When Grant Green Jr. was a child, he used to enjoy watching his father, one of the most renowned jazz guitarists, play his instrument.
Yet while the younger musician would eventually pursue his own career on the same instrument, he didn’t receive a single lesson from his father.
“My dad never taught me anything about the guitar, nothing,” Green says. He laughs about it now because there are no hard feelings. His father, whose many LPs for Blue Note Records in the ’60s helped define the modern jazz guitar sound, had the boy’s best interests at heart. “My dad never wanted him to be a musician,” Green explains. “He wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. The music business is tough; it’s a hard life. And when he was coming up, with all the drugs and stuff, it was In fact difficult. He didn’t want to see me go through that. But he was determined ”.
So determined, he says, that “I would watch him play and then I would go home and imitate everything I had just seen him do. And from that moment on, he started to take me seriously. But he still never taught me anything about the guitar.
Green is now 67 years old and has long enjoyed a successful career of his own as a jazz guitarist. The last release of him, Thank you Mr. Bacharachdives deep into the music of Burt Bacharach [who passed away on February 8], which includes tracks made popular by Dionne Warwick like “Walk on By” and “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” as well as “The Look of Love,” a US hit for both Dusty Springfield and Sérgio Mendes. Green also samples “Wives and Lovers,” a selection made famous by vocalist Jack Jones. Thankfully, though he does sing, Green wisely cut it as an instrumental, avoiding the overtly sexist. mad Men-ready lyrics written by Bacharach’s main writing partner, Hal David.
The album was recorded live in an Atlanta-area studio, rather than pieced together one instrument at a time, as so many recordings are done today. “I have to interact with the musicians,” Green says. “Sometimes someone else will have an idea. So we can test that idea. I love the camaraderie.”
Growing up with a famous musician for a father, Green was used to seeing other well-known musicians visiting his family home, including other Blue Note artists such as Stanley Turrentine and Lou Donaldson. A friend of Green’s father, George Benson, did show you some things on the guitar. Ultimately though, the younger musician realized that he needed to find his own style and sound, that playing the instrument in the same way as his father would only invite comparisons. “If my last name is Green,” he says, “and I’m his son, you’ll always be compared. If he had played another instrument, it probably would have been easier.”
Expanding his sphere of influences beyond jazz was one way Green ensured that his own playing encompassed ideas unlike anything his father did. He cites Jeff Beck, Steve Howe of Yes and the lesser known Buzz Feiten as some of his favorite guitarists. And simply because he grew up in Detroit in the ’60s, Green couldn’t help but be influenced by Motown artists. In fact, Stevie Wonder, whose parents were the Greens’ next-door neighbors, was a friend.
“I knew Stevie quite well. Her brother and I used to have a band,” says Green. He talks about an incident where, after a Wonder concert, the superstar’s parents threw a party at her house. “They had a champagne fountain. I had never seen a champagne fountain before and thought it was the best thing I had ever seen,” says Green. However, things got a little out of hand when Wonder “got a little tipsy” by putting his mouth directly under the fountain and ended up wrestling Green on the ground. “There was this lady, and she kept yelling, ‘Be careful; Don’t hurt Steve! Meanwhile, he’s suffocating me!”
Green has a plethora of stories that he likes to tell, including the time he went to a Grateful Dead concert in New York City, where he was living at the time. Invited to hang out in Bob Weir’s hotel room afterward, Green brought his guitar. An associate of Weir’s warned him to stay away when the other musicians were playing, to just play quietly behind them. Instead, the jazz-trained musician began a sweet rendition of the Erroll Garner-penned standard “Misty.”
“Bob came over and sat across from me, crossed his legs and watched me play,” Green says. “The guy who had told me not to play fell flat on his face. I mean, who says that to someone? I never found out who he was and never saw him again, but I do remember Bob Weir sitting there and looking at me.”