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A Fireside Chat With Henry Grimes

By Published: November 13, 2003

FJ: What attracted you to free jazz?

HG: I had an idea about what free music was and so I guess having an idea, it automatically enlists you into what a lot of free playing musicians are. That is what happened to me. Before I could realize anything, they were all kind of interested in what I was doing. Before I could even recover from my own surprise, I was in with Albert Ayler, Denis Charles, Mingus, Cecil Taylor, and on and on and on. I really enjoyed playing free music. The freedom of expression, that was the main point with me. The expression, you just have free will to play just what you feel. Your own free will dictates to you to play. There were no other influences that could override your own influences to play free music. I encourage a lot of classical musicians to get with some jazz musicians and see what it is to develop free music. The free music of jazz outweighs a lot of expressions in other music because it is moving forward and ahead and it has very much to do with free sounds and things that have never been heard before, being done.

FJ: The Call (ESP) was you only session as a leader. Why did you not record more?

HG: I wasn't offered too many. It is my own doing because I didn't drag my way into a lot of musicians and writers and try to get them to recognize me. That is the kind of feeling I had. I didn't want to be over-ego about it. That is something that I am still struggling with and I have to get over it. That is all there is to it. I don't seriously think that I am not able to play. I just love playing. That is my main impulse. I love it and when I get a chance to do it, that is the only thing that I want to do.

FJ: In 1967, at 31, you dropped out of the scene entirely and for over three decades, your bass remained silent. Why did you stop playing?

HG: I stopped playing in order to eyeball my own perspective better. That had nothing to do with music. As I was waiting, it is a matter of waiting to see if I would run into some way of musical expression like I wanted to. It didn't happen until about thirty years or so after that. I wasn't thinking of how long it was taking. I was just trying to gain perspectives. It was a way of imposing self-isolation. That is the only thing I can think of what it is. Only publically, I stopped playing. I wrote a lot of poetry to make up for it, so I could express myself with words instead of with music.

FJ: As an artist, you must have had yearnings to create and the poetry helped fill the void music left behind.

HG: Oh, yeah, yeah. I was able to do it in my private environment, no audience. I was going through experiments like that. I don't think I am really an introvert, but I think what I really like is to try to have more things to say and more interesting points to make.

FJ: Did you sell your bass?

HG: That is true. I sold it for the money. The only thing is, I didn't make enough money from it. I didn't make enough money from the sale. For one thing, it needed repairs and the repairs were expensive. I just sold it to this violin maker and that was that.

FJ: How much did you sell it for?

HG: It was about five hundred dollars, I think. That was in 1968, when I came down here from San Francisco to L.A. That is when I sold it.

FJ: How did you sustain yourself and make a living?

HG: I did labor work, a lot of casual labor work. I did a little construction and a lot of janitorial work. I did both days and nights. I worked all night. I had a graveyard shift job at a bowling alley. I would clean up this little alley and then later on, I worked in a school, a Jewish school. First, it was in the day time and then it was in the night time, so I would alternate sometimes night time shifts and sometimes day time.

FJ: In the thirty some odd years, you must have heard music around you. Did you ever feel the yearning to play again?

HG: Yeah, I think whenever I heard any and wherever I was, I think I was studying the reaction of the people around me or imagining what reactions they would have about the music at that time. When I really got out of this was when I listened to some CDs of what I had done and I had done all this in the past and that was an amazing experience.

FJ: Why did you decide the time was right for your return?

HG: When I talked to Marshall Marrotte. I didn't want to say no because that is not the answer at all. The answer was that I wanted to play and that's really what I like to do. There I was, but Marshall, a man of understanding, helped me a lot with that. He still does.

FJ: Tell me about the first time you played the bass that William Parker sent to you.

HG: I guess I went over sketches of things in my own mind of things that I knew I had been familiar with in the past, a lot of free music, experimenting with my reaction. I enjoyed doing this in this kind of environment. I just gradually worked it out until it happened. I didn't forget. I couldn't forget.

FJ: How long was it before you felt comfortable playing publicly?

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