By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — Al Grey was one of modern jazz’s premier soloists, a superb soloist and influential figure who played in several great big bands and also a number of fine small groups. This Sunday the latest special presentation in the Jazz On the Move series spotlights his work and impact. “Jazz On The Move: Life & Music of Al Grey” will be held at the Frist Art Museum. It’s being presented by fellow trombonist and educator Roland Barber.
He’ll be heading a fine group whose personnel includes besides Barber saxophonist Denis Solee, pianist Bryan Harrison, bassist John “Bird” Birdsong and drummer Thomas Lee Spann. The doors open at 2 p.m., with music starting at 3 p.m. As usual, the program combines a lecture and performance component.
Albert Thornton “Al” Grey was born on June 6, 1925 and was raised in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He began gaining nororiety for his playing with Benny Carter’s Big Band, and then with Lionel Hampton’s band (1948-1952), where he began using a plunger as a mute to create a vocal, conversational approach to his solos. This innovation would become a signature of Al’s, and his playful improvisations won over audiences around the world.
Later Grey worked as a studio musician for Decca in the early 1950s. He was a featured soloist with the Count Basie Orchestra between 1957 and 1961, and again from 1964 to 1977. Grey also led his own groups and was a prolific sideman.
Roland Barber says of Grey “few musicians have impacted my artistry the way that Al Grey has. His attention to detail, timing, and raw communication knocked my out from the first few notes I ever heard him play! His efforts shaped my early aspirations and I can tell you, anyone seeking to follow after his style will quickly realize that, while his music is brimming full of spirit and vitality, it’s not for one second at the expense of saavy expertise and veteran know-how. I am thankful that I had the pleasure to be in his audience, to shake his hand, and to hear his wise advice! Just Like Al’s personality came across to me, you can expect this performance to be lively, intriguing, funny, and heartfelt. It’s an honor to present this man’s music and celebrate his legacy.”
Jazz on the Move” Life & Music of Al Grey, Sunday at the Frist Art Museum, 919 Broadway. Doors open at 2 p.m. The music begins at 3 p.m.