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Jimmy McGriff: Nobody Else But Himself

By Published: May 16, 2006

AAJ: When you were growing up and studying, whose music was really special for you?

JM: Count Basie. It was big band music. And I liked that big band kinda thing. That's what turned me on. ...Later I got to work with him. He had a club in New York, Count Basie's. And I used to go in and he would say, "Come on, let's play something. He was the father of Harlem musicians. He wouldn't teach you nothing wrong. If you did something wrong, the changes I would play, he would just say, "That's wrong. You don't wanna do that. So that was good. I liked that.

AAJ: That big band sound is what you really love. What about when you added a synthesizer and you toured with Hank Crawford? You worked with him a lot and together made a big band.

JM: He has the sound I was trying to get on the organ. He had it on the horn so I was able to get it more with him. He's not the easiest person to get along with, but I like him. He has his own playing, just like everybody has their own way. I have mine and he has his. It was easy for me because I would play something and then I would ask him, "how do ya like that? And he said, "That's alright.

AAJ: Structure is very strong in your music.

JM: Yup. Well, my father played the piano and that's the first thing. And I just copied that. I learned that from him really.

AAJ: When you listen to music at home now, whom do you listen to?

Jimmy McGriffJM: I listen to a lot of different people because you get new ideas. Miles Davis. The tune called "Walkin'. It had the big band style plus that kind of feeling it gives you. I worked with Miles in '65. It was a good experience for me 'cause I was just coming out and doing the thing I wanted. He accepted me and I accepted him. So that's a good feelin'. And by him being a trumpet player, that was on top of the list. Because the big band was known to have that thing, the trumpet.

AAJ: You're going to playing in the big 5th Annual Jazz Foundation of America benefit, at the Apollo on May 4th. Clark Terry, Abbey Lincoln, Harold Mabern, Gary Bartz and so many others are going to be there too. What will you be playing there?

JM: Everybody you named I've worked with. Clark Terry ...I love. I don't know. I'll wait 'til I go on and just feel it. I'll be playing with a group.

AAJ: You've made so many dozens of recordings. Some great ones aren't in print, like a lot of the Blue Note sessions. It must be frustrating for you.

JM: Very! Most of the stuff I did with Blue Note I liked. I'm not the kind of person...they have some people they "cling to and some people who are just "there. (Chuckling) I was just... "there. That's all.

AAJ: What would you like people to know about you?

JM: I'd like them to know that I play where I wanna play and I feel what I wanna play. I don't try to be nobody else. I'm me. I always did it that way.

Selected Discography

Jimmy McGriff, McGriff Avenue (Fantasy, 2004)
Jimmy McGriff, Feelin' It (Milestone-Fantasy, 2000)
Jimmy McGriff/Hank Crawford, Right Turn on Blue (Telarc, 1994)

Buddy Rich, The Last Blues Album (Vol.1) (Groove Merchant, 1974)

Jimmy McGriff, Live at Cook County Jail (Groove Merchant, 1972)

Jimmy McGriff, The Worm (Solid State-Blue Note, 1968)

Jimmy McGriff, I Got A Woman (Sue-Collectables, 1962)

Photo Credits:
Top Photo: Mark Sheldon
Bottom Photo: Atael Weissman

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