Gigi Gryce: The Rat Race Blues (1960) Esquire

Gigi-Gryce-The-Rat-Race-Blues-Esquire-cover-1800-LJC2 Selection: Blues in Bloom (Norman Mapp)

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 spongeL’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.speculator_cartoon 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.

Melotone-BMIGryce 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)

The_Rat_Race_Blues Prestige cover Note Side Two bears the copyright assertion “Melotone Music”, though Side One is assigned to “Totem Music” . All these copyright assertions on labels are only now beginning to make sense.

Gigi-Gryce-The-Rat-Race-Blues-Esquire-labels-1800-LJC Gigi-Gryce-The-Rat-Race-Blues-Esquire-backcover-1800-LJC2 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.

28 thoughts on “Gigi Gryce: The Rat Race Blues (1960) Esquire

  1. On a completely different note, but still in relation to ‘new’ CDs, I note that there is no Ahmad Jamal on here. I just bought Ahmad Jamal Trio: Cross Country Tour: 1958-1961, a double CD covering the Pershing, Alhambra and Blackhawk gigs of that period, my interest peaked by little more than constantly reading of Miles’s high regard for the pianist – and Hentoff’s virtual dismissal of him as a ‘cocktail pianist’. I wanted to make my own mind up.

    What an extraordinarily pleasurable set of recordings this is. While it might be true that Jamal’s playing doesn’t achieve the introspective depths of Bill Evans’ first great trio, my God, it swings — or, to put it as Jamal preferred it (he hates the term ‘swing’), it has terrific ‘pulse’. And the subtlety of the inter-playing between Jamal, Israel Crosby on bass and Vernel Fournier on drums is simply astonishing. Jamal’s control of dynamics, his invention and fluency, his cascades of high register playing as light as a softly struck wine glass or as bright as a bell – I really haven’t heard anything that quite compares.

    I probably couldn’t live on a diet of Jamal alone because overall it is happy, upbeat, virtuosic playing and I periodically like a bit of sturm und drang and a touch of melancholy, but I was listening to the CDs on headphones last night and the night before and it has been a long time since I spent such a couple of purely pleasurable hours.There’s something that delights the senses in every track.

  2. alunsevern
    on September 25, 2014 at 18:53 said:
    (reposted top escape the dreaded WordPress drainpipe – LJC)

    dott, I think the exchange above lost something in the posting… I think (think!) that the point being made was something like this: all jazz collectors are jazz fans, but not all jazz fans are jazz collectors…Oh, and not all jazz fans are live music fans… Something like that. You probably sit somewhere in the middle — our First Pressing Mono Fundamentalist Who Would Go to Concerts if Any of His Heroes Were Still Alive. 🙂

    • That’s what the exchange was about – at least as far as I was part of it. Let me just add one thing: The development of jazz from its very beginning was so closely intertwined with the development of recording technology that saying “jazz is basically live music, performed in front of an audience” (I’m not quoting anyone here, but this is what it sometimes boils down to) is less than half the truth. Without the recording industry, jazz would never have happened, and its predecessors and prototypes might have remained what they were – some kind of regional folk music with little aspiration to become an “art form”. Listening to records, and listening to the same improvised solo chorus many times over (!), enabled musicians to grow and develop in a way that would have been impossible otherwise.

      • Interesting point. But is it strictly true, do you think? Classical music ‘evolved’ over several hundred years without recording being a factor — perhaps precisely because people had to play it in order to learn how it ‘worked’ and how to make it do different things. Food for thought, though – that’s what I like about this blog. The tangents it takes…

        • That’s right, Alun. But the evolution of classical music – and I mean from ca. 1500 till now – was accompanied by, and would be unthinkable without, notation. That’s what makes it more of an “intellectual” (and probably less emotional – I really don’t know!) effort than any other kind of world music. I’m ready to take advice here, because it might be argued that the musical cultures of India or China, for instance, might have the same intellectual character in their more sophisticated stages of development.
          Of course we have big band scores in jazz (which classical musicians still are unable to play, funnily enough!), but the “scores” of improvised jazz, the sources to refer to and rely on, are not in notation but in the grooves of jazz records.

  3. recommended reading:
    “Rat Race Blues” by Noal Cohen and Michael Fitzgerald. Pub. by Berkeley Hills Books, 2002.
    The story goes that Weinstock pushed Gigi to write and play soulful music as played by the major Blue Note artists of the period, like Horace Silver. The result was not always convincing.

  4. Nice selection. RW sounds bloody great!

    “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.”

    Looking forward LJC.

    LJC, you do listen to jazz from say 90’s up to now right? I’d love to hear your thoughts and others here on say Medeski Martin and Wood and EST etc?

      • I do listen to contemporary jazz. Not vast amounts, perhaps, but enough to make me recently buy a replacement CD player after a number of years without one because otherwise there’s a lot of great jazz (yes: great jazz) that one misses out on.

        I have dabbled in EST but ultimately found them a bit too….tuneful, or perhaps I mean predictable. Medeski Martin & Wood I also toyed with but realised I was (for some obscure and mistaken reason) merely seeking a continuation of fusion by other means.

        However, there is a huge amount of classic acoustic jazz still being made and I wouldn’t want to live with Tomasz Stanko’s 90s and 2000s recordings, Paul Bley, some of the Andrew Hill stuff that wasn’t issued until the 2000s, some Dave Holland, late Abdullah Ibrahim, some of Bill McHenry’s Quartet recordings, Evan Parker, Marilyn Crispell, Enrico Rava, late Rivers, the Romano, Sclavis, Texier ‘African’ trilogy, late Solal, some John Surman, some JohnTaylor, lots of Stan Tracey, Alexander Hawkins (just discovered), John Escreet (ditto), some of the Mehldau trio recordings (especially the live art of the trio recordings from the Village Vanguard)…

        I think it’s wonderfully encouraging in some respects to realise that jazz didn’t stop in 1972 (or whenever). And that after a somewhat desperate period in the 1980s when only the most photogenic and least durable could be part of the so-called ‘new jazz boom’, jazz got better and better. Indeed, some of the immediately post-war generation of players are currently playing at their peak.

