The great drummer Grady Tate died this week. As swinging a drummer as ever existed, his discography is not only a who’s who of the jazz world but of American music of the 20th century -- Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Herbie Mann, Ben Webster, Gato Barbieri, Paul Simon, Oscar Peterson, Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson, Bette Midler, Hubert Laws, Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones, Johnny Hodges, Lena Horne, Jimmy Smith, Bill Evans, Clark Terry, Roberta Flack, Cal Tjader, Kate McGarrigle, Wes Montgomery, Gabor Szabo, Arif Mardin, Simon and Garfunkel… and that’s just a taste.
He also held down the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson drum chair for a little bit, and was also an in-demand vocalist and voice-over talent; he sang many songs in the educational TV series Schoolhouse Rock. He was born in Durham, North Carolina, moved to New York city in 1963, got hired for the drum chair in Quincy Jones’ band, and pretty much immediately started getting session and sideman work in the Apple. Sadly, he died of complications of Alzheimer’s disease; he was 85. Rick Shandling, Chicago drummer who I play with at the Green Mill every Friday night, told me that he saw Tate play with Gillespie sometime in the ‘70s (I may have seen that band as well; those were the brain-cell-destruction years so I can’t say for sure) and Tate had an unusual drum set, with two timbales mounted on his bass drum in place of rack toms, we’re guessing to accommodate Gillespie’s penchant for Afro-Cuban rhythms. And that, I think, says worlds about what a flexible player he was.
Steve Hashimoto is afreelance musician and graphic artist who writes a long running weekly newsletter entitled News from the Trenches where he talks about his experiences in music from performing to influences and everything in between. Visit Steve's Facebook Page for more information and to contact him.