Tom Grant will soon be on his way to Reading, Pennsylvania, home of the Berks Jazz Fest. Four nights of dinner shows at the Wyndham Hotel gives fans the opportunity to hear this wonderfully talented performer/composer sing and play acoustic piano. Dinner shows will be Wednesday, March 16th, through Saturday, March 19th. He will also join the Berks All Star Jam at their annual concert to be held on Thursday, March 17th, at 10:00 PM in the Sheraton Hotel Ballroom.
With a musical career that spans more than 30 years and the release of his 20th album last year, Grant has had a lot of success in the smooth jazz genre with songs that have topped the charts. His latest album, Nice Work If You Can Get It, is his response to requests of his many mainstream jazz fans. So now I would bet that everyone is happy!
I canít wait to hear Grant perform live, and had the opportunity to talk with him as he prepares for his trip to Berks from his home state of Oregon. But first I have a confession to make. Just a few months ago, I didnít know who Tom Grant was.
It was the day Brian Soergel, writer for this site, mentioned a contest Tom Grant had set up, a contest where fans could submit to him some ideas for lyrics to a song yet unwritten. If your lyrics were chosen, youíd get a free CD, and if your lyrics eventually became part of a released song, at the very least you'd be listed on a real CD! Thinking it would be great fun to try my hand at writing lyrics, I went to Grantís website, listened to some song clips to try to get a feel for the kind of music he plays, and off I was, writing lyrics. I sent them to Grant and, realizing he lives in the Pacific Northwest, I remember telling him that I suppose he doesnít get to the East Coast very often, but that I hoped he would someday!
Imagine my surprise when it was announced recently that he was a major new headliner to be added to the Berks Jazz Fest! I couldnít believe it! Now I would have a chance to meet him and get to know his music first-hand.
Having whetted my appetite with song clips, I began my search for the album that I thought might best introduce me to his music. The first one I acquired is the collection album entitled, Hands. One listen from the beginning to the end of this album was plenty to convince me that more CDs need to be on the way to my door. And they are! As is often the case, I'm way behind many of you who've been enjoying Tom Grant's music for years.
Hands is filled with great compositions, wonderful melodies and most tracks include something delightfully unexpected! Joined by Paul Jackson, Jr. on upbeat Hang Time and Najee on funky Bernie's Groove, I have a number of favorites already from this one CD, which I'll feature this month for the Smooth Jazz Vibes In Our CD Players column.
Grant's was a musical family. An early start in his musical career was influenced greatly by his father, who had been a vaudeville tap dancer, and was in movie chorus lines, including Ziegfield. The elder Grant also owned a record store, and had Tom playing the piano at age 4. This led to playing drums at around the same time, and ten years of lessons followed for both Tom and his brother.
In addition to the influence of his father and brother, Grant had an especially good classical teacher who was trained in Vienna, which resulted in his having technique that was always strong. He liked pianists like Erroll Garner, Dave Brubeck, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and other instrumentalists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, from whom he learned the value of being Ďlyricalí as an instrumental musician. He felt that horn players seemed more lyrical than the piano players he was listening to.
As time went on, Grant played with Tony Williams and Joe Henderson and other big jazz names. These players helped him along to gain skill, perspective, and confidence. As he explained, ďThe people that you play with help to shape your sound and your style. I played with my idols by playing along with the records, and later in life I got a chance to actually play with these same people on stage.Ē
I asked Grant to talk about the various genres of music heís played and how he would characterize the music he plays at this point in his career. He answered, ďI studied classical music for about five years and still play some these days. Iíve been a jazz pianist since earliest memory. Iíve played in rock bands in college and beyond and Iíve played country, folk, rock, Irish, and whatever Iíve been called on to play. My first love is jazz.Ē
I wondered if Grant has pondered what his music means to him in the overall scheme of his life. He has. Music brings him a sense of calmness and well-being. He hopes that he transmits that to the listener. ďThere is joy in music for the player and for the receiver. I play music because it is my calling in life. I hope it conveys a joy and benevolence that people can apply to their own lives and thus improve, if only in the tiniest way, the quality of life on earth,Ē he added.
What goals does Grant have for his future as a musician? ďIíd like to play in new venues, meet new musicians, and grow as a musician and as a person,Ē he said. Iím certain the staff of the Berks Jazz Fest as well as the fans would be honored to play a part in his moving ahead toward reaching some of those goals.
Already I know Tom Grant to be very gracious, friendly and well-loved as an artist and as a person. Like so many artists I have met, heís willing to communicate not only through his music, but also his words. To me, this is the essence of what keeps fans coming back to our music. We have artists who allow us to connect with them as people and in turn, we allow artists to connect with us as real people, too. We donít have screaming, out of control melee scenes with our musicians (well, sometimes we might approach that at the end of a show!) but rather,in most cases, there is an easy, mutual and respectful friendship. If itís even half as satisfying to the artists as it is to the fans, then Iíd say we have a great thing going.
So while youíre in Reading, be sure to Meet Tom Grant: a player with so much talent for singing, playing, composing -- able to adapt to the changes in the music scene while remaining true to his first love of music Ė jazz. Soulful and down to earth, willing to reach out to fans and include them even in developing the lyrics for his songs, I believe heís going to make an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of Berks Jazz Fest fans during this exciting 15th season.
For more info on Tom Grant and his music, visit www.tomgrant.com
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council