Obituary: Lionel Grigson
Monday 04 July 1994
LIONEL GRIGSON was a jazz pianist, cornettist and teacher sure to provoke a reaction wherever he went. Whether he inspired or inflamed, Grigson's energies often acted as a catalyst and his interest in, and support for, young jazz musicians contributed significantly to the growth and consolidation of jazz education in Britain.
As a musicologist, Grigson did much to focus the analysis of jazz harmony and rhythm along the lines of Johann Fux, the great classical theoretician, whilst most of the time patiently sharing his insights in a non-academic and practical context. Within the context of a leading international conservatoire, the Guildhall School of Music, in London, Grigson did much to demonstrate and explain the underlying principles common to