I just saw something online that Grady Tate, one of the top drummers in modern jazz, died last week at age 85.
In addition to being one of the most in-demand studio drummers for countless jazz albums in the 1960s and 70s and a longtime member of the Billy Taylor Trio, he was also respected as a jazz vocalist. I was lucky to be in the studio in 1969 when he recorded his first vocal album, "Windmills of My Mind."
It's a long story, but one I love to retell...
In the late 1960s while in college, I did a weekly jazz show on the college FM radio station. One of my favorites back then (and now) was pianist and educator Billy Taylor, whose daily program on a local radio station in New York first got me hooked on jazz. So I knew very well who the other members of the Billy Taylor Trio were -- Grady Tate on drums and Ben Tucker on bass.
When I'd come home on schools breaks, I would make a point of getting into the city to visit the promotion guys at the various record labels to get copies of the latest releases to bring up to school and play on my show. On one of those visits, someone told me about a new jazz label, so I went up to the label's offices to see what I might be able to get. Skye Records was in a penthouse of an apartment building on E. 55th Street, just off of Sixth Avenue.
I rang the bell and a well-dressed black guy answered the door. After I introduced myself, he did the same telling me his name -- Ben Tucker. I asked him, are you a bass player? When he said yes, I said, are you the Ben Trucker who plays with Billy Taylor? I think he was so surprised that some skinny white kid knew who he was that he invited me in and we talked for about an hour. I told him about my radio show, and he told me about the new label, of which he was an A&R and promotion guy. He played me bits and pieces from the label's debut albums -- stuff by vibes player Gary McFarland (one of the owners of the label), guitarist Gabor Szabo, Latin percussionist Armando Peraza. He told me they were planning a new album with Grady Tate, which would be his first as a vocalist.
On my next visit home, I stopped up to see Ben and he told me they were in the middle of recording the new Grady Tate album, "Windmills of my Mind." He invited me to come to the studio and watch, which of course I did the next night. There I was sitting in the control room next to Ben Tucker, watching Gary McFarland at the control console and looking through the glass at a who's who of the top jazz musicians of the day -- Snookie Young and Marvin Stamm on trumpet, Urbie Green and Jimmy Cleveland on trombone, Herbie Hancock on organ, Bernard "Pretty Purdie" Purdie on drums, Jerome Richardson on sax, Chuck Rainey on Fender bass, and Grady Tate at the mic... I was in heaven.
I briefly met Grady that night, and I got to spend some time with him, Ben and Billy Taylor a few months later when they sat in live on my radio show, after finishing a concert at another college ten miles down the road. What a thrill, letting the guys pick out songs from the library, play them and talk about the tunes and the musicians playing them.
I stayed in touch with Ben Tucker for a while until he left the label and moved down to Savannah, where he bought a radio station and became a local celebrity, playing at a club every week until he died in an accident a few years ago. I saw Grady Tate at a concert many years ago and I went up afterwards to say hello and remind him how we had met. He said he remembered. Maybe he was just being polite, but it was a great thrill for me.
Sorry to hear that he is gone, but his music lives on.
Here's a link to "Sack Full of Dreams," one of the songs he recorded when I was in the studio in 1969...