A Fireside Chat With Grachan Moncur III
“ I would say that the studying of Monk probably led to everything. I think it probably led to my whole compositional outgrowth because that's when everything started happening. ”
There are paths we take in life that are forever. Life is unforgiving and no one in jazz personifies that better than Grachan Moncur III. It took me over a year just to track down Grachan. And because of health issues, another year for him to sit down with the Roadshow. Allow me to be kind and rewind. I had heard Grachan on Blue Note recordings of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and most notably Jackie McLean. Grachan was a monster on the trombone and it puzzled me to no end why Alfred Lion, the Clive Davis of jazz, only recorded the bonist (having only done J. J.) on a couple of sessions of his own ( Evolution, Some Other Stuff ). Then I discovered some blowing sessions in the old BYG (since sold off too many times to remember) catalog, some Archie Shepp, Cliff Thornton, and his own. So my obvious first impression was Grachan was outcast from the Blue Note fold because he went free jazz or avant or whatever damn term they coined then. But aside from occasionally, and I mean occasionally, appearing on a smatter of records here and there, Grachan's bone remained silent on record for the better part of three decades. Long time. Fast forward to handful of years ago and I was doing my first interview with Sonny Rollins and I asked him whom he would have liked or like to record with and he mentioned Grachan. Ask Jackie McLean, he said the same. So where was Grachan? And why wasn't he working more? When we sat down, I asked and the following is a gut-wrenching conversation with a man that life should have been better to, but alas, such is the trial of life. I am honored to present Grachan Moncur III, unedited and in his own words.
All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning.
Grachan Moncur III: Well, I got started basically because I was coming from a musical family. I guess you know my father being a bassist and my uncle was a leader of the Savoy Sultans. I know you've heard of that group. I was kind of born into a musical family. That didn't mean that I had to become a musician, but there was always people from the music business all around, in and out of my house all the time. My father being a bassist back in the day when he was playing with the early bands, it was normal for a good bassist to also play tuba and play valve trombone also. So he always had a tuba and valve trombone always around the house. So later on, during the early days, they had to play the tuba because of acoustic reasons, playing dances and big halls. The tuba carried much stronger than the bass. So anyway, as a kid, as a very youngster, I started doodling around with the trombone, long before I was even big enough to actually stand up and play the valve trombone, which was what was around the house. I used to take it form underneath the bed and sit on the floor and try to mess with it. So I guess I must have been about four or five years old, doing that type of thing, which didn't really amount to very much to becoming a trombone player at that age because it wasn't until I was about nine years old, first my father bought me a cello. I didn't show too much interest on that, so he eventually came in with this slide trombone. For some reason, I just kind of took to it and got kind of serious with trying to play it and was messing around with it for about a year and eventually, I decided to start taking lessons. And there was a very active music store here in Newark and a lot of the musicians that came a little ahead of me like Charlie Persip and a few others, studied there. It was the most popular community school that was available for musicians at that time. So I started taking lessons and I had a very fantastic trombonist. I don't even remember his name. I was only about ten at this time, ten or eleven. I think he kind of recognized the fact that I had a pretty good tone and a pretty good sound and he wanted to perfect that. I remember him teaching me on the fundamental B-flat until I perfected it before he even allowed me to really play the B-flat scale, which is the first scale you learn on the B-flat instrument. He would have me do things with that sound, with that note, like being able to sustain the tone and swelling the tone and doing different things with controlling that particular note, which is the fundamental B-flat on the trombone. So I think that probably had a lot to do with me developing a sound that I did have beside the fact that I would hear my father practice on the valve trombone. His sound was very interesting. I have never, up until today, heard anybody with a sound like my father. He had a timbre that was very dark and clear. That sound, it just kind of stayed with me and I always wanted to produce that same type of, project that same type of sound that my father had. So between that and the trombone teacher that I had for several months, I don't even think I studied with this teacher, it couldn't have been no more than a year.