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 In summing up Gryce's place in jazz history, many critics mention him in passing whilst describing another musician's weightier contribution. They almost invariably give greater prominence to his compositions, which are said to have been very much in vogue at the time. When evaluating Gryce's contribution it seems that he sometimes suffered in being grouped with other 'hard-boppers' of the younger New York school. Although he frequently collaborated with these musicians, Gryce, together with others more lyrically inclined, was heading in another direction.

Gryce's playing, labelled 'passionate' by critic Nat Hentoff, is said to have shown the influence of his close friend, Charlie Parker, but lacking in melodic invention by comparison. This is true of his earlier recordings such as those with Clifford Brown in 1953 , but his style became less frenetic as he matured . Certainly, it wasn't as technically precocious as Parker's, but was more reflective in approach , especially in later recordings - or when teamed with Art Farmer's creamily mellow flugelhorn playing, for which he was the perfect partner, complementing the cool, swinging, 'hip' feel of many of his compositions . Like Parker's playing it was heavily influenced by the blues, with an underlying commitment to swing. Indeed, his last recordings have a pronounced blues feel , together with a smokey wistfulness that seems to signal the end of an era - he apparently gave up playing professionally shortly afterwards. His tone wasn't as forceful as Parker's, but it could sound urgently incisive at times. His solos never contained superfluous, flashy runs of notes to fill in the gaps, nor was there an over reliance on 'going through the changes' if running out of ideas.

Gryce's compositions have frequently been described as being his greater legacy. He felt that many jazz musicians had an obsession for newness for it's own sake. He preferred to explore and refine previously introduced forms and was tired of the preoccupation of many jazz critics with underdeveloped young soloists. His classical music studies under some of this century's most influential teachers seemed to have rubbed off on his jazz work, even though he was at pains to separate the two: the French tradition of elegance, simplicity and colour seemed to mix with a hint of eastern, or even African-inspired exoticism introduced to often quirky, boppish figures. His time spent playing for Tadd Dameron's band in 1953 must have introduced him to Dameron's quest for beauty that swings, which Dameron admitted was ultimately inspired by the work of Ellington and Gershwin. This rubbed off on Gryce who continued to explore rich voicings in a jazz context, ably demonstrated by his big group sessions for the Savoy label and work for Oscar Pettiford's orchestra.

With the increasing number of reissued recordings available and the expanding body of jazz research and criticism, together with the possibilities of greater communication, the time is right for a wider re-assessment of Gryce's work. Could I appeal to philanthropic academics and enthusiasts alike to share material on Gryce via these pages or other suitable sites? By way of explanation, I first came across Gryce's music when, as a student, my music teacher showed me a book of his compositions called 'Modern Sounds'. I found this music so intriguing that I was determined to find out more about Gigi Gryce.

The definitive book on Gryce, written by Noal Cohen and Mike Fitzgerald, will be available very shortly (expected March 2002) and is entitled 'Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce'. It is hoped to have it available for secure online order via this website.


This website on Gigi Gryce is maintained by David Griffith from Orkney, Scotland. Contributions will be warmly received and acknowledged. Any comments on improving this site are most welcome. Please email me at[email protected]
© David Griffith 1997.