Home Imperatives Henry Grimes: In memory of a great bassist, violinist, poet, illustrator, educator

Henry Grimes: In memory of a great bassist, violinist, poet, illustrator, educator

Henry Grimes: bassist, violinist, poet, illustrator, educator [11/3/1935-4/15/2020]
Henry Grimes plays his favourite violin photographed by Nick Ruechel

Margaret Davis Grimes, the wife of the iconic musician, poet and illustrator Henry Grimes [11/3/1935-4/15/2020] sent in this obituary. You can “see” her weeping as she writes this and you can feel her heartbreak. Although she writes of her husband who has just passed away, for her Mr Grimes is clearly “alive”. I met Margaret Davis Grimes about a decade ago. She wanted to bring her husband to Canada. As I know Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer I wrote to them, imploring them to “do something so Henry could visit and play…” I believe that trip to Toronto was a memorable one for everyone who was involved. More of that sometime… for now, here’s Margaret Davis Grimes:

“This is Margaret Davis-Grimes, heartbroken and devastated because my beloved husband Henry Grimes has left this life due to a combination of Parkinson’s disease and Covid-19, the coronavirus. He was 84 years old and had been living in a Harlem nursing home, Northern Manhattan Rehabilitation and Nursing Care.

“Henry was a great double-bassist, violinist, published poet, educator, and illustrator. In the late ’50s and throughout the ’60s, after receiving his music education at the Mastbaum School in Philadelphia and the Juilliard School in NYC, Henry Grimes played acoustic bass with many master jazz musicians of that era, including Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Haynes, Steve Lacy, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Sunny Murray, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, and McCoy Tyner.

Henry Grimes with Olive Oil photographed by Peter Gannushkin

“Sadly, a trip to the West Coast to work with Jon Hendricks went awry, leaving Henry in downtown Los Angeles at the end of the ’60s with a broken bass he couldn’t pay to repair, so he sold it for a small sum and faded away from the music world. In downtown Los Angeles without a bass, a vehicle, or a telephone, he was truly lost. He survived by doing manual labor and redirected his creative powers into writing poetry. Henry was discovered there in 2002 by Marshall Marrotte, a Georgia social worker and fan, and was given a rare olive-green Kay bass by fellow bassist / multi-instrumentalist William Parker, and after only a few weeks of ferocious woodshedding, Henry emerged from his little room to begin playing concerts around Los Angeles. He made a triumphant return to New York City in 2003 to play in the Vision Festival.

“Since then, Henry has played some 600 concerts (including many festivals), touring in 30 countries throughout North and South America, Canada, Europe, and Asia, playing and recording with many of this decade’s music heroes, such as Rashied Ali, Marshall Allen, Fred Anderson, Marilyn Crispell, Andrew Cyrille, Bill Dixon, Dave Douglas, Edward “Kidd” Jordan, Roscoe Mitchell, David Murray, Zim Ngqawana, William Parker, Marc Ribot, Wadada Leo Smith, and again, Cecil Taylor. Henry made his professional debut on a second instrument (the violin) at the age of 70, published the first volume of his cosmic poetry, “Signs Along the Road,” and created illustrations to accompany his recent recordings and publications.

Henry Grimes and Marilyn Crispell at the Rubin Museum NYC 2010 photographed by Richard Conde

“He has received many honors in recent years; including four Meet the Composer grants and a grant from the Acadia Foundation. He also held a number of recent residencies and offered workshops and master classes on major campuses, including Berklee College of Music, CalArts, Hamilton College, Mills College, New England Conservatory, the University of Gloucestershire at Cheltenham, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and several more. Henry Grimes can be heard on 85 recordings, including a dozen recent ones, on various labels (Atlantic, Ayler Records, Blue Note, Columbia, ESP-Disk, ILK Music, Impulse!, JazzNewYork Productions, Pi Recordings, Porter Records, Prestige, Riverside, Verve).

“He had been a permanent resident of New York City since 2003. He was and always will be beloved and revered by fellow musicians, music lovers, band mates, family, friends, and fans everywhere, for all time. Henry’s archives are presently being set up at the New York Library for the Performing Arts on the Lincoln Center campus in Manhattan (NYC) under curator Jonathan Hiam, and once the quarantines are over and it’s safe to gather once again, everyone will be able to view, see, hear, and appreciate the many brilliant artistic endeavors of Henry Grimes on exhibit there. For much more information about the great Henry Grimes, please visit his website. Thank you.

“This is a little over seven minutes long. Henry is seen playing his beautiful green double-bass, Olive Oil, with Troy, his little mascot, a very small baby snow leopard stuffed animal on a black cord hanging around Henry’s neck and appearing to be dancing on the edge of Olive Oil.”


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