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Though his recent performances show a certain rust, his approach is completely not tentative.
By now the news that Henry Grimes, veteran bass player and stylistic maven, has resurfaced is well-documented. The efforts of Atlanta social worker Marshall Marotte to find the 64-year-old Grimes, out of jazz or any music for over 30 years, has been written about in periodicals such as Signal to Noise (the original newsbreaker) and the Los Angeles and New York Times.
The image that will persist in many people's memories came on the first night of this year's Vision Against Violence Festival. In a de facto ESP Records reunion, Mr. Grimes was spotted in the front row, seated next to trombonist Roswell Rudd, while watching Burton Greene accompany Patty Waters (not to mention Gunter Hampel, Steve Tintweiss and label founder Bernard Stollman in the audience). For a moment, the long layoff seemed immaterial. Grimes cannot help but be struck by the emotion. "It feels naturally good," Grimes says. "It's just a wondeful experience to have the attention. It’s beautiful."
He spent the last three decades working in such unmusical fields as construction and maintenance. Thanks in part to a bass given to him by Vision festival coorganizer William Parker, Grimes has been practicing and playing, reintroducing his Julliard-trained musicianship to several new generations.
He has practiced his chops listening to his old albums. "Before my CD player blew a fuse, I listened to these records and I knew they were good but I didn't realize... I feel that that the process is limitless, plenty of work to do but it's all enjoyable."
Though slated to have his New York "premiere" on the last evening of the festival in the large orchestra of Parker, the two did an impromptu trio performance with saxophonist Rob Brown a couple days prior. His scheduled performance was widely anticipated and attended, the throngs treated to a lengthy bass solo to begin the suite's second part. The fervent applause directed towards the unassuming Grimes was more than satisfying. What may be surprising is that he always expected to be back here. "I have anticipated it," he says. "I have used that as the power to get here."
Grimes has worked - his second album was Lee Konitz' Tranquility (Verve, 1957), his last Albert Ayler's In Greenwich Village (Impulse, 1966) - with an A-list of musicians as diverse as Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, Billy and Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry and Steve Lacy. His style had, even in his relatively short time actively recording, a profound effect on many to follow. Though his recent performances show a certain rust, his approach is completely not tentative. There is no fear or restraint in his playing, be it with Parker or in duets with peer Larry Ridley at a benefit concert at David Gage's Instrument Shop downtown.
His return has been celebrated by those he played with, those that he inspired through records, and those who knew little of his celebrated career. Bassist Vatel Cherry, who joined Ridley and Grimes for a bass trio during the same David Gage appearance, organized a benefit concert, all proceeds to Mr. Grimes. The audience members included bassists Earl May, Barre Phillips, Mark Dresser and Adam Lane.
Perhaps the most special moment came during a five-day career retrospective on W-KCR. Complementing the playing of albums he participated on as well as interviews with many of his colleagues was the reformation of his famous trio with clarinetist Perry Robinson and drummer Tom Price, the group responsible for his only recording as a leader ( The Call, ESP 1965). Will the group keep playing? This is one of many questions that Grimes' return brings up. Says Grimes, "I am watching the way its all done. The way it’s put together, only this time they have me at the center of attention so it really feels great." When the applause dies down and Mr. Grimes has time to reflect not only on his momentous comeback but his career, where will the newly rejuvenated player go and who will he take with him?