Gigi Gryce: Jazz Lab

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The year 1957 was a bountiful one for Gigi Gryce. The alto saxophonist teamed with trumpeter Donald Byrd and formed the Jazz Lab, a group that allowed Gryce to record and perform his compositions and those by other artists with a particular feel and  with varying tempos and moods. From February to September 1957, Gryce and Byrd recorded Jazz Lab albums for five different labels—Columbia, Riverside, Verve, Jubilee and RCA.

Gryce, like Tadd Dameron, Quincy Jones, Benny Golson and Horace Silver, was a prolific writer and arranger with a distinctly arch, romantic sound that capitalized on sophisticated melodies and lush harmonies. His many jazz standards include Nica's Tempo, Blue Concepts, Minority, Wake Up!, Capri, Smoke Signal, Social Call, Satellite and An Evening in Casablanca, among others.

The Jazz Lab had less to do with experimentation in the avant-garde sense and was more concerned with amassing a large library of works and arrangements by a range of artists that fit into their jazz vibe and vsion. As you listen to the Jazz Lab's recordings, you realize that their approach had little to do with any other jazz style at the time.

The Jazz Lab didn't employ the bombast of hard bop, the dryness of cool or nonchalance of West Coast jazz. Instead, the group had a pretty feel without being commercial. As Gryce said, “We want to reflect all of the language of jazz and get into everybody's heart. And we're trying to develop another quality within ourselves."

In addition to Gryce's writing and arranging, he was a beautifully honest alto saxophonist with a determined attack and high-register tone. Byrd hadn't begun to record yet as a leader for Blue Note yet. That would follow in 1958 with Byrd's Off to the Races, which in effect ended the Jazz Lab collaboration.

Albums recorded by Gryce and Byrd's Jazz Lab:
  • Jazz Lab (Columbia)
  • Gigi Gryce and the Jazz Lab Quintet (Riverside)
  • At Newport (Verve)
  • New Formulas from the Jazz Lab (RCA)
  • Jazz Lab (Jubilee)
  • Modern Jazz Perspective (Columbia)
Gigi Gryce died in 1983; Donald Byrd died in 2013.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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