is open and reflective about his life and work. He says when composing his scores, the visual dictates the music he’ll create. “The thing that impresses me about a film and that triggers any kind of idea isn’t what the story is about at all—or has very little to do with it,” he explains. “It’s what it looks like.” Bentree adds that during production, “someone said something about color. [Grusin] said, ‘I don’t see color. I hear it.’”

Andy Williams’ band included a drummer named Larry Rosen, and in 1978 he and Grusin formed Grusin-Rosen Productions, which became GRP Records. In the film, bassist Marcus Miller says he thinks it was the pair’s ability to speak the same language as the artists on their roster that set GRP apart from other labels. “You didn’t get in the music business unless you were a music lover,” he says. “But there’s another level when you’re talking about somebody like Dave Grusin, Larry Rosen, who were musicians, who could communicate to the musicians if something wasn’t right exactly what wasn’t right. And I think that made it special.”

GRP embraced the then-nascent CD technology, becoming the first all-digital label. Says guitarist Lee Ritenour, one of the label’s stars, “They beat all the big guys, because the big guys were still so invested in vinyl.” Grusin credits Rosen, who died in 2015, for much of GRP’s success, and he dedicates Dave Grusin: Not Enough Time to his former partner’s memory.

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Larry Rosen and Dave Grusin
Larry Rosen (L) and Dave Grusin in their younger days (photo: Andy Baltimore)

Remarkably, music wasn’t Grusin’s first ambition. Growing up in Littleton, Colorado as the eldest of three children (brother Don is also a successful jazz keyboardist), he was profoundly influenced by his father Henri, a Latvian-born watchmaker and accomplished violinist who saw to it that his children received music lessons.

But Grusin wanted to be a veterinarian, and in the film he recalls that shortly before he was due to begin veterinary studies, he experienced what he calls “this terrible pang of guilt about my father having put all this time and energy into my music education.” He adds, “He never discouraged me from going this agricultural route, but I kept thinking, ‘Wait a minute. Maybe I ought to try music for a minute just to see if it would work. I know it would make him happier—even if he wouldn’t admit to it.’” Years later, when Grusin’s alma mater, the University of Colorado, Boulder, wanted to name its music hall for him, he asked that the university name it in honor of his father.

Although he continues to perform live and create music for select projects, Grusin leads a quieter life these days. The documentary includes scenes of him fly-fishing in a river near his ranch in Montana surrounded by magnificent scenery, and affectionately playing with a child—presumably a grandchild—while sitting at a beautiful blonde Steinway piano at his home in New Mexico.

Dave Grusin: Not Enough Time screened last year at jazz and film festivals, and Bentree says she expects it to be available on streaming platforms throughout the first quarter of this year. “I think it’s been an opportunity for [Grusin] to really look back,” she says. “My deepest hope is just that he feels like it’s been a good ride and that he’s made a contribution. And certainly, I know he’s starting to get a sense of how much people have appreciated him.”

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Lucy Tauss

Lucy Tauss is a New York City-based music journalist and longtime JazzTimes contributor. She is also a radio and audio producer/writer/editor/journalist who covers news, entertainment and everything in between.