Grover Mitchell

Trombonist with the Count Basie band

Grover Curry Mitchell, trombonist, bandleader and arranger: born Whatley, Alabama 17 March 1930; married (one daughter); died New York 6 August 2003.

After the glory days of the previous decade, the Count Basie band of 1962, when Grover Mitchell joined it as a trombonist, was about to come off the boil. Mitchell stayed for eight years, and by the end of that time the band had lost the vivid character that had been established by the now-departing master soloists of the Fifties.

Mitchell was by no means a master soloist, but he was an expert section man and led the trombones. Basie, who was never very keen on trombone solos in any case, was content to place the emphasis on his saxophone and trumpet soloists. But away from Basie in his own bands Mitchell showed himself to be a soulful player with an impeccable technique. He spoke of his influences having been Lawrence Brown, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Green, vastly different stylists but all with accomplished and smooth trombone sounds.

In 1938, when he was eight, Mitchell's parents moved from Alabama to Pittsburgh. That city's burgeoning jazz scene produced Earl Hines, Mary Lou Williams, Roy Eldridge, Kenny Clarke, Erroll Garner, Ray Brown, Billy Eckstine and Billy Strayhorn, among others.

Oddly, Mitchell was first drawn to jazz through the work of raw, blues guitarists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Peatie Wheatstraw, but he took up trombone and more sophisticated music when he joined his high-school band. Following the path taken by other future Basie musicians, he joined the territory band led by King Kolax. In the early Fifties he moved to San Francisco, where he led bands of his own.

In 1961 he was called on by Duke Ellington, and stayed in Ellington's band for a few months. The next year he went on to play in the rugged and low-paid band led by Lionel Hampton before eventually joining Basie in 1962.

Tired of travelling, he left Basie in 1970 to take on more profitable work in the Los Angeles studios. By now he had added the craft of arranging to his talents, and he wrote some of the music for the film Lady Sings the Blues (1972), which starred Diana Ross. He worked for the various big companies including NBC and CBS and recorded with, amongst others, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.

From 1978 he simultaneously led his own band until, during a musicians' strike in the studios, Basie asked him to rejoin in 1980. He did and stayed until Basie's death in 1984. From 1984 to 1995 he led his own band again and made several recordings with it.

Meanwhile the Basie band became a "ghost" band led by the ex-Basie trumpeter Thad Jones. Illness forced Jones to give up and his place was taken in February 1986 by one of Basie's most reliable and inventive soloists, the tenor sax player Frank Foster. The backers of the band naturally wanted the best return on their money and consequently nostalgia had to be the main element in its programmes. Foster's artistic integrity rebelled against this, and he did his best to introduce new music, much of it his own, into the library. But he stayed until July 1995, when he handed over to Mitchell.

Mitchell's calm expertise made him ideal for the job for he knew exactly what was required. He carefully mixed experienced soloists and ex-Basie men with the younger ones, all the while sticking to the sounds of what had been known as Basie's "New Testament" band of the Fifties and Sixties (the "Old Testament" Basie band had been the one of the Thirties that included Lester Young and Buck Clayton).

The band achieved the success that Mitchell so carefully aimed for and in 1996 it won a Grammy Award for its album Live at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild and in 1998 another for Count Plays the Duke.

Steve Voce

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Designer - Award Winning Agency

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity for a t...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager

£35000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global provider of call ce...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service and Business Support Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: By developing intimate relationships with inte...

Recruitment Genius: Application Support Engineer - Software

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A small rapidly expanding IT So...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada