Grover Washington, Jr.

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Grover Washington, Jr., was born on this day in 1943 and died on December 17, 1999. He was a tenor, alto and soprano saxophonist who had huge success as a popular artist, in great part because his 1974 album Mister Magic was high on the pop, soul and R&B charts for weeks. He followed with additional best-selling albums and singles. Predictably, his ability as a hit-maker had critics reaching for their sharp knives, but far from being a sellout, Washington was a superbly inventive jazz soloist whose rhythm and blues roots strengthened his improvisations. His posthumously released Aria, with its variations on opera music and superb arrangements by Bob Freedman, was one of the best albums of 2000.

Here are Washington and his band before a Philadelphia audience in 1981, playing “Mister Magic.” In addition to his own work, this is notable for a gritty guitar solo by Washington’s omnipresent sidekick Eric Gale and the collaboration between drummer Steve Gadd and percussionist Ralph MacDonald. Richard Tee is on piano, Paul Griffin on synthesizer.



An excerpt from the liner notes for the Mister Magic album:

During an engagement with his quartet at the Half Note, New York’s venerable jazz club, Grover was pulling in the expected audience of hip young black people familiar with his recorded versions of pop hits. One evening a certain crusty jazz veteran noted for his musicianship and his acid critiques wandered in and sat scowling at the bar. When the set ended the scowl remained, but there was an announcement to no one and everyone in the gruffest of stage whispers.

“Cat can play.”

It was a benediction equivalent to a bushel of five-star reviews.


For reasons I have forgotten, I didn’t include the name of that musician in the notes. I see no reason why it shouldn’t appear now. It was Charles Mingus.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
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