The American jazz drummer and vocalist Grady Tate has died. He was 85. The cause: complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
He was one of my favourite drummers. There’s a good chance he was one of your favourite drummers too – even if you think you didn’t know his playing there’s every chance you did. He played with Quincy Jones and Bette Midler, Billy Taylor and Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne and Charles Mingus. In the early 1980s he played with Simon & Garfunkel as part of their mega-selling first reunion.
There he is driving home Quincy Jones’ version of Killer Joe. He’s super subtle on Paul Simon’s song, Something So Right and American Tune. Whether part of a trio – behind jazz greats such as Oscar Peterson or Jimmy Smith – or when leading a TV orchestra for a Late Night show Tate had the talent, taste and chops.
He was also a terrific singer. Blessed with a beautiful baritone voice he could croon – and his recordings, as both drummer and vocalist, were an important part of the soul-jazz movement. He was sampled often. And his discography is dizzying – over a half-dozen albums as bandleader and/or singer and as a sideman he is on dozens of albums from the early 1960s right up to the 2000s, working with jazz legends (Ben Webster, Lou Donaldson, Bill Evans, Clark Terry) and with pop and soul singers (Roberta Flack, Marlena Shaw, Phoebe Snow). There he is working with the great soundtrack composer Lalo Shifrin one minute, or playing on Bette Middler’s big hit, From A Distance.
Adaptable, understated – he was a master.
I’ve recently been playing his 1970 solo album, After The Long Drive Home. It features some great covers – a version of I Think It’s Going To Rain Today that sees him cop the feel and tone of Nina Simone’s rendition so closely, he even has something close to her phrasing. It’s a wonderful record – and across the last month or so it’s been one of my most played albums.
I’ve been listening to his playing almost every day for many, many years – sometimes fully aware of it, oftentimes without even knowing at the time. His touch was fantastic. His approach so smooth, so considerate, always correct.
R.I.P. Grady Tate