Despite being Blue Note Records’ most prolific artist during its early-to-mid ’60s heyday, Grant Green remains an underappreciated hero of jazz guitar. With a style rooted in the bluesy bebop of Charlie Christian and Charlie Parker, Green was a lean and understated improviser who used his chops to serve the greater melodic good. During the ’70s, Green turned his attention to pop, funk, and boogaloo in an effort to gain wider commercial exposure. Although not entirely successful, the records made during this period are often cited as the precursors of acid jazz, and have been sample fodder for Madonna, Cypress Hill, Us3, and A Tribe Called Quest. When Green died suddenly of a heart attack in 1979, at age 43, he left behind a recorded legacy of 93 albums on which he appeared as either leader or sideman. No jazz guitar collection is complete without at least some of these titles.
Green Street, 1961
Green’s threadbare reading of Monk’s “’Round About Midnight” pares the tune’s chordal complexity to its essentials, and his solo on “No. 1 Green Street” is a 13-chorus lesson on playing blues changes.
Born To Be Blue, 1962
Green shares the spotlight with old-school boppers Ike Quebec (sax) and Sonny Clark (piano), but what could’ve become a cutting contest instead went down as a model of group interplay and melodicism. Even when Green and Quebec solo simultaneously at the end of “Back in Your Own Back Yard,” the result is counterpoint not cacophony.
Idle Moments, 1963
Not only Green’s finest session, but also one of the hottest small-group dates of the hard-bop era. On the languid 15-minute title track, Green is the paradigm of taste and restraint. Then, he cranks it up a notch for the exploratory whole-tone and modal sections of “Nomad.”
Recording with half of John Coltrane’s legendary quartet—drummer Elvin Jones and pianist McCoy Tyner—as sidemen might have prompted a lesser musician to ape a pale ’Trane imitation, but Green keeps his cool, providing the icy chill to Jones and Tyner’s fiery heat. The jaunty, minor-keyed “Matador” is among Green’s finest compositions.
Up at Minton’s, 1961
A sideman on this Stanley Turrentine live date, Green nearly steals the show. The eight extended cuts give both soloists a chance to flex their chops.
Feelin’ the Spirit, 1963
On this gospel-themed, funk-jazz album, Green engages Herbie Hancock’s piano in a heated call-and-response like a gospel preacher witnessing to his congregation. Amen.
Street of Dreams, 1964
This collaboration with Hammond maestro Larry Young is a dreamy and introspective masterpiece—moody and atmospheric without being static and boring.
Live At the Lighthouse, 1972
Airtight arrangements, spirited soloing, and pristine sound quality make this the finest work from Green’s booty shakin’ funk era.
Green’s attempt to crack the pop market finds him playing instrumental versions of tunes by the Carpenters, Chicago, and—of all people—Mozart. The arrangements are tastefully done, but leave little room for improvisation.
The Main Attraction, 1976
Green gets off some fierce blues-scale runs, but far from being the main attraction, he seems a bit lost in the over-produced title track.