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Interviews

Darrell Grant: From The Heart, Through The Keyboard

By Published: July 2, 2007
Grant says his teaching position (he recently received tenure and has been made a full professor) has allowed him to answer that. But now he is interested in the artistic statement and how to make it sincere and important. "That's what making this record was about. What is the best that's within me and how can I get that out? Once it's out, it's: How do I use it? What is it for? How do I take that into the world and hopefully accomplish some things?



Truth and Reconciliation is brought to life by an array of stellar players, notably drummer Brian Blade and bassist John Patitucci, with contributions from Joe Locke on vibes, Bill Frisell on guitar, Steve Wilson on sax, and Adam Rogers on guitar. Grant arranged and produced it, including the writing, and singing, of some poignant lyrics. Not all of the songs run direct with the theme—Betty Carter's "Tight, for example, and Grant's ornate arrangement of "The Way You Look Tonight. There's even a song he wrote for his former boss Tony Williams. But the theme is present. In spots, Grant even superimposes—to excellent effect—clips of speeches by Gandhi, Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy.



Grant thought about the recording for a long time, including what musicians to use. "I needed something to tie it together, to make sense of everything. About that time is when I heard this gentleman, Bishop Peter Story. He was a colleague of Desmond Tutu's, very much involved in the truth and reconciliation process with the churches in South Africa. I heard him speak. The title 'truth and reconciliation' was kind of bonging around in my head. That's when I realized that over the course of my life this South African theme was something that resonated with me.



Grant wrote the melody and lyric for "When I See the Water when Nelson Mandela arrived in New York after being freed from prison. He penned another piece after hearing from his sister about her travels in South Africa. "The idea of truth and reconciliation is something that strikes me personally what I'm trying to do musically, which is finding a way to reconcile all the different kinds of music and the different things that I played. Also it's finding a way to tell my own unique story in music, not influenced by outside expectations or commercial considerations or any of the stuff that can come in and distract you. Just trying to be true.



He got the musicians he wanted, and the engineer he badly wanted, Joe Ferla, and went to work.



"I was really trying to not be distracted by any external voices that were not true inside of me. It wasn't as though I was trying to do something that was so cutting edge or profound. But this is what I really mean, and only what I really mean. The playing, the writing, everything. Trying to go from the heart, which was a real step forward, says Grant.



Grant's playing is light and tasty; he boldly investigates melodic and harmonic paths with interesting twists and an almost understated intensity. Blade does his usual outstanding job of moving the music, creating things that embellish as well as support, helping carry out an idea or emphasize it, with Patitucci always in step. Some of the non-originals still push the theme, like Sheryl Crow's "I Shall Believe and Sting's "King of Pain. "Fils du Soleil (For Tony Williams) is an uplifting melody and rhythm that seems to express hope and joy as much as being a tribute to a fallen comrade.



"The Sheryl Crow song I've known since her first record. It's just beautiful. It also resonated with the theme of the record, with so much about what one believes in and where we've come from, where we've come to in our country. I wanted to do the song, says Grant. "In doing it, I thought it would be interesting to take away her lyrics. Because her song was king of a quasi-love song. I thought this is a real opportunity to make a statement. How do I then make this my own personal thing? Bringing in JFK and Martin Luther King brought it to another level of what this song could say. That's what I was hoping to do with that.



"There are things I try to write, looking for the opportunity to do something. Most of it, I think, is something that takes that moment of inspiration to build on. "Fils Du Soleil I wrote the day Tony Williams died. I heard about it. I was at school. I had to coach a combo. I said, 'you guys sit down with me.' I just started playing. I wrote that song in front of my students.



The spiritual quality of music and place is thoughtfully brought to bear in "The Geography of Hope (I Am Music), in which Grant speaks a poem, over his soft, steady piano riffs and some percussion. In part of it, the pianist intones:

I am music/Worship I raise in human hearts/Bonds of peace for jaws of hatred/Spirits I comfort, minds I soothe/Truth to all I serve/I am music.



It's very effective in total, and its sincerity surpasses any attempt to pass it off as trivial.



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