Jazz Pioneer Grachan Moncur III Dies On His 85th Birthday

0 Posted by - June 4, 2022 - Birthdays, BLACK MUSIC, LATEST POSTS, On This Date

By Victor Trammell

Photo credits: Blue Note Records/Mosaic

Grachan Moncur III was born in New York City (his paternal grandfather was from the Bahamas) and reared in Newark, New Jersey. He started playing the cello at age nine then transitioned to the trombone at the age of eleven.

He went to the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina for high school, the same elite institution where the legendary Dizzy Gillespie had studied. He started sitting in with traveling jazz performers on their way through town while still in school, notably Art Blakey and Jackie McLean, with whom he forged a lifelong bond.

Moncur traveled with Ray Charles (1959–62), Art Farmer and Benny Golson’s Jazztet (1962), and Sonny Rollins after graduating from high school. In 1963, he appeared on two Jackie McLean Blue Note albums, One Step Beyond and Destination…Out!, on which he also wrote the majority of the songs. Evolution (1963) with Jackie McLean and Lee Morgan, and Some Other Stuff (1964) with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, were his two Blue Note recordings.

Moncur joined Archie Shepp’s band and collaborated with other avant-garde musicians including Marion Brown, Beaver Harris, and Roswell Rudd on recordings (another free jazz trombonist). During a summer visit to Paris in 1969, he recorded two albums as a leader for the BYG Actuel label, New Africa and Aco Dei de Madrugada, as well as playing on other BYG Actuel records as a sideman. Echoes of Prayer (1974), a jazz symphony for full orchestra, singers, and jazz soloists, was commissioned by the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra in 1974.

Shadows (1977), his sixth album as a leader, was only released in Japan.

Unfortunately, he was beset with health issues and copyright disputes in the following years. His music was only recorded seldom. He recorded with Cassandra Wilson (1985), performed with the Paris Reunion Band and Frank Lowe on occasion, and featured on Big John Patton’s Soul Connection (1983), although he mostly focused on teaching throughout the 1980s. In 2004, he resurfaced with a new album, Exploration, on Capri Records, which included Mark Masters’ arrangements of Moncur’s works for an octet that included Tim Hagans and Gary Bartz.

Moncur died on his 85th birthday, which was Friday, June 3, 2022, while he was at his home in Newark, New Jersey.

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