"When Dave Grusin plays my tunes I always learn something new."
-- Gerry Mulligan
In so many ways, the 1990s represented some of Dave Grusin's most outstanding work, in film composition, on record and as a packager/producer of the finest quality productions.
It was a time of some fairly radical changes in his musical life. The decade witnessed him turning from many things which had been career centrepieces up to that point - recording his own tunes, concentrating on electronic music, intensive film scoring and, of course, ownership of GRP.
Through the entire decade, he released no new (non film) jazz compositions of his own at all. Recordings found him primarily playing acoustic piano. He seldom scored more than one movie a year, and in some years, none. And the record company was sold.
Read the above paragraph, and you might be thinking retirement or decline. In fact, the direct opposite is the case, the key words being excellence and dynamism.
Trading an emphasis on composing for arranging, he brought out four critically acclaimed albums which are nothing less than landmarks. Starting with “The Gershwin Connection” in 1991, he found himself gaining a plethora of new fans. Marking a return to his roots at the acoustic piano, it is probably the record which has achieved Dave Grusin's greatest success. And perhaps the most personal satisfaction as well.
“Homage to Duke” (Ellington) followed in 1993, and was also an award winner, signaling that the rediscovery of the piano was coupled with a return to straight-ahead jazz - in a big way. While it was basically a compilation recording, the addition of new versions of Dave Grusin's Three Cowboy Songs made “The Orchestral Album,” released in 1994, a well-received addition to the discography, also netting another Grammy in the process.
There was more piano magic the following year when he participated on Gerry Mulligan's final album. “Dragonfly” features a particularly mellifluous Dave Grusin performance at the keyboard, making the CD a must for any fan. (See 1995 recordings as sideman in the Records section.) After Gerry Mulligan's death in 1996 N2K released the “Legacy” salute to the legendary saxophonist with Patti Austin joining Dave Grusin on “Now I Know What I've Missed.
1997 offered a double salute, first to the music of mentor and friend Henry Mancini (the cool and pleasing “Two For the Road”) and the big band extravaganza, “Dave Grusin Presents West Side Story” to mark the 40th anniversary of the Leonard Bernstein musical.
Each of these is a tour de force which could put the lot among his half dozen greatest albums. He was at the apogee of his musical powers as a recording artist and arranger.
Special mention should also be made of his participation on Lee Ritenour's “Twist of Jobim” the same year. Dave Grusin is at the heart of four ensemble tracks, and does a piano solo of “Bonita” which is mesmerizing.
And that West Side Story album wasn't the first foray into big band arrangements, but the culmination of a decade focusing on such material. There were three “Dave Grusin Presents the GRP All-Star Big Band” releases, including a live performance (also available on video) as well as an all-blues CD.
In 1990, he completed an elaborate jazz score for the controversial “Bonfire of the Vanities” and another for the Robert Redford motion picture “Havana.” The latter, netting Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations, contains some of the most beautiful and evocative music Dave Grusin has written for the screen. Scoring Bette Midler's “For The Boys” was more a matter of arranging some standards for the singer in 1991, but also included the notable original "Dreamland."
More Oscar and Grammy nominations greeted his innovative and muscular score for Sydney Pollack's legal thriller, “The Firm,” in 1993. Not only meeting the picture's needs perfectly in a most inventive way with solo acoustic piano, it also contains some terrific melodies.
Though he continued to do only a single film in 1995 and 1996, both those for Grammy-nominated “The Cure” and “Mulholland Falls” are orchestral scores which stand out for their beauty and ability to take those motion pictures to a level beyond the story.
Dave Grusin sensitively composed the music for two films in which their young protagonists die in 1997, the musically based “Selena” (a Grammy nomination) and Christopher Reeve's HBO offering, “In The Gloaming,” the latter a Cableace award winner. Additionally, he contributed the main theme for the TV film "Hope." And 1998 saw him scoring the romance “Hope Floats” with Sandra Bullock, and receiving the Hollywood Film Festival "Outstanding Achievement in Music in Film Award."
He closed the decade with another bit of `cinemagic' in the form of Sydney Pollack's dusky “Random Hearts,” film music which really gets under the skin, and which is unquestionably well up in a DG Top Ten list. For mood and effectiveness, it could even be called the best. He could want nothing finer to close the century.
Although GRP was sold to MCA in 1990, Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen continued to run the company through 1995, and didn't just maintain the quality evident when it was their personal investment, they broke things wide open, re-issuing the old Decca catalogue on compact disc. Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane…. Some of the greatest jazz recordings of all time were made accessible to the public, in state of the art digital sound, thanks to the loving ministrations of the GRP co-founders.
It wouldn't be Dave Grusin if the decade didn't provide something totally new in his career. During the 1990s, that innovation was N2K and the Internet.
The business venture, again with Larry Rosen, and including John Diamond as a third partner, was an enterprise with many irons in the fire. As a record company, they produced the first musical album on DVD - which just happened to be “Dave Grusin Presents West Side Story,” and included a variety of graphic elements plus performance scenes to accompany the ten tracks from the musical.
N2K's foray into the world of the Internet was, however, an equally high-profile endeavor. The Music Boulevard website has still not been matched for innovation, and represents a World Wide Web milestone .
While the company and the wonderful site were absorbed into CD-Now, the internet venture (as well as the excitement of the record company) remain a memory of high times and exciting concepts.
Although on some levels it would appear that Dave Grusin was pacing himself to devote more time and thought to his various projects, the intensity of his overall output remained at the staggering level of previous decades.
There was so much to admire, not least, his return to the piano. He reveals, “I probably wouldn't have come to this point without having gone through this other stuff -learning electronics and dealing with computers,” adding that the latter are `great, but not the ultimate answer for me.” Not only was there a move away from electronics and fusion, but even one beyond be-bop. Early in the decade he declared “I'm working on some classical music, some harmonies that I've been wondering about for a while. I'd like to expand in that direction.”
Expand any more, and he might burst. But then, probably not. His quintessential elasticity and the dimensions of his ever-increasing development in the nineties are pure proof of that.
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