Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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GRIMES, Henry

(b 3 November 1935, Philadelphia PA) Bassist. Philadelphia was outstandingly rich in young talent; Grimes attended high schools there with such musicians as Bobby Timmons, Ted Curson, Lee Morgan, Albert 'Tootie' Heath and others. He was a quiet young man, but he also drew a weekly comic strip with the other fellows in it. At Juilliard in New York he studied with the New York Philharmonic's Fred Zimmerman; he was spotted by Gerry Mulligan while gigging with Anita O'Day in New Jersey and he recorded on Pacific Jazz with Mulligan, then went to another pianoless group, a Sonny Rollins trio. At Newport in 1958 he played with Rollins, Benny Goodman, Thelonious Monk, Lee Konitz and Tony Scott; he can be seen with Monk in the film Jazz On A Summer's Day. He played on Impulse recordings by Roy Haynes and McCoy Tyner, but also still worked with Rollins; when Rollins added Don Cherry to his group, Cherry brought the influence of Ornette Coleman, but Grimes was ready. His solid training had rendered him able to cope with being virtually naked in a trio with just Rollins and a drummer, and he had become a powerful player, at home in any context. He recorded with Rollins on RCA on the famous album with guest star Coleman Hawkins, and the next year played on Albert Ayler's Spirits Rejoice, able to play 'inside' or 'out', pizzicato or arco, and able to complement another bassist like Gary Peacock in a tandem setup, as on the Ayler album. It seemed like another classic of the avant-garde was was being recorded every week, and Grimes played on Impulse and Blue Note with Cherry, Cecil Taylor and Pharoah Sanders.

Henry Grimes was at the top of his game, he had played brilliantly on some 50 albums, and then he disappeared.

The music business is like the theatre, where they say it's possible to make a killing, but not a living. Grimes had played on albums which are still selling 40 years later, but he was living from paycheck to paycheck. Personal and professional issues ganged up and caused him to relocate suddenly to the West Coast, where he played with Ayler in San Francisco; then his instrument was badly in need of repair and he didn't have the money, so he sold his bass to the repairman, thinking to be able to buy it back. But it didn't happen. He moved to Los Angeles and sank into obscurity, writing a little poetry, doing a little acting, chasing odd jobs and collecting Social Security. He'd been living in the same single-occupancy hotel room for 20 years, in good health but destitute, when he was rediscovered by writer and social worker Marshall Marrotte.

Margaret Davis, editor and publisher of Art Attack! (www.jazznewyork.org) spread the word that Grimes needed a bass: for a disappointingly long time there was not much response, but then William Parker, the biggest new star on bass of the 1990s, came home to his accumulated emails and offered a bass he called Olive Oil, after a green tinge in its finish. A small repair was made at the New York shop of bass specialist David Gage, a shipping crate was built at the shop and in December 2002 Henry began practicing: within a couple of months it was as though he had never been away. In 2003 there were gigs, a free bass clinic at Gage's shop for over 50 musicians and a week-long Henry Grimes festival at WKCR. The gigs in 2004 included a trio with pianist Marilyn Crispell and Andrew Cyrille on drums, and a quartet with Perry Robinson on clarinet, Benny Maupin on bass clarinet and soprano sax and Cyrille. Grimes' first CD was to be Live at Kerava on Ayler records, with David Murray on tenor sax and bass clarinet and Hamid Drake on drums. He was back in New York, had toured the world two years in a row, and was leading his own groups, at the peak of his powers.

In 2009, Margaret Davis-Grimes had married him, and Grimes was playing gigs with 15-year-old Leo Lindberg, e.g. with guitarist Brandon Ross. Leo had written to Grimes from Scandinavia when he was nine; he plays bass, drums, keyboards, flute and saxophone. 'I figured I could use the stimulation,' said Grimes.