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Gigi Gryce

Gigi Gryce was born George General Grice(sic) on 28th November, 1925 (not 1927) in Pensacola, Florida - although he was brought up in Hartford, Connecticut. He spent a short period in the Navy where he met musicians such as Clark Terry, Jimmy Nottingham and Willie Smith, who were to turn his thoughts from pursuing medicine to the possibility of making music for a living. In 1948 he began studying classical composition at the Boston Conservatory under Daniel Pinkham and Alan Hovhaness. It has been reported that he won a Fulbright scholarship and went to Paris to study under Nadia Boulanger and Arthur Honegger, although confirmation of this has been hard to establish. Although illness interrupted his studies abroad, the fruits of this immersion in classical modernism were the production of three symphonies, a ballet (The Dance of the Green Witches), a symphonic tone-poem (Gashiya-The Overwhelming Event) and chamber works, including various fugues and sonatas, piano works for two and four hands, and string quartets.

Gryce strictly separated his classical composing from his work in jazz and received inspiration and instruction from a number of 'unsung' jazz saxophonists. The first of these was alto player Ray Shep, also from Pensacola, who had played with Noble Sissle. Then there were three musicians Gryce had met whilst based in the Navy in North Carolina. Altoists, Andrew 'Goon' Gardner, who played with the Earl Hines Band and Harry Curtis, who performed with Cab Calloway, as did tenorman Julius Pogue, for whom Gryce reserved the highest accolade. As well as alto saxophone Gryce performed on tenor and baritone saxes, clarinet, flute and piccolo - a 1958 recording for the Metrojazz label saw him multitracking all these instruments over a conventionally- recorded rhythm section.

Whilst in Boston (from 1948) Gryce arranged for Sabby Lewis, and had working gigs with Howard McGhee and Thelonious Monk. When playing at the Symphony Hall he attracted the attention of Stan Getz who asked Gryce to arrange for him - Getz subsequently recorded three Gryce originals: Yvette, Wildwood and Mosquito Knees. Dissatisfied with these and other earlier compositions Gryce went on the Fulbright scholarship outlined previously. Returning to New York, Gryce arranged on record dates for Howard McGhee (Shabozz) and Max Roach (Glow Worm). In the summer of 1953 Gryce joined Tadd Dameron's band, and in the autumn of that year was with the Lionel Hampton band when they made their legendary European tour. Through Hampton's band Gryce met many musicians with which he was to collaborate with later, including Clifford Brown , Art Farmer, Quincy Jones and Benny Golson. Against Hampton's wishes this emerging nucleus of talent recorded a number of sessions in Paris for French Vogue in between Hampton gigs. There were many different permutations from quartets to a small big-band, interestingly labelled as an orchestra, alluding to Gryce's exploration of new orchestrations. Later that year Gryce married Eleanor Sears - they had three children together: Bashir, Laila and Lynette - before separating in 1964.

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Eight Classic Albums

Palm Pictures


Doin' the Gigi

Uptown Records


The Rat Race Blues

Palm Pictures



Savoy Records


Young Byrd

Milestone (4)



Art Farmer
Benny Golson
saxophone, tenor
Zoot Sims
saxophone, tenor
Johnny Griffin
saxophone, tenor
Frank Morgan
saxophone, alto
Bobby Watson
saxophone, alto
Gene Ammons
saxophone, tenor
Bud Shank
Clifford Jordan
saxophone, tenor

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