The Life, Times and Philosophy of Grover Washington Jr. "Communication is the key," he says…
IF YOU even attempt to discuss the incredible acceptance that Jazz/jazz-oriented music has seen within the last couple of years, there is no question that Grover Washington Jr.'s name has to enter the conversation.
Going back to his "Inner City Blues" album — one of the first releases on what was then the fledgling Kudu label — Mr. Washington has captured the enthusiasm and excitement of audiences both on record and in person with his imaginative and soulful style.
He's a master of the saxophone, although he'll insist that he's "still learning because you never know everything and there is so much to learn".
If 'learning' means staying at home, Grover's had precious little chance to do that over the years! But things are changing.
"I guess I've just been a compulsive worker for like ten years. In fact, I had my only one vacation and that was a working vacation anyway! But the situation's changed. Now, I'm in a position to delegate responsibility.
"People think that being involved in music is just playing and rehearsing. They forget that you have to also take care of business and that means business!
"Up until now, I wasn't in a position to delegate work in connection with publishing and other business interests. Now I am — and I've gotten everything to the point where we were recently able to work out a basic plan for the next two years for my career. And it's the first time I've been able to do that.
"Obviously, it's flexible and open to whatever may happen in that period, but it's a guide for us to work with. And that's important because it affects everything — your creativity, everything.
"Up until now, my creative processes have had to happen on the road — I had no other choice and that meant always under pressure. Now, with more leisure time, I can devote more time to creativity — in terms of writing and so on and that naturally gives me more confidence.
"I can experiment, learn, communicate. I can be more demanding in terms of what I write — frequently, I can hear things in my mind and through whatever situation, I've been unable to work on them immediately. The way we've set up my work schedule now, it allows for time to be spent on different projects.
"Plus I've learned about procrastination — you know, I'm no longer just putting things off continually. I'm practising what I preach for once — and I've got more hours to play with mentally, keeping things flexible".
Grover sees his work as a constant learning process. "Ever since I was a kid, I was always asking questions. When I was sixteen, seventeen, going to gigs, continuously asking how do you do that?' and so on. And people, musicians — would always meet me half-way. Explain how things were done — and that's how I learned.
"It's like nowadays. We take every opportunity we can to go and talk to kids in school — we'll go and play when we have time off. Not for money or just so that we can say we did it, but because we want to. Like the guys in the group really don't have to but they want to. Which is important to me, because I can only work well around people who give off a good vibe.
"But we went and played and I spoke at West Philly high school (Grover lives in Philadelphia) and we've done prisons, schools. And I dig the communication, the inspiration that it gives me. Plus I like to think we're helping give the kids the incentive — the way I was given the incentive when I was young by other musicians."
Mr. Washington puts a lot of emphasis on the need for communication — passing on knowledge in all areas.
"You see, music is to be shared. It has to be passed on, regardless of how, whether it's just a passage of music or a mood that's been created by it. It can all be passed on.
"It's like when I first worked with Bob James. We found that we had similar tastes, we were able to see a lot of things the same way. And I learned from that the most important thing you can do as a musician, a creative person, is be true to yourself and that way you'll create the best music possible."
Obviously, Grover's been creating some of the best music around — judging by the constant success that greets each new album. His latest set. "A Secret Place" is no exception and Grover's in-person appearances are becoming increasingly sell outs from coast to coast. In fact, it's not unusual these days to find that extra dates have to be added to accommodate the many people who want to check the man out in concert.
Having already established himself both as a recording artist and as a performer, what goals are there left for Grover to achieve?
"I just want to continue making music, doing whatever I can in the way of communication. I've always wanted to be a teacher — but not in the strictest sense of the word. I want to do it in a practical way. Through playing and talking to people.
"And there are still so many areas to be tackled. Movies, soundtracks. Plus I've always had that feeling that I had to 'catch up'. Like, there are always other musicians ahead of me. And I still feel that intensely.
"I just want to be able to grow. And at the same time, I realize that music has to be put into its right perspective. Music is part of life, but it's not the whole. There are other things which are so important. Like Living!
"I've learned also that it's important to listen to criticism," states Grover. "It only helps to make you more aware of what's going on. And I have to know what's going on around me because that's going to reflect in my music. Because to me, music — my music — is about the feel. That has to be there to establish the story-line for me.
"And I'm learning more about using 'spaces' in my writing. You know, every single moment doesn't have to be filled. Those spades can really make a difference.
"And I haven't gotten into lyrics too much, I guess I've been somewhat hesitant about it. But it's coming. And I want to work on choral pieces and arrangements because I know there are just so many areas to get into."
With his continuing popularity, Grover says that, "yes, I've felt the pressures of the business. But when I saw how the business was beginning to affect me, I really started to check it all out. In terms of how important it is in the general scheme of my life.
"And within the last three or four years, I've taken inventory. It hasn't been easy — it never is, checking yourself out! But I found that at one point, my music was suffering because of the pressures of the business. So I changed.
"I'm more satisfied now, my music's started to flow more now. And I've learned the importance of discipline, self-discipline. I'm trying not to waste time anymore.
"It's really all up to you, you can really alter any situation if you want to. It's important to remember too that whatever you do — good or bad — you're gonna pay for, sooner or later. So try your best to be good as much as possible and do the best you can all the time."
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.