“Until recently I felt I could walk away from music.”
Unbelievable as it may seem, in the mid seventies, Dave Grusin felt he could - and might - easily do just that, walk away from it all - the film scoring, record dates, arrangements and producing.
At the start of this decade he was already an established force as a composer, with nearly a dozen feature films and TV movies behind him in addition to many popular television themes.
This period also marked the start of the three most important collaborations of his career - record producing with Larry Rosen, music making with Lee Ritenour and an association with producer-director Sydney Pollack which went on to find them working on nine pictures together.
So, it was a decade of consolidation and development of the areas opened up in the sixties. Dave Grusin started off the seventies working on the Burt Reynolds detective series, “Dan August,” which sported one of his jazziest television themes. A made-for-TV movie, “The Intruders,” starring Don Murray, was another project in 1970.
For the big screen there were such vehicles as the early Michael Douglas film “Adam at 6 AM,” a psychological study, “Halls of Anger,” about high school violence, the western “Tell Them Willie Boy is Here” starring Robert Redford, and “Pursuit of Happiness,” another personality exploration.
On the recording scene Dave Grusin was getting into electronic music, and did three albums with synthesizer kings Beaver and Krause. He also continued an association with Quincy Jones, which had begun with soundtrack recordings in the sixties, and went on to include participation on a number of albums.
In 1971 Dave Grusin scored another western, for the Gregory Peck film “Shootout” and then Jimmy Breslin's mafia spoof “The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.” There were also several TV movies, including “The Forgotten Man,” “Deadly Dream,” “The Badge or the Cross,” and “A Howling in the Woods.” The next year he stayed in the western and crime genres with Cliff Robertson's “Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid” and “Fuzz” an 89th Precinct film, along with the TV movie “The Family Rico.”
His profile as a composer for television was raised even higher when after doing the theme for “Assignment Vienna,” he penned the splashy signature tune for the highly successful Bea Arthur series “Maude.”
Then came that phone call.
It was good friend and colleague from the Andy Williams days, drummer-engineer-advertising whiz Larry Rosen. He was starting to get into record producing with pal Jon Lucien, and wondered if Dave Grusin might do the charts for the young singer from the Virgin Islands.
Not one to turn down a friend, much less an opportunity to do something new and fun, the response was to arrange, conduct and perform on the beautiful album “Rashida” which was released on RCA in 1973. This producing project was the real start of what was to become Grusin Rosen Productions, and a decade later, the prestige independent label GRP.
Film work in 1973 included the crime-genre “Friends of Eddie Coyle” with Robert Mitchum and the theme for Sally Field's TV show “The Girl With Something Extra.” He also appeared as a performer on the soundtrack of John Williams' score for "The Long Goodbye."
In the studio he continued to record with Quincy Jones, and further completed another Jon Lucien album. Composing credits in 1974 included the Burt Lancaster thriller “The Midnight Man” and film noire vehicle “The Nickel Ride,” on which Dave Grusin collaborated with songstress Peggy Lee. The pair also joined forces on an LP that year, her highly successful “Let's Love,” and they even performed live together, including an appearance at San Francisco's Venetian Room in the Fairmont Hotel.
Also, there was the TV movie, “The Death Squad,” as well as one of Dave Grusin's most successful TV themes, that for “Good Times.”
His initial collaborations with award-winning director Sydney Pollack were released in 1975, first the Japanese mafia film “The Yakuza” and later Robert Redford's “Three Days of the Condor,” a landmark jazz score which many consider to be one of Dave Grusin's most effective. There was also the country and western style “WW & The Dixie Dancekings” with Burt Reynolds. TV movies in 1975 included “The Trial of Chaplain Jensen” and “The Oath.” But as far as television went, the most noteworthy entry was "Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow," the hastily, but deftly written theme for the series "Baretta."
These were active days on the recording front as well, and there were albums with Carmen McRae, Jon Lucien, Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau, John Klemmer and Ray Brown, as well as LPs with old 1960s colleagues Sergio Mendes and Howard Roberts. It was a diverse and busy time which included producing, conducting and arranging in addition to performing as sideman.
Indeed, Dave Grusin had by now established himself with a reputation as the man to call on when a record project was faltering, or better, required something extra to give it that perfect polish. He explains that, he would usually be sent for when a record producer was “consciously aware that those already involved with the project have reached a creative plateau.” His wizardry with musical electronics made him the perfect record doctor.
Then in 1976 came an unexpected, long-awaited, and memorable starring album.
