Phil Grenadier, Mark Murphy
January 1, 1970Just the usual two Globe items this week. The column profiled trumpeter Phil Grenadier, one of the busiest sideman in Boston (and the elder brother of Brad Mehldau bassist Larry Grenadier). The Calendar pick was vocalist Mark Murphy, perennial contender for best male vocalist in Down Beat magazine's annual readers poll. I might have reviewed Murphy had my kid not stayed home sick from day care two days this week. As it is, I'm still digging my way out from under the work that piled up while I sat minding the baby.
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Trumpeter fits in, yet always stands out
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | January 27, 2006
Phil Grenadier stepped to the microphone at New England Conservatory's Williams Hall last Saturday, taking his first trumpet solo of the night with the Sofferman Perspective, and gave an inkling of why he's in demand. The solo began slowly and worked its way to a rapid-fire straight-ahead run, with Grenadier flashing discreet glances at the music stand holding leader Brooke Sofferman's new score. And when his well-crafted turn was complete, Grenadier nodded thanks for the applause and modestly exited the stage.
"One of my charms, or whatever I have to offer people, is my versatility," Grenadier, 42, says from his Brighton apartment. "I can play in a straight-ahead mode, and then I can play in more modern, maybe free settings, and I just have a variety to draw from."
It was not always that way, says Grenadier, who moved to Boston in 1995 after spending seven years in New York. He'd begun playing music professionally in San Francisco, with a trumpet-playing father and younger brothers who played guitar (Steve, now an economics professor at Stanford's Graduate School of Business) and bass (Larry, longtime sideman to Brad Mehldau).
"In a nutshell," Grenadier says, "when I was in New York and San Francisco, I was really focused on more traditional, straight-ahead playing, and since I've come to Boston, I've been influenced by the musicians here, where there seems to be a lot more emphasis on freer playing."
Now Grenadier ranks among the busiest sidemen in Boston. Last Saturday's NEC gig was sandwiched between a Friday show with bassist Bob Nieske at the Top of the Hub and one Sunday with the Nina Ott 4 at Zeitgeist Gallery. There were also two recording sessions earlier in the week -- one with saxophonist Tom Zicarelli, the other with the group 3Play, with whom Grenadier is scheduled to appear Tuesday at Zeitgeist. And this past Tuesday, he flew to San Francisco to record his second CD backing reedman Harvey Wainapel.
It isn't just Grenadier's versatility that keeps employers coming back for more.
"Phil has a very unique way of approaching improvisation, and sounds very different from the 'Armstrong/ Gillespie' and hard-bop trumpet styles," says Sofferman, who has used Grenadier on two previous CDs and was field-testing material for a third at NEC. "His solos are often multi-angled melodies that resolve in unexpected ways and remind me of a snake slithering through the grass. He always listens and reacts to the music around him, instead of using the accompaniment as a faceless cushion to blow over."
That's not to say Grenadier doesn't appreciate the older styles. In fact, he says that in addition to his early heroes Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard, and the free-jazz listening he's been doing since coming to Boston, he's also learned to love more traditional trumpeters such as Bobby Hackett and Ruby Braff. That's something he and his 83-year-old dad now have in common.
"He played trumpet in a World War II Army band," Grenadier says about his father, Al. "Some of my earliest memories are just watching him listen to Count Basie or Harry James, and the way he'd beat his foot. He was just losing himself in the music."
Another household memory involves practicing with his brothers. "We grew up all playing music together and studying with private teachers," Grenadier recalls. "So that was great to grow up with kind of a built-in rhythm section in the house."
What Grenadier didn't do was study music in college, which he regrets.
"I started working professionally at a really young age," he explains, "and so by the time I was ready to go to music school, I was really working 30 nights a month in San Francisco. I was kind of shortsighted. I said, 'Gosh, this is going so good, I'm doing kind of what I thought people in music school would be wanting to do anyway.'"
Instead, he studied liberal arts at a San Mateo, Calif., community college and then decamped for New York to polish his playing on bandstands. He took a couple of lessons from trumpeter Tom Harrell and made contacts with the first-class sidemen who turned up on his first two CDs — Ethan Iverson, Seamus Blake, and Bill Stewart among them. (Larry Grenadier also appears on both CDs, and the Grenadiers' boyhood pal Jeff Ballard plays drums on the second.)
"I was very lucky," Grenadier says. "I mean, Ethan Iverson, when he recorded with me, no one knew about him, and now he's a big shot with the Bad Plus."
Grenadier is now making plans for his third CD, around his copious sideman work. What he hasn't managed yet is putting his own ensemble together and hitting a club as a headliner. He's been too busy.
"I really should," he says. "I'm so busy sometimes I feel like I can just do the sideman thing. But part of me would like to present a band somewhere. I think for my next record I definitely want to do that. I just need to do it."
Phil Grenadier and Marcello Pellitteri will perform with 3Play and George Garzone at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Zeitgeist Gallery. Tickets $8. Call 617-876-6060 or visit www.zeitgeist-gallery.org
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Scullers, Doubletree Guest Suites Boston, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 & 10 p.m. $20, $60 with dinner.
Mark Murphy is a jazz singer's jazz singer. Kurt Elling dedicated an album to "Eddie Jefferson, Jon Hendricks and Mark Murphy, who taught me how to sing jazz." He's also a six-time Grammy nominee who has four times since 1996 been voted best male vocalist in the Down Beat Readers Poll. (Murphy polled second to Elling in 2005.) Way back in 1963 his hit version of "Fly Me to the Moon" got him named Down Beat's "New Star of the Year." At 73, Murphy (above, in his younger days) has an impressive track record. So when he says his recent CD "Once to Every Heart" may be "the best thing I've done," it's worth taking note. On it, he collaborates with German trumpeter Till Brönner for a program consisting entirely of languid, emotion-steeped ballads, among them eight standards, the less familiar title cut, and a tune apiece by the principals. Murphy also plucks a page from the Kermit the Frog songbook, with a touching rendition of "Bein' Green." Brönner won't be with him at Scullers, but Murphy's frequent pianist Joshua Wolff will, as will two first-rate sidemen associated with Rebecca Parris: bassist Peter Kontrimas and drummer Matt Gordy.
Sat 1-28 Either/ Orchestra Berklee celebrates its 60th anniversary with a star-laden concert at the Wang Theatre tonight, but its home turf won't sit idle. The Either/ Orchestra toasts its own 20 years in business with a concert of Ethio-jazz, joined by Ethiopian guest musicians Hana Shenkute, Minale Dagnew, and Setegn Atenaw. Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Ave., Boston. 617-747-2261. 8 p.m. $22-$35.