Gigi Gryce (1927-1983) was an underrated alto saxophonist who was a particularly talented composer; his “Minority” became a jazz standard.
Born in Florida, Gryce grew up in Hartford, CT, studying music at the Boston Conservatory and in Paris. In the early 1950s he worked in New York with Max Roach, Tadd Dameron, and Clifford Brown. While touring Europe with Lionel Hampton’s big band in 1953, Gryce led and co-led a few sessions and recorded with Brown. Back in New York, Gryce recorded with Thelonious Monk and for a few years worked with Oscar Pettiford’s groups.
During 1955-1958, Gryce led the Jazz Lab Quintet, a group that featured trumpeter Donald Byrd and sought to present bop and hard-bop in colorful ways. Gigi Gryce and the Jazz Lab Quintet, originally recorded for Riverside, features the group digging into such songs as “Minority,” “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart,” and “Love for Sale,” turning the latter into a jazz waltz.
After the Jazz Lab Quintet broke up, Gryce formed a quintet with trumpeter Richard Williams, pianist Richard Wyands, bassist Reggie Workman, and drummer Mickey Roker that recorded three fine sets for the New Jazz label within a three-month period in 1960: Saying Somethin’, The Hap’nin’s, and The Rat Race Blues. These rank with Gryce’s and Williams’s best work.
Unfortunately the rat-race aspect of the music business, along with the exploitation of musicians, really got to Gigi Gryce and in 1961 he dropped out of sight. He would never play music in a high-profile setting again, changing his name to Basheer Quism and spending the rest of his life working as a teacher.