Grady Tate talks about life and the making of Grady Tate Sings: All Love
Please recap how the project came about.
"I do lots of Japanese recordings on drums. I do 15 to 20 per year, sometimes more than that. On one of the projects, I can’t remember what it was, (for) this alto saxophonist. The producer asked me if I would do a vocal on it and I agreed to do it, for a nominal fee. And I was doing another project with Eighty-Eight and he said, “Would you like to do a CD while I’m here?” “Sure why not?” It was just that simple. I didn’t go looking for it, I didn’t ask anybody for anything. Eighty-Eight said “Ah Grady-san, you want to do it.”
Any memorable aspects?
"Working with the musicians that I chose is foremost in my head in terms of enjoyment. Kenny Baron is just not to be believed. It’s the bed that everyone would love to lie upon, to rest upon. Kenny Baron is just unbelievable. Frank West, and everybody on there was just wonderful. I really just had a ball."
How did you meet everyone involved with the project?
"I’ve known those people for thirty, forty years. We worked together on many different projects and every conceivable kind of environment where jazz is involved. And we’ve hung out, we’ve got wreaked together. We’ve gone to hear other artists and put them down, “Hey man what are you doing?” We’d get wrecked and put people down, build em’ back up. These are my friends, partners in crime."
Give us your thoughts on the U.S. market as it pertains to your new album.
"It’s very difficult for a jazz artist to become successful in terms of financial benefit. I don’t know what the actual number is, when a jazz artist makes a CD or prior to that an album. If that artist sold 40,000 pieces it was a smash, it was a hit! First of all, in most areas of the country it’s hard to find a jazz station, and once you can get the jazz stations you know there is no following, there’s no place to hear them. Nobody wants to pay them to come in, unless they’re Herbie, you know? That’s another ball game entirely. Herbie plays all kinds of things; he’s an extraordinary human being because he thinks that way. Once given the opportunity from having worked with Miles and all of that he had a strong financial base on which to rest. He said, “Hey, I’m going to do what so many other people in the business have done. I’m gonna write some hits.” It’s incredible. I appreciate him for doing that. I admire the ability that he has to go in and out. So, you know, I don’t know, you just do them and hope they sell. "See what I did on this CD is I changed my approach to things. I've been trying to do something that didn’t come naturally to me. I tried to do some things that were soulful. Now I’m extremely soulful, but not in the way that soulfulness is usually expected. My soulfulness is how I interpret a line, and have that line play something to somebody that gets deep inside them without them going “YEAH!” You know you can go "woah, yeah, hum, that’s enough" and I chose not to play jazzy rhythm. I didn’t want the rhythm to sound jazzy. Disguised like in the ballads, I did things that suggested a bossa nova thing or a straight eight thing with brushes. Nothing obtrusive. I chose to keep everything in the same genre, same groove. And our next project is going to be the same thing. But it’s going to add other colors to it. I would like to do things with a pure Latin groove. Like Eddie Palmari - that’s who I want to work with, and find that real quiet, quiet soul of his, and that’s what I’m looking towards now. I want that thing to happen. I want to cross over into that groove. But keep my thing going, so I think it can work and I’m thinking about it all the time."
Was this title available in other counties?
"It was available in Japan, and it did well. When I was there on tour with The 100 Gold Fingers – 10 pianists, Bob Crenshaw and I. We did concerts with the entire group and then on off-nights Bob and I would go with 1 or 2 pianists to another venue and we’d work with them. As a result I had no nights off on the entire trip. I was totally wreaked when I got back. We did things with Benny Greene, and it was such a groove and at the end of this thing the people were there. Benny Greene was the one who was announced “The Benny Greene Trio.” After the concert I took the little funny stuff I had on off and put some jeans on. The owner said to me “Grady-san will you come down here and sign some CDs?” I thought why would I want to sign a Benny Greene CD, but sure if they want, I’ll do it. I went down to where they were having the autograph signing and I saw about 30 people lined up at this table, and each of them had “All Love” so that gave me a boost. I said “Oh… All right.." So I signed it "Benny Greene" (Laughing) Only kidding."
Who are your biggest influences?
"Ah… I don’t know… Everybody I ever heard. All the great jazz artists were my influences. I started listening to the radio even before I knew about it at 4 or 5 years old. I knew tunes and I wasn’t aware of it. Given the opportunity I could sing a complete tune. The first tune I did I was reared on a property that was adjacent to the University of North Carolina, at that time it was North Carolina College for Negros. I was always hanging out looking, listening, and playing. They had this amateur show they were doing and it was where I hold my annual Grady Tate Jazz Festival. That is the first time I had ever seen a drum set. A trio, they played for the different contestants. The guy said, "all right, is there anybody else out there that wants to try out for this?" Nobody said anything. My mother and father got up and they started out to the left, and I got up and went out to the right, and I walked up there and the guy said “Hello little boy.” I said “Hello.” He said, “Why you up here?” I said, “I want to sing.” And he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, not yet! not yet! We have one more contestant.” And I was too short for the microphone, so I was standing on a chair and they lifted the microphone a little. So I started singing “The One Rose” (starts singing the first verse) and everyone started applauding, and the guy comes out saying “You win! You get 3rd place!” So I won a crate of RC Cola, I haven’t had an RC Cola since. But I knew I had to do this. I just wanted to do it. And I’ve never been afraid of anything. I don’t care who's out there. That’s one of the reasons I became a well-known drummer, because I wasn’t afraid of anybody. I didn’t study to become a studio drummer, one of the busiest drummers in the world, one of the most recorded. I didn’t study to do that. I didn’t know anything about that. But when I got into it and I saw what it was, I said, “I can do this.” I was so quick; I read very well. I read everything. I can read music like flash it, I read it like that. I was able to adjust so quickly, and it was fun to me. All the other cats... man “Oh that’s pressure… You gotta read...” It didn’t frighten me. I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of anything in my life, other than not having a good time."
Is there a song that you have yet to record that you have always wanted to recreate or that may hold special meaning for you?
"No, every time I sing I find good songs that I’ve always loved and I don’t say "this is my favorite" cause that would be a lie. It’s a favorite for right now."
How did you get started in the music business?
"When I was five and I saw that set of drums. And I sang so that kind of satisfied that craving. This was in August or September. I said, "Dad, you know what I want for Christmas?" He said, "What?" "A set of drums." He said, "Oh yeah, O.K." I never mentioned it again; I forgot about it. On Christmas day, I go downstairs and there’s a set of Pearl drums. I was the only kid in the city who had a set of drums. My dad sent to New York to get a set of drums. My parents did me all my life, anything I wanted they would get it for me. They gave me love, concern and confidence. So I became the rhythm band king… there’s Grady."
Who's your favorite 441 Artist?
"I was in Durham, North Carolina last week taking care of my father. He has been in a rehab center for the past year. I had to move my father from that rehab center and took him home. I was not living at our home place, I had a room in the Marriott Hotel. I was quite tired so I turned the radio on. I know that North Carolina Central has one of the great jazz radio shows in this country. I turned that station on and who was there was Joe Chambers. I listened to it and I enjoyed Joe’s CD."
January 14, 1932
Drums and singing are hobbies enough for me. Each of them ordinarily demands a whole lifetime of concentration and I don’t do it because I can do it, I do it basically because I enjoy doing it. I think about it all the time. So those are my hobbies, those are my accomplishments. Those are the things that have directed me and propelled me all my life.
North Carolina Central University
BA English Literature & Drama, minor in Psychology Honorary Doctorate in Special Education
Lecturer in Jazz Studies at Howard University since 1989