Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:23 February 2024 


There are so many excellent Grant Green albums from the 1960s that it can be rather daunting for the newcomer to navigate this master guitarist’s catalogue. In the first two years of the decade alone Green released a dozen LPs under his own name and guested on many others. Just to be clear, we are talking 1961—1962. He was a busy man.

It is one of those unfair quirks of fate, then, that during this all too brief a lifetime—Green died in 1975 at the age of forty-three—he received relatively little attention and scandalously few plaudits. His gospel roots, hard bop apprenticeship and love of Latin flavours make for much variety in his work. Later he embraced a more funky sound, and is considered an important player in Soul Jazz.

Green worked with different jazz formats, particularly enjoying the guitar-organ-drums trio setting, yet it is his quartet and quintet recordings that highlight what a versatile and sensitive player he was. The sparkling single note lines that characterise his style are always fresh and bright, and shine even more brightly when paired with a sympathetic saxophone foil. This can be heard delightfully on Born To Be Blue, recorded at two sessions in December 1961 and March 1962, and our feature album today.

Ike Quebec was a popular and effortlessly cool tenor player whose tone leaps out of the speakers. He steps forward on the opening cut of Born To Be Blue, "Someday My Prince Will Come." Many will know this Disney film tune via versions by Miles Davis and the immaculate Bill Evans. Often, as the wistful title suggests, the song is played with a dreamy lilt. Here, with Green and Quebec taking the lead, it scampers along in swinging 4/4 time. The feel is not of pining hope, but an excited celebration. My Prince is coming… today!

All the pieces on the LP are jazz standards, and Mel Torme’s "Born To Be Blue" is one of the best. I first heard the song on Steve Miller’s 1988 covers album Born 2 B Blue and instantly fell in love with its wry, melancholic air. Although Green’s version is of course instrumental, the mood of the piece is beautifully captured, especially in Quebec’s languid opening solo.

Pianist Sonny Clark has a lovely moment on the final track of side one, the ballad "If I Should Love You". His eschewing of chords and choice of a clear, single-note style fits the leader’s approach perfectly.

In his cover notes for the superb Blue Note Tone Poet re-issue, Richard Seidel observes that Green, Quebec and Clark were all "simple, direct players with strong melodic approaches and much rhythmic drive." This can be heard and enjoyed throughout Born To Be Blue, without doubt one of the azure gems in Green’s discography.


An afterthought

Some idea of the regard in which this jazz fan holds Grant Green can be gauged from the revelation that this is the third GG album to appear at the Discrepancy blog.

A couple of years back we featured 1964’s Idle Moments, while in March 2023 the funky 1970 album Green Is Beautiful got our toes tapping.

If you love small group jazz and don’t know Grant Green (or Ike Quebec, for that matter) Born To Be Blue is an LP to seek out, especially in this superb 2019 Tone Poet pressing.


© Bruce Jenkins—February 2024

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