In Memoriam: Henry Grimes

Henry Grimes

Photo by Peter Gannushkin

Jazz and avant-garde bassist Henry Grimes has passed away of COVID-19 complications. He was 84 years old.

Grimes was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 3rd, 1935. He played a variety of band instruments before landing on the double bass, which he went on to study at Juilliard. He hit his stride in the mid-50s and recorded with some of the biggest names in jazz: Gerry Mulligan, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Anita O’Day, and more. He also played second bass for Charles Mingus in his group.

Check out Grimes playing in a chordless trio with saxophonist Rollins and drummer Joe Harris during a 1959 concert:

Grimes became more and more interested in the growing free jazz movement, leading him to play with more exploratory improvisors like Cecil Taylor, trumpeter Don Cherry, and saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders. During this time he released a solo album, called The Call, in 1965.

Three years later, he moved to California. Sadly, his bass was damaged on the way. He eventually pawned it, leading to a loss of gigs. He took to construction and custodial work to get by and was even homeless at times. Most jazz aficionados presumed he was dead, but a social worker named Marshall Marrotte found him in 2002. With the aid of fans and friends, Grimes received a bass by donation. (Bassist William Parker donated the green bass, dubbed Olive Oil, and luthier David Gage helped to ship it.)

It rekindled the bassist’s musical career and took him across the world to perform. He recorded another six solo albums and steadily worked with artists like Rashied Ali, Andrew Cyrille, Marc Ribot, Ben Morea, and more.

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Henry Grimes.

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