Artists Richard Williams (trumpet) Gigi Gryce (alto saxophone) Richard Wyands (piano) Julian Euell (bass) Mickey Roker (drums) recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 7, 1960
Music L’expression française du jour : jeter l’eponge – to throw in the sponge (fr); to throw in the towel (eng.) Origin: boxing, to give up. The sponge sees a lot of action in the context of this record.
Coming to the end of its life as a UK jazz record label, 32-186 Rat Race Blues was one of last Esquire Prestige jazz releases. A half dozen releases later Carlo Krahmer threw in the sponge and Esquire was gone. (Prestige later went on to appointed Nat Joseph’s Transatlantic label to pick up the UK franchise, but sadly the practice of supplying original metalware ended with Esquire).
From the early ’50s George General Gryce, Gigi (or G.G. as it should be pronounced) enjoyed a ten year career in the jazz limelight. An accomplished alto and tenor saxophonist, Gryce was much influenced by Charlie Parker, with whom he became friends in the mid fifties. It is said Parker would sometimes borrow Gryce’s horn, no doubt when his own was in hock. Playing with the likes of Howard McGhee, Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, Clifford Brown, a partner with Donald Byrd as The Jazz Lab, Gryce was a promising star in the ascendant but Rat Race Blues was the last of three titles he recorded for Prestige, before he too threw in the sponge.
Bowing out of the music scene Gryce withdrew to the relative ‘anonymity of the Long Island school system’ (op cit. Ira Gitler) exchanging music teaching for music performing, a destination followed by many great players who for whatever reason found the life of a working jazz musician personally unsustainable.
As an insight into the business side of jazz, Gryce was noted for being one of the first to tackle the scandal of music publishing royalties. Record companies including, I assume, Prestige, routinely helped themselves to 50% of artists royalties simply by assigning the artists work to their own publishing unit, who then filled in the copyright registration forms and submitted them to the performing rights organisation BMI. Musicians rarely understood the business side of royalties, but record companies certainly did, and took advantage of musicians innocence.
Gryce astutely circumvented the process by self-publishing through the Melotone company he formed jointly with Benny Golson, which affiliated to BMI and then received royalties direct, by-passing the record company. How popular this made him with record companies, or whether it played any part in his departure from the music scene, is for conjecture.
AllMusic verdict on Rat Race Blues: four stars – “Interesting and generally fresh straight-ahead jazz” Sounds great. To my ear Gryce has a wonderfully fluid propulsive touch, soaring though the changes, lyrical, delightful to the ear, and lifted further by the interesting presence of trumpeter Richard Williams, who also served a similar apprenticeship to Gryce with the Lionel Hampton Band in the early ’50s. .
Williams managed only one title to his credit as leader, on the short-lived Candid label (Candid threw in the sponge in 1961, after only a year’s existence). Williams appears as a sideman on numerous Blue Note and Impulse, most notably on some of Mingus’ greatest recordings, including Ah Um; Mingus Dynasty and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. . Described as a “strong soloist with a big sound and a wide range” his promising career also faltered but he found work in the brass sections of big bands, Broadway show pits, eventually joining the excellent Mingus tribute recording group Mingus Dynasty.
Wyands comping is remarkably uplifting, raising chordal harmonic excursions against the time-keeping rhythmic tempo. Bassist Julian Euell aquits himself well as a sideman. He seems to have spent a lot of time a student, opting to take a bachelor’s in Sociology, teaching and active social work, combining a career in public administration with occasional musical appearances. He sort of wouldn’t let go of the sponge.
Both G.G. and Williams succumed to illness and departed in the ’80’s, before their time. At the end, it’s the sponge that throws you in.
Vinyl: Esquire 32-181 UK release of Prestige new Jazz 8262 (nice cover)
Collectors Corner An Ebay win, not overly expensive as I recall, G.G clearly not on many collector’s searches, and not associated with those warhorse early Blue Notes, which I’m frankly getting a bit fed up with chasing. I can live quite happily without an original 1st pressing of 1560 or 1558, life’s too short, I throw in the sponge.
There is much more fun to be had rummaging in the bin of lesser titles, a few more of which will be coming up shortly.