Pianist Darrell Grant believes in the power of music and art to change people, and through that path effect positive change in the world. That path may be the road less traveled, but he is not alone. After a time of learning his trade and then establishing himself as a musician with something to say he's been striving to move his art down that road over the years.
His newest music, captured on Truth and Reconciliation (Origin Records, 2007), is on the right track and it has him enthusiastic about the future of Darrell Grant as a persona and musician. This is music with a purpose that comes from this artist's heart and spirit.
"I really do think we as musicians have enormous power. We can own up to that and use it... Or not, he says with a chuckle. "For me, that's where I'm at and that's what is interesting to me. It makes me satisfied to find a way to really notice what can happen from putting this art out into the world. And hopefully do it with some intention. Other people, commercials interests, are happy to use art for their intention of making money or promoting their agenda. That means it is powerful. It can be used. What if I as an artist decide what the agenda is? And if the music really is that powerful maybe it could move the world in the direction I think it should go in, as opposed to just being used by other forces.
Grant, who cut his teeth on the New York sceneWoody Shaw, Betty Carter, Frank Morgan, Sonny Fortune, Charlie Persip, Greg Osby, Tony Williams, Roy Haynesfor years before deciding to break away to base himself in the Pacific Northwest, is onto something. He believes Truth and Reconciliation is his best yet, a double disc that carries through it a theme of redemption, optimism, hope, the value of freedom and the worthiness of the struggle to be free. It's honest. Deftly laid out, smartly done. It's executed with passion that Grant hopes he brings to whatever musical setting he finds himself (as evidenced by other albums including 1999's Smokin' Java or 2003's Spirit, both on Lair Hill records.)
Grant, 45, was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Denver. He's has been teaching at Portland State University's School of Fine and Performing Arts for the last ten years, in addition to still performing when he found time, though he no longer relies on the latter for subsistence. The experience seems to have given Grant some perspective, as well as, he admits, a sense of community. He's matured as a player as well, and his artistic vision has come to a focus on the new record.
"When you're in your twenties, it's all about proving yourself, says Grant with thoughtfulness found in his demeanor and his cadence. "Can I do this? Can I keep up with my peers? Can I master this incredibly difficult music and demonstrate my mastery of it to the point where people will employ me and where I can get a record contract and have the right to say what I want to say? In the generation I came up in New York, in the mid-to-late 1980s, it was the neo-traditionalist theory with less about freed-up expression and more about highly developed craft and a sense of knowing and being able to play within a recognized tradition. There were people who didn't do that, like Greg Osby and Steve Coleman and the M-Base musicians. But even for them, it was very much a skill-based thing.
"When everyone got into their thirties, and the reality of life, of a family to supportand also you've established yourselfyou've answered those questions for yourself. Then it seems like people spend the time asking: What is my voice? What do I do? What is my sound? There are exceptions. There are people who explored those things from the very beginning and came into their twenties with a very good knowledge of what their voice was. But for me, it definitely changed in my thirties.
"And then I feel at the point I'm at now, in my forties, I've sort of found that. I know what my voice is and I know what I have to say. To me, the question becomes: How does that fit into the world? What am I supposed to do now? What do I do with my music? The interesting thing for me now is still continuing to develop as a player, and get better. Learning new languages and expanding my voice and being clearer, and being better within the territory that I feel is my own.
"The other thing is: What do I do now? How to I participate in community? What is it to be a musician? Part of my moving out of New York and moving to Portland [Oregon] and becoming an educator and working in the community here in the Pacific Northwest has been in pursuit of that question. What does it mean to be an artist?