Thursday, April 12, 2012

R.I.P.: Rodgers Grant

(born Rodgers Lee Grant on January 18, 1936 in Harlem, NY;
died on April 12, 2012 in Defiance, Ohio)

I'm devastated with the news that the great composer, pianist and arranger Rodgers Grant, age 76, just passed away. Surreal note: this extremely underrated and low-profile genius, who wrote the pop hit "Yeh Yeh" and the jazz standard "Morning Star" (one of the most intriguing and challenging jazz tunes ever composed) never released an album as a leader!

I was 9 years old when I became a big fan of Grant's tremendous talent as a composer through the gorgeous title track he wrote for Hubert Laws' "Morning Star" album, recorded for Creed Taylor's CTI label in 1972. That album (reissued on CD in the USA and Asia by Sony Jazz Masterworks in 2010; see posts below) received a Grammy nomination. A couple of years later, Grant contributed "Reconciliation" to another gem from Laws' CTI catalog, "In The Beginning" (which also featured Rogers Grant playing piano on an exciting 15-minute latin-jazz tune titled "Mean Lene"), later reissued as "Then There Was Light."

Between those two sessions, I had already started to collect everything that Grant recorded, including the albums with George Benson for A&M/CTI ("Tell It Like It Is" and, years later, an out-takes collection that would come out only in 1984 titled "I Got A Woman and Some Blues," on which he is uncredited) and specially the ones with Mongo Santamaria like "Watermelon Man" (including Mongo's hit version of Herbie Hancock's tune) and "Mongo Explodes," recorded in the Spring of 1964 for Riverside, including "Sweet 'Tater Pie" and "Dulce Amor," two songs composed by Grant specially for that album, later reissued on a 2-LP set as well as on CD format as "Skins" by the Milestone label.

It's worth to mention that, when Rodgers Grant joined Mongo Santamaria's band, he replaced Brazilian pianist João Donato. And when Grant left Mongo, the young guy who took the piano chair was Chick Corea!

I've also always loved Grant's biggest hit ever as a composer, "Yeh Yeh" (co-written with saxophonist Laurdine "Pat" Patrick, his band mate on Santamaria's group), with my favorite version being the one recorded by the English "new bossa" band Matt Bianco on their 1986 self-titled CD for Warner. Its opening track is the 12" Dance Mix version of the infectious "Yeh Yeh," originally recorded as an instrumental one by Mongo Santamaria in 1963 and, some months later, by Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan (after Jon Hendricks, the Pope of the Vocalese, added lyrics) and turned into a worldwide hit by Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames two years later.

Georgie Fame's "Yeh Yeh" single reached # 1 in England in January 1965 ("knocking The Beatles' "I Feel Fine" from the top position in the British charts," according to historian Jörg Feyer) and # 21 in the U.S. at the height of the so-called "British Invasion." Twenty-one years later, Matt Bianco's version reached # 15 in the UK charts. Grant's last recording session was with Brazilian jazz vocalist Ithamara Koorax, engineered by the legendary Rudy Van Gelder at Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

The son of Albert and Mary E. Grant, Rodgers Grant married Louise E. Morhart (who survives in Paulding) on January 28, 2000. He also was a US Army veteran.

Rodgers Grant is also survived by a son, Mandingo Ndingi, Oakland, CA; a daughter Biah Bia Buchongo of Oakland, CA; a step son, Don (Marilyn Stevenson, Cecil; 4 step daughters: Becky (Tom) Jackson, Bluffton, IN, Jackie Adams, Oakwood, Sally Stevenson, Dunedin, New Zealand, and Richelle Britt, Paulding; a sister, Judy Lee, new Rochelle, NY; 3 grandchildren; 10 step grandchildren; and 4 great step grandchildren.

He is preceded in death by his parents and a sister, Alberta.

Funeral services will be conducted 11 AM Tuesday, April 17 at Den Herder Funeral Home, Paulding, with Pastor Bob Shepard officiating. Burial will follow in Live Oak Cemetery with military graveside rites accorded by VFW Post #587.

Visitation will be 2 – 8 PM Monday, April 16 at Den Herder Funeral Home and one hour priro to services on Tuesday. My condolences to Louise and all their family.

