Henry Grimes's saga is one of the strangest in jazz history. In the mid '60s, Grimes was the most in-demand bassist on the planet. He recorded with a staggering range of musicians, including Cecil Taylor, Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Benny Goodman, Carmen McRae, and McCoy Tyner.
Then, in 1967, he vanished and was presumed dead. His obituary even appeared in some newspapers.
But Henry Grimes hadn't died. In 2002, a social worker named Marshall Marrotte, who apparently had become obsessed by Grimes 'old recordings, looked into the particulars of the bassist's disappearance and figured out that there was no definite proof that he'd had actually died. Grimes, Marotte discovered, was living in a utility apartment in South Central Los Angeles. He'd sold his bass, quit playing music and had lived on the cultural margins for the past thirty-five years. He had lost touch with virtually every music development that had taken place during his absence. (He hadn't heard of CDs, for example.)
The bass charted an accelerated course during the years of Henry Grimes's exile — virtuosi like Dave Holland, Barry Guy and Mark Dresser do things that were unheard of in the '60s. But Henry Grimes is the primary architect of a certain school of bass playing, exemplified by musicians like William Parker and Sirone. Muscularity, richness of tone, a free mix of pizzicato and arco playing, and the deliberate production of blurred sonorities and pitch-imperfect tones are all fundamental elements of the Grimes style.
All of these things are in evidence on The Call (1965). It's a dark, brooding album, full of strange starts and stops, stark tonal contrasts between Grimes's bottom-rich bass and Perry Robinson's intuitive, squeaking and squalling clarinet. Tom Price, whose mercurial drumming is a kind of Sunny Murray-Milford Graves hybrid, plays appropriately behind the two featured performers. The Call is sui generis and a valuable jazz document.
In May of 2006, I played with Henry Grimes, drummer Jim Schapperoew and Ornette Coleman at Ornette's apartment. All of the innovations that Henry brought to jazz during his halcyon days were still entirely in place. As Cecil Taylor said of him, “Henry's a giant.”