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Dave Grusin Beginnings



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“I started to go wrong sometime around 13 or 14 years old.”


There are not many people who would believe that Dave Grusin's drift from classical music to jazz was anything but an enhancement of the latter genre, despite his above quip.

But indeed, his father Henri Grusin's proclivity towards serious music meant that Dave Grusin was well grounded in the classics long before turning to improvisations of popular standards.

He states, “I was a late bloomer in that area. I could relate to Art Tatum, for example, from a technical standpoint primarily. I liked early Brubeck too, when he was doing the contrapuntal arrangements of standards.”  

And like every teenager, there was also an influence from the pop charts.  “The music I had been hearing, other than classical, was Frankie Laine. We had our Top Ten too.”  Putting on his scorer's hat at a rakish angle, he says, “if I were writing for a film about my high school days, I'd use "Ghost Riders In The Sky" as a source.”

Improvising sessions in his teens proved the ultimate turn on, and the blending of all the strands in a formalized setting took place at the University of Colorado where Dave Grusin was a piano major.

With no less a teacher than Storm Bull, grand nephew of Grieg and pupil of Bartok, plus a wonderful correspondence from Henri Grusin to further ripen his musical senses, the stage was set for him to excel to the scope of his ambitions.

As a performance major, it was a natural thing to be come involved with college dance bands.  He recalls with amusement, “We thought we were creative, but we didn't know what we were doing. It took me a while to realize that bass players were supposed to hit specific notes for certain chords.”

But the group was determined, and even cut a recording.  “Eventually this band got charts, like Gerry Mulligan's "Youngblood," and we'd make a workshop band out of it, trying to play these things,” he adds. “We recorded one song, and it sounds like a comedy record, except we were being serious. You can hear this bass drum, about sixty inches across, playing on every beat.”  Another college recording found him accompanying the SAE Quintet on an album titled “Reminisce.”

There were professional gigs too, with Art Tatum and Johnny Smith.

His musical contacts widened during a stay in Florida.  In addition to playing in clubs himself, he frequently went to Tallahassee to hear friends sit in with Nat and Cannonball Adderley.  “They were playing a kind of music that, for me, was a change. All of a sudden there was some new stuff to play,” he says.

Nevertheless, his next step was not to hit the jazz haunts of New York, but to continue his classical studies in that city.  "Being a jazz musician just sort of happened without the real passion that I needed to pull up roots and go to 52nd Street and starve for a bunch of years," he jokes.

As with the solid classical grounding, Dave Grusin began building his real foundations in jazz.  “I heard my first jazz waltz, by Clifford Brown,” he remembers. “It was something like hearing Brubeck's "Take Five." You say to yourself, `If that's possible, then other things are possible.' It opens your mind.”

Quincy Jones once stated that Dave Grusin's soul was wide open.  That may be something to ponder and reflect upon, but as for his mind, of that wide-openness there can be no doubt.  


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