After over a dozen years, the headliner Dave Grusin was `discovered again' on record. It was the audiophile's treasure, the early recording from innovative Sheffield Labs, appropriately titled "Discovered Again." A recording which has stood the test of time as well as anything else in the top drawer of jazz, it marked the official `return' of pianist Dave Grusin to the fold of lead jazz artists.
One of the highlights of that album is the spirited theme for the TV series “Beretta.” It was that program, in fact, that provided the last straw in Dave Grusin's television career. He felt that terms for scoring - in relation to conditions, time and support - were just too unreasonable to continue in the medium.
So, after scoring two episodes of this series , his composing for the screen was limited to the cinema. Offerings for 1976 included the spoof of Agatha Christie stories “Murder By Death” and the important film about blacklisting, “The Front,” starring Woody Allen.
Also in 1976 Dave Grusin participated on records with the Brothers Johnson, Keith Carradine, Alphonse Mausen, Nancy Wilson, and again with Quincy Jones, John Klemmer, Lee Ritenour, and Jon Lucien.
To commemorate the hundredth birthday of the University of Colorado in 1976, Dave Grusin was commissioned to compose and conduct a symphonic piece for orchestra and choir for his alma mater, the "Centennial Almanac." But with all this success in scoring, producing and highest-level arranging as well as performing, there was at every moment the possibility lurking that he might give it all up.
As successful a film scorer as he was, Dave Grusin had admitted that he felt his creative freedom was often limited by producers and directors who were treating him as a composer for higher rather than a designer of a musical backdrop which should be as unique and artistic as the film itself. It seemed he was dancing to the tune of the studio bosses, rather than being the one to compose the music.
Being an imaginative musician, this eventual disillusionment with a craft he was so good at represented much of his ambivalence about staying in the entertainment business. To anyone like Dave Grusin, whose outlook spanned the horizon, this restriction and intervention was nemesis to creative functioning. Or as he phrased it so succinctly, he had become tired of having to defend the integrity of his scores.
The key was to utilize other outlets for originality. One continued to be live performance, and Dave Grusin could regularly be heard on Tuesday nights at the Baked Potato with Lee Ritenour's band, and on occasion as part of bassist Ron Carter's trio along with Harvey Mason.
But in the end, making records proved to be the resolution to his dilemma, both albums of his own, and having real control over recordings he might produce for others. The formation of a production company with Larry Rosen proved not only the solution to his own career doubts, but - what luck for fans - the bond which held him in the show business fold, to go on to create exciting music for the next quarter century.
Certainly Larry Rosen should also receive a bow of thanks, not only for encouraging Dave Grusin to produce records, but also to perform. He's said, “I never get bored with this man's talent, it's just phenomenal and total musicality and beauty - everything he plays and writes."
Larry Rosen and Dave Grusin were soon putting together records for Blue Note and such artists as Earl Klugh, Noel Pointer, Yutaka Yakokora and on CTI with Patti Austin.
By 1977 Grusin Rosen Productions was operating at full tilt. Rounding out their work for various companies, the pair put together their piece de resistance, a new Dave Grusin album. For Polydor he released the five-track LP "One of a Kind," representing a number of musical themes and ideas which had been running through his mind for some time. This included the dazzling Modaji and Montage.
He also appeared on record that year with Art Farmer, drummer Harvey Mason, Angelle Trosclair as well as Quincy, Lee and the Brothers Johnson once more.
Four motion pictures scored included New York based The Goodbye Girl starring Richard Dreyfuss, chase vehicle Mr. Billion, cult movie Fire Sale and racing film Bobby Deerfield, the latter being a particularly lyrical creation.
Initial signings for the new label included flutist Dave Valentin and singer Angela Bofill. Dave Grusin not only produced and recorded with these artists in 1978, but also again with Lee Ritenour and Noel Pointer. There was even an appearance on the soundtrack album of "The Wiz".
Closing out the decade Dave Grusin scored the sophisticated Fonda-Redford western "The Electric Horseman," the legal drama "…and Justice For All," and the film which contains what may easily be claimed as his most beautiful theme, "The Champ" (garnering another Oscar nomination).
He also appeared on albums with GRP signings Tom Browne, Jay Hoggard, Roland Vasquez and Lee Ritenour as well as again with Dave Valentin and Angela Bofill.
But the recording landmark in 1979 was one made first for JVC, representing the beginning of the digital age in jazz - the incomparable Mountain Dance. No other piece of music is more synonymous with the name Dave Grusin, probably no work of his more uplifting or enchanting .
Despite the negative vibes which had haunted the middle of the decade, Dave Grusin went sailing into the eighties in best form, the future rife with opportunities and challenges, achievements and fulfilment. Breathe a sigh that he didn't give up!
Go to 1980s Chronology