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A Fireside Chat With Grachan Moncur III

AAJ Staff By

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GM: Yeah, everybody was doing what they call one shot dates. It wasn't like I was drastically surprised. I was just surprised of their attitude and their attitude just grew and it became very detrimental to me because I think they poisoned other people in reference to me. It was almost like a blackballed thing. It hurt me very bad, Fred. I will tell you, Fred, I was very uptight about it. I had a meeting with John Hammond and John at that time was interested in trying to do something with me and I was telling him the problems I was having at Blue Note and he said to me, "The publishing thing is a touchy kind of thing right now. I will tell you something. I know what you're going through. I know it's not pretty, but I guarantee you one thing, Grachan, you will find out in years to come that in the long run, Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff are two of the best cats in the music business." And he was right. Even though I had a hard time with them, my business books is more intact with that company than it is with any other company I recorded with in the world.

FJ: Even with all the drama, Lion and Wolff still had the presence of mind to do the right thing.

GM: Right, and not only that, Fred, let me tell you something. Let me set the record straight for you. First of all, Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff had their business in order. Whoever took over, if they meant to do well, if they meant to do right, everything was in order for they to do right with it. The musicians are very fortunate that my man, Michael Cuscuna, being the dedicated person he is, musically and the business person that he is and the kind of respect that he has for musicians in general and the music. Thanks to a guy like him, who is really responsible for most of the reissues, thanks to a guy like him or guys like him, he was able to set my thing in order the way it was supposed to be and for him to pick it up and to have me where I was supposed to be as a legendary artist within their catalog. If it wasn't for a person like that, I could be lost in the shuffle. So it was like John Hammond had said, they were the two best cats in the business because he knew better than I did or better than most of the fly by night record companies that were coming up during the time and are still coming up, he knew, being the businessman that he is. He knew then how they were handling their business. He knew down the line that my stuff would be, I would be in better shape than I would be with just about anybody else that I recorded with. That holds true with everybody. There is only a few other labels that come close to that so far like ABC/Paramount, labels that I've recorded with. Domestically, those were the two major labels that I dealt with, which is now Capitol and ABC, which is like Impulse! What I am saying is that you have some other companies that I think probably are on that level now, but because I haven't recorded as much music with other companies like I did with Blue Note because in a very short period of time, within about a two year or three year period, I recorded I would say pretty much half the stuff that I've every recorded, period. This is within a two year period, so they have quite a bit of my recording material, more so than any other one company. So I can't really make the good judgment of how these other companies are doing compared to them.

FJ: I take it that doesn't hold true for the European label that you did numerous sessions for, BYG.

GM: Oh, Fred, that has been a disaster. The tragedy is within the situation that I am now. The tragedy is my financial situation and the inactivity behind not being out there properly, just not being paid, first of all. Not being paid, that puts a damper on your lifestyle within itself. With them not doing anything for the artists as a follow up, it didn't lead for me to get any exposure or any work or any tours or anything. Whereas some of these other companies, once you record for them, they help to get the artists out there to start working. If they don't give you a million dollars, they get behind you to put something together and go out there and make some money.

FJ: That still doesn't explain why you are not recorded now. Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff have long since passed and the BYG and Blue Note catalogs have been sold repeatedly. Hope, the bread by which we live, is dwindling.

GM: It's tremendously difficult. I am going through a thing right now, Fred, that is unbelievable. I wouldn't even want to discuss it with you. The only good part about it, the only real good part about it is that I know that my destiny is totally in my hands now because there are people who really want to do something with me and as soon as I give them the green light, certain things can happen. I've been so under the weather for one reason or another, a lot of it has been financially, which affects my domestic life, my family, just your family includes yourself so it doesn't help the flame that you need. When I was really out there during the days that we were talking about, everything was hot. I was around people that would inspire me everyday. They liked what I was doing and they were encouraging me. Now the things that I get, people like what I do and everything, but it is for a dog eat dog type of situation or it's a stick and blow situation. It is not a thing like it was in the past where you could kind of grow with the music and the musicians that you are dealing with. That is what is happening in New York now with the new breed of musicians like Wynton Marsalis and the so called "young lions" that are out here now, Wallace Roney and them guys. They are into a thing where me and Tony and Jackie was back then. I would imagine. This is what I miss. This is what I miss. Besides that, what hurts even more, even if that is not happening, there was a time when I had residence, a composer residence for nine years at the Newark Community Arts School. That kept my enthusiasm up, just working with younger musicians and being able to work on my material at the same time and even though I wasn't with my peers all the time, I was active and I could see things growing. It just kept me more enthusiastic. At this point, I kind of fell into a musical rut. Thank God, it is not a spiritual rut. If it was a spiritual rut, I would be finished. So I am blessed that I have not dropped to that level. But the level is only one notch from there. So it is like I am hanging on for dear life, Fred. But the life that I am hanging on to is my own and I don't have that dark feeling that I had maybe ten years ago or fifteen years ago that everybody is against me or that the world is against me. I don't have that feeling because I know it is not about that. It is about me now. I kind of feel almost the way Monk was before he died. I knew Monk very well. I got to know him very well about five years before he died. I got to know him a little bit before that. I remember the dark period that he had almost what I am going through now, is when I was very close to Monk. I think that is one reason how I got close to him because he felt very relaxed with me because he didn't feel anything pretentious or that I was, he could just feel the genuine respect that I had for him. I felt comfortable with him. I didn't look at him like he was weird. He was a human being. I really felt what he was going through and I lived through some of the things that he went through. I went through it and I couldn't believe it, somebody like Monk. When you say, Fred, "Damn, how could you be going through this Grachan?" The same thing you are telling me is how I saw Monk and I was with him. I was with him at certain times when he was embarrassed by his peers. I was with him. I couldn't believe certain things that I witnessed with him. When his break came, I got to be with him a little bit and I even traveled with him off and on because I was doing a lot of work with Archie Shepp during that time and we would meet up with Monk on the same concerts sometimes. I saw Monk at the height of this thing within this five year period after he got on the cover of Time. I was with Monk the day people came from Miles' house over to Monk's house saying that Miles sent, two young kids came over to interview Monk and I was hanging out with Monk at his house and I was hanging with Monk the day that they came. I had been hanging with Monk all day when the kids came. Miles had sent them. They went over to interview Miles, but Miles said that he wanted them to do the interview with Monk and he was the one they should be interviewing. That was Miles' way of kind of telling Monk he was sorry for some of the nasty shit that he even took Monk through. So what I am saying to you, Fred, is I was there. They came and saw what was happening. It was two young kids, a girl and a boy, two white, young writers. So anyway, when I saw Monk after that and he was at the top of his game as far as the business, but it wasn't long that he had been through such sharpness and pain that he couldn't even dig it. I am telling you some shit, Fred (Grachan's voice starts audibly breaking up). I can feel this shit as I am telling this shit man. You can hear it in my fucking voice.

FJ: Critics and the industry as a rule are pariahs, but it's a whole other animal to be beat down by your peers.
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