    • Modern living artists? Dangerous question, any answer will offend somebody, so I’ll go for it.

      I am a big fan of Brad Meldhau Trio – one of the few people I listen to on my digital streaming, no vinyl option, but then I don’t think much of modern vinyl.

      EST seem to me out of a similar box, I don’t have any of their stuff but a few Youtubes suggest their art is in the right place.

      Martin Medjesky and Wood? Oh dear, “avant funk”, an oxymoron if ever there was, what can I say? I tuned into to hear them on the London Jazz Festival radio broadcast from Ronnie Scotts this year. – “left-field jazz, free improv and funk for keys, bass and drums with a thrashy rock sensibility”. and electronic bass. I stood about three minutes before turning it off. Sorry, not for me.

      There, that’s me lost 300 followers.

      • I particularly enjoyed RipRap Quartet’s Snow Blue Night, which I looked at earlier this year at

        Dylan Howe’s Subterranean set, which interprets some of David Bowie’s Berlin period tunes will probably attract the scorn of some here- but it is worth a listen. I’m looking forward to seeing a live rendition featuring Andy Sheppard on sax, next week.

        It’s OK to just listen to old recordings but life is richer if one is lucky enough to see some live contemporary performances. Some may not be great but it helps to keep the music alive.

        • Just to support the live performance issue.

          I recently enjoyed an hour and a half of the Simon Spillett Quartet at a South East London pub venue. Simon is fine saxophonist and a great Tubby Hayes enthusiast and his rendition of The Serpent from Tubby’s Live at the Dominion album was astonishing, as was all of the set

          The audio quality of acoustic instruments in an intimate setting (low ceiling, ten feet from the group) swinging hard bop is what many records aspire to but rarely achieve. It’s given me a new benchmark, and I appreciate better what RVG was trying to achieve in replicating the quality of live performance in the studio. It just made me think, what it must have sounded like in the Café Bohemia 1956 or the Village Vanguard.

          Early on, I made the mistake of going to see big artists like Herbie Hancock etc in giant concert venues, sound pumped through giant PAs via a digital mixing desk, absolutely horrid, I walked out. I’m sure all music, including free jazz, sounds more compelling in its natural acoustic setting.

      • not me.
        I understand alunsevern is backing the right horse BUT the decades into which my interest lies, still have a lot of things I would like to digest. I listen to jazz from 9 am to late night, everyday and everywhere I am, even when traveling. for this purpose I’ve some IPods dedicated to Jazz with thousands of records.
        what I like is to listen (not just hear) and understand most about a musician. besides I’m used to read a lot about jazz and have several hundreds of books (just begun a new volume about Chet Baker, over 600 pages). I love to research, to compare, to help and be helped in solving Jazz questions.
        I have hundreds of records which are still unheard.
        I love to look for first mono editions of the records I still miss.
        my only problem: I’ve got a 24 hour a day only. I would need more.
        anyone able to help me?

        • dott — everything is a trade-off, I recognise that. I try to keep up a bit but like you I only really do serious listening — I never just hear music. Consequently, I listen in fact to very little jazz by comparison with someone like who listens all day, every day. I don’t — just an hour intensively here and there. But that suits me and I have always approached music that way. (In fact, my idea of hell — or rather, one of my ideas of hell — is 24-hour music….

          Anyway, as I was saying, trade-offs: yes, I try to keep up a little, but one think I don’t do, ever, under any circumstances, is live music. I avoid it like the plague. I know that is odd in a jazz fan — the natural improvising state of of jazz being in performance and all that — but that’s the way it is. I already have more than enough music to try and listen to and only so many hours in the day and so many years in the life… Something has to go.

          • Alun, I sometimes wonder how many jazz collectors you would find in a typical live audience – I really have no idea. Some of the greatest achievements in jazz music were made not in front of live audiences but in the studio. Anyway – this is a point to ponder.

            • True, Eduard – that’s a good point. The (admittedly not very many) people I know who are the keenest advocates of live jazz might not even be regarded as collectors by the standards of this forum. They have and continue to collect a lot of jazz, but in almost any format. In fact, if I think about the people I have in mind, they might consider themselves jazz fans rather than collectors…

              • …because their prime interest may be in sound quality rather than scarcity of a particular item? Apart from the music itself, of course! If you put it this way, I Am Not A Collector.

                • Exactly so — they have an interest in sound quality but little if any in scarcity, first pressings, original vinyl, ears, deep grooves or deadwax etchings!

                  • who am I?
                    as my interest lies in a peculiar Jazz period and my heroes are almost all in Heaven/Hell, I seldom go to concerts (1 this year). for this reason am I not a Jazz fan?



                    on September 25, 2014 at 18:53 said:
                    (Post placed at top to escape WordPress drainpipe – LJC)

      • With 30 Coltrane entries you might enjoy Ravi Coltrane if you haven’t heard him yet. Unfortunately also pretty much only on evil silver disc.

  5. Richard Williams is fantastic, and I wholeheartedly recommend “New Horn In Town,” his Candid LP as a leader. He also tears it up on Booker Ervin’s “The In Between,” and John Handy’s “In The Vernacular” (on Roulette), among others.

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