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DAVE DAVIES, host: In the 1960s saxophonist and composer Gigi Gryce wrote the jazz standard "Social Call" and "Nica's Tempo" and worked with great trumpet players, including Clifford Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Farmer and Donald Byrd. Gryce arranged music for big and small bands, recorded with his friend Thelonious Monk and led and made LPs with his own groups. Then Gryce walked away from jazz and never came back. But a new CD of unreleased Gigi Gryce is out. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead digs in.


GIGI GRYCE: (Instrumental)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Gigi Gryce's Sextet in the busy middle section of "Dancin' the Gigi," 1961. It's time you grab bag of rare Gryce called "Doin' the Gigi" on the uptown label. Nowadays, Gigi Gryce is not so well remembered as he might be, given his crafty composing and tart playing. He's one of a few alto saxophonists who came up with their own styles after absorbing Charlie Parker's fleet swing, unvarnished tone and love for quoting other tunes while improvising. Gryce had plenty of ideas as a player and writer, and he'd pack a lot of them into a short solo.


WHITEHEAD: The live and studio sessions on the CD "Doin' the Gigi" span 1957 to '61, and showcase Gigi Gryce as a swinging saxophonist, a writer of quirky melodies good for launching improvisations, and a promoter of catchy tunes that he published, written by his colleagues. There's also Gryce the arranger for punchy small groups. For one 1960 session, he wrote a few cleverly modernized takes on swing-era standards, but not so clever they slowed the players down. Gryce worked with some great trumpeters, and his foil on most of these dates is spitfire Richard Williams, he threatens to play rings around everyone in "Take the 'A' Train." But Gryce's arrangement sets him up.


WHITEHEAD: Trumpeter Richard Williams and pianist Richard Wyands, mainstays of Gigi Gryce's band around 1960. The new Gryce sampler honors a musician who vanished from the scene, and also a vanished era when live jazz turned up on commercial radio and TV. There's a 1961 radio broadcast from Birdland, hosted by disc jockey Symphony Sid like it's still the '40s. The band gets to stretch out there. But on a 1957 segment on an early version of "The Tonight Show," Gryce's quintet squeezes five pieces into 11 minutes. One breakneck blues clocks in under a 1:20, and still finds room for solos by Gryce, Cecil Payne on baritone, pianist Duke Jordan and drummer Art Taylor.



HUGH DOWNS: Well, that's the kind of song that musicians have good reason to believe will outlast rock 'n roll or any other kind of fad music that comes and goes. Nearly everybody thinks that but teenagers. I don't know.


WHITEHEAD: That's right Hugh Downs, you didn't know. Jazzers would be moaning soon enough about the British invasion killing the business, but Gigi Gryce dropped out before the Beatles landed. The music publishing business he ran to help musicians take control of their lives wreaked havoc on his, partly owing to friends' high expectations and the ill will it earned him in the record business. Gryce gave it all up, began using his Muslim name Basheer Quisim, and started a second career teaching music in New York schools. P.S. 53 in the Bronx is named for him. Like other artists who deserved better, Gigi Gryce hasn't really been forgotten, thanks to bands that play his music, biographers, discographers, collectors and plucky independent labels. Say this for jazz nostalgia: The community has a long memory for the good stuff.


DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead is the jazz columnist His recent book is "Why Jazz." He reviewed "Doin' the Gigi" on the uptown label.


DAVIES: On the next FRESH AIR, a new strategy called REDMAP to engineer a Republican takeover of state legislatures where redistricting is pending. And the multimillionaire who funded the effort in North Carolina, a battleground state where Republicans won both Houses of the legislature. We talk with Jane Mayer about her article "State for Sale" in the current edition of The New Yorker. Join us.

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