Carl Grubbs

Robert Spencer By

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Carl Grubbs is an alto and soprano saxophonist from Philadelphia with a singularly distinctive family tree: his cousin is Naima herself, who as John Coltrane's wife inspired one of the most beautiful ballads in jazz. Coltrane was close to Carl's section of the family, and he was quick to teach Carl a thing or two on the saxophone.

It shows.

Carl Grubbs is a great saxophonist who has played with some of the greatest players in the world—Julius Hemphill, Pharoah Sanders, Stanley Clarke, the vastly underrated trumpeter Malachi Thompson—and yet has remained in relative obscurity.

Carl Grubbs has, in the course of his career, written some great songs, developed ferocious chops as an improviser and recorded a few great discs. With his late brother Earl, who played tenor, he formed a band in the early Seventies called the visitors. They recorded four albums for Muse and turned a few heads around Philadelphia. Later came the association with Hemphill, who tabbed Carl to form part of his Julius Hemphill Saxophone Sextet in the late Eighties. With Carl, Hemphill recorded his tough Fat Man and the Hard Blues.

That was a fruitful period for collaborations and experimental projects: the Hemphill group worked on a dance/theatre project with Bill T. Jones/Arne Zane Dance Company: The Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land. There was also Julius Hemphill's celebrated Long Tongues: A Saxophone Opera. Both productions were enthusiastically received here and in Europe.

In the mid-Eighties Carl put together his group Carl Grubbs and Friends, which won acclaim on tours in Colombia and Brazil. Then he came home to Baltimore, where he is Artist in Residence at St. Paul School in Brooklandville, Maryland. He also conducts workshops and clinics upon request on jazz improvisation. For the past three years he has directed a Summer Music Camp for youth ages 8-17 in Baltimore.

Do the kids at the camp know that the kind man teaching them music is Naima's cousin? And that during his long career he's picked up a thing or two himself? Give Carl Grubbs a try, and you'll see why John Coltrane always liked dropping by the Grubbs home.

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