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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
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: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links