Selected Discography:
1963 "Mongo Introduces La Lupe" - Mongo Santamaria
1963 "Watermelon Man" - Mongo Santamaria
1963 "Mongo at the Village Gate" - Mongo Santamaria
1965 "Organ Shindig" - Dave "Baby" Cortez (as a composer only)
1966 "Jazz for the Jet Set" - Dave Pike (as a composer)
1966 "Laws of Jazz" - Hubert Laws
1966 "Laws of Jazz/Flute By-Laws" - Hubert Laws
1966 "Tweety Pie" - Dave "Baby" Cortez (as a composer)
1966 "Vibrations" - The 3 Sounds (as a composer)
1966 "Hey! Let's Party" - Mongo Santamaria
1967 "Mongomania" - Mongo Santamaria
1967 "Joey" - Joey Pastrana & His Orquestra - Fender Rhodes
1967 "Mongo Explodes" - Mongo Santamaria
1968 "Soul Bag" - Mongo Santamaria
1968 "Explosion" - Mongo Santamaria
1969 "Tell It Like It Is" - George Benson
1969 "Stone Soul" - Mongo Santamaria
1969 "Workin' On A Groovy Thing" - Mongo Santamaria
1969 "Mongo Soul" - Mongo Santamaria
1970 "Mongo Santamaria's Greatest Hits" - Mongo Santamaria
1973 "The Watermelon Man" [2-LP set compilation] - Mongo Santamaria
1974 "In the Beginning" - Hubert Laws
1975 "The Good, the Bad, the Ugly" - Willie Colón
1976 "Confessin' the Blues" - Esther Phillips
1976 "Pura Salsa" - Azuquita
1977 "Baquiné de Angelitos Negros" - Willie Colón
1977 "Then There Was Light, Vol. 2" - Hubert Laws
1978 "Wirtz & Music" - Mark Wirtz (as a composer)
1979 "With Sound Reason" - Sonny Fortune (as a composer)
1984 "I Got A Woman and Some Blues" - George Benson
1986 "Matt Bianco" - Matt Bianco (as a composer)
1986 "Standards Zone" - Brian Melvin (as a composer)
1990 "Atlantic Jazz: 12 Vol. Box Set" - Various Artists
1990 "Atlantic Jazz: Singers" - Various Artists
1990 "Ready Steady Go!, Vol. 1" [Video] - Various Artists
1992 "A&M Gold: Mid '60s Classics" - Various Artists
1992 "Skins" - Mongo Santamaria
1995 "Best Sixties Album in the World Ever" - Various Artists (as a composer)
1996 "Masters of Jazz, Vol. 7: Jazz Hit Singles" - Various Artists
1996 "Mod Jazz" - Various Artists
1997 "Riverside Records Story" - Various Artists
1998 "Very Best of Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames" (as a composer)
1998 "Sabroso: The Afro-Latin Groove" - Various Artists
1998 "The In-Crowd" [3-CD Box Set] - Georgie Fame (as a composer)
1999 "Burnin'/Confessin' the Blues" - Esther Phillips (CD reissue)
2000 "Incontournables" - Mongo Santamaría
2000 "Gettin' to Me" - Various Artists
2000 "Silver Disc: The Ace 25th Anniversary CD Various Artists"
2001 "Celebracion: The Warner Bros. Recordings"
2002 "After Hours: Northern Soul Masters from the Vaults of Atlantic, Atco, Loma, Reprise" - Various Artists
2002 "Classic Jazz: Jazz Masters" - Various Artists
2002 "Sixties Jukebox Classics" - Various Artists
2003 "Shanghai Knights" - Original Soundtrack
2003 "Georgie Fame for Café Après-Midi" - Georgie Fame
2004 "Trios" - Max Leake (as a composer)
2004 "British Invasion: 1963-1967" - Various Artists
2004 "Live at Birdland" - Scott Whitfield (as a composer)
2004 "Colors of Latin Jazz: Música Romantica" - Various Artists
2005 "Touch and Go" - Frank Popp (as a composer)
2005 "6T's Rhythm & Soul Society: In the Beginning" - Various Artists
2006 "Collectables Classics [Box Set]" - Esther Phillips
2006 "Look at Me Now" - Laika Fatien (as a composer)
2007 "Speaking of Love" - Scott Whitfield (as a composer)
2007 "Street of Dreams" - Eileen Howard (as a composer)
2007 "Jukebox" - Randy Bachman (as a composer)
2008 "Monk on Monk/Crosstalk" - T.S. Monk (as a composer)
2008 "Good Lovin'" - David Campbell (as a composer)
2008 "What a Girl Needs" - Various Artists (as a composer)
2009 "Inside You" - Jenny Davis (as a composer)
2009 "Best Sixties Album in the World...Ever!" (Reissue) - Various Artists
2010 "Lemon Twist" - Cheryl Conley (composer)
2010 "Morning Star" - Vincent Herring (composer)
2010 "Mod Mania" - Various Artists (composer)
From Wikipedia:

Rodgers Grant (born 1935) is an American jazz pianist, composer, and lyricist. After having worked with saxophonist Hugo Dickens in the 1950s, he became pianist for Mongo Santamaría in the 1960s. In 1963, Grant wrote the hit, "Yeh! Yeh!" in collaboration with Pat Patrick. Jazz vocalist Jon Hendricks's added original lyrics and recorded the song with Lambert and Bavan at the Newport Jazz Festival of 1963. It became an international hit as recorded by Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames in 1965.

His instrumental works have been recorded by Santamaria, Hubert Laws, Johnny Coles, Frank Wess, Tom Harrell, Vincentico Valdez, Poncho Sanchez, Richard "Groove" Holmes, James Spaulding, Sonny Fortune, T.S. Monk, Karrin Allyson, Gene Harris, Jody Christian, Angela DeNiro, Stan Getz, Ralph Moore, Ray Bloch on the Ed Sullivan Show.

He composed the title track on Hubert Laws's Grammy-nominated album Morning Star (1973). Esther Phillips along with Oliver Nelson recorded his lyrical contribution to "Just Say Goodbye."

He continues to create original vocal and instrumental jazz material. Most recently, trombonist and vocalist Scott Whitfield recorded two of Grant's compositions on Scott Whitfield Jazz Orchestra East - Live at Birdland (2004).

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