Grover Washington, Jr. was one of those jazz musicians, like George Benson or Herbie Mann, whose clarity of conception and uniqueness of sound crossed over into the realm of pop music for wider acclaim and, of course, for greater financial reward than life as a jazz musician would have provided. Beyond Washington’s wide appeal, he still was admired by his jazz peers, not only for his generosity and community spirit in his hometown of Philadelphia, but also for his considerable chops that became apparent whenever he showed up as a guest on another jazz musician’s CD. As one of those musicians who represents a kind of threshold into jazzthat is, one whose popularity delights general listeners and who leads them to investigate jazz more deeplyhe enlarged the audience for the music, which ultimately represents one of his more important accomplishments.
Not only jazz enthusiasts who followed Washington’s career, but also the listening radio public, recognize “Winelight,” when they hear it, as one of the most popular tunes from contemporary jazz. And “Mr. Magic.” And “In The Name Of Love.” And “Just The Two Of Us.” Passing in December, 1999, Washington, thus, left a legacy of tunes associated with his sounds and his personality.
A group of musicians, similar in interests and musical sensibilities, decided to pay tribute to Grover Washington, Jr. in the most effective way they couldthrough music. The result, To Grover, With Love, presents the best-known of Washington’s popular tunes in re-creations close to the their original conception. As on his tributes to Ivan Lins and Weather Report, Miles is a major presence on To Grover, With Love. Not only did he produce and arrange most of the tunes, but also his plays keyboard on many of them as well.
“Winelight,” performed by Gerald Albright, gives evidence of the vast influence of Washington, Albright re-creating the tune with the same bending of notes and urgent tone that can’t be ignored. Russ Freeman’s work on “East River Dance” assumes a natural flow with a shimmering chords that brings out the warmth of the tune, while Miles’ keyboard work provides the accents behind Freeman.
One of the surprises of the album is the recruitment of Herbie Mann on “Mr. Magic,” as he makes one of his increasingly rare recording appearances after his move to New Mexico. Rather than backing up Mann with the live percussion of his Live At The Village Gate days, all of the backup is electronic, with Rhodes piano, Moog programming, rhythm loops and drum programming creating the shuffle. Indeed, Mark Whitfield’s work on “Summer Chill” is accompanied by Miles only, his work consisting of the playing of all of the programmed instruments. Michael and Randy Brecker create a moody, unhurried portrait on “Loran’s Dance,” to which Joe Sample and Joey DeFrancesco contribute. Regina Belle substitutes for Bill Withers on “Just The Two Of Us,” which had won the 1980 Grammy Award for Best R&B Song, while Steve Cole provides the harmonic commentary on tenor sax and George Duke fills in the changes on Rhodes piano.
True to the generous spirit of Grover Washington, Jr., To Grover, With Love, prints in the liner notes the mission statement for the Grover Washington, Jr. Protect The Dream Foundation, as well as information for contributing to it (800-732-0999). The program provides disadvantaged youths with musical materials and instruments so that the music may be furthered and so that untapped talent may be nurtured. Thus, Washington’s legacy involves more than his unforgettable music; it involves his concrete initiatives to make the world a better place.