Happy Monday, Everyone! This Week we’re featuring the music of Mr. Grover Washington, Jr.
Grover Washington, Jr. (December 12, 1943 – December 17, 1999) was an American jazz-funk / soul-jazzsaxophonist. Along with George Benson, John Klemmer, David Sanborn, Bob James, Chuck Mangione, Herb Alpert, and Spyro Gyra. He is considered by many to be one of the founders of the smooth jazz genre. He wrote some of his material and later became an arranger and producer.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Washington made some of the genre’s most memorable hits, including “Mister Magic,” “Reed Seed,” “Black Frost,” “Winelight,” “Inner City Blues” and “The Best is Yet to Come”. In addition, he performed very frequently with other artists, including Bill Withers on “Just the Two of Us” (still in regular rotation on radio today), Patti LaBelle on “The Best Is Yet to Come” and Phyllis Hyman on “A Sacred Kind of Love”. He is also remembered for his take on the Dave Brubeck classic “Take Five”, and for his 1996 version of “Soulful Strut”.
Washington had a preference for black nickel-plated saxophones made by Julius Keilwerth. These included a SX90Ralto and SX90R tenor. He also played Selmer Mark VI alto in the early years. His main soprano was a black nickel plated H.Couf Superba II (also built by Keilwerth for Herbert Couf) and a Keilwerth SX90 in the last years of his life.
Washington was born in Buffalo, New York, on December 12, 1943. His mother was a church chorister, and his father was a collector of old Jazz gramophone recordsand a saxophonist as well, so music was everywhere in the home. He grew listening to the great jazzmen and big band leaders like Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, and others like them. At the age of 8, Grover Sr. gave Jr. a saxophone. He practiced and would sneak into clubs to see famous Buffalo blues musicians.
Washington left Buffalo and played with a Midwest group called the Four Clefs and then the Mark III Trio from Mansfield, Ohio. He was drafted into the U.S. Armyshortly thereafter, which was to be to his advantage, as he met drummer Billy Cobham. A music mainstay in New York City, Cobham introduced Washington to many New York musicians. After leaving the Army, Washington freelanced his talents around New York City, eventually landing in Philadelphia in 1967. In 1970 and 1971, he appeared on Leon Spencer’s first two albums on Prestige Records, together with Idris Muhammad and Melvin Sparks.
Washington’s big break came at the expense of another artist. Alto sax man Hank Crawford was unable to make a recording date with Creed Taylor’s Kudu Records, and Washington took his place, even though he was a backup. This led to his first solo album, Inner City Blues.