Henry Grimes

Henry The Great

Photo credit: Hans Harzhelm

Photo credit: Hans Harzhelm

Admittedly, I have a tendency to cover bassists a lot on this blog. The main reason might just be a click away if you go to the About this blog page. Rest assured, though, if you are getting tired of low frequencies, I will probably be writing about a few pianists in a future post that has yet to be given a relevantly unifying theme and some personal motivation. Stay tuned.

The story of Henry Grimes is undoubtedly an astounding one. That it made its way into the New Yorker’s Goings on about town section  is even more surprising. That kind of story is usually bounced around from music fan to music fan with varying degrees of authenticity and embellishments. However, The New Yorker rundown goes straight to the point about Grimes: Once renowned bassist whose impressive credentials range from Sonny Rollins to Cecil Taylor disappears from the scene for 35 years, spirals down into hard times, is widely believed to be dead and later tracked down by a fan and given a green-finished bass by fellow bassist William Parker. I haven’t listened seriously to Henry’s recent music but it seems like he keeps a hectic gigging and touring schedule. I wonder how often he brings out his “Olive Oil” bass on gigs, and more importantly, what it sounds like. It’s not hard to imagine that an accomplished musician who once had to pawn his bass never to get it back (how heart-breaking is that?), has some powerful statements to make now. What first appealed to me about Henry’s sound is the gritty yet precise quality of his articulation no matter if he plays a blues, an uptempo tune or totally free.

On the five recordings I own featuring Grimes on bass (McCoy Tyner’s Reaching Fourth, Don Cherry’s Complete Communion, Roy Haynes’ Out of the Afternoon, Cecil Taylor’s Conquistador, Sonny Rollins’ amazing live bootleg in Sweden (with master drummer Pete LaRoca and a particularly inspired Sonny), his presence is devastating. His tone has a Mingus-meets-Garrison vibe that drives its way into your ears and stays there.

However incredible Henry Grimes’ story is, it highlights a continuing pattern in all things artistic. The most revered artists/musicians can rise or fall almost overnight, the most committed to their art know that they can’t afford to take recognition for granted. That precariousness makes their art even more fascinating.