For someone who’s been called one of the least-appreciated jazz guitarists of the modern era, Grant Green left behind an amazing amount of material. But he did seem to fly below the radar for much of his career, which was often stalled by drug-related causes. In the years since he died in 1979 (at just age 43) his legacy has risen to a position of respect among knowledgeable jazz fans.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Green was performing professionally during the war years while still in his early teens, beginning with a gospel group and later moving into blues and jazz. In the post-war years he eventually moved to New York and began working regularly with some of the best pros around, including Lou Donaldson and Harry Forrest.
Equally at home in blues, bebop (he was a great admirer of Charlie Parker) and R&B, Green was also well-suited to ballads and jazz standards. Like many other guitarists, he seemed to especially enjoy working with jazz organists, and some of his best collaborations included those with talents like Larry Young and Big John Patton.
During the 1960s Green’s career was flourishing, but he began to be slowed by drug-related problems. Later in the decade he fought his way back to renewed success and made some of his best recordings during the period. Unfortunately, he would continue to battle his demons into the 1970s and it all probably contributed to his eventual death from a heart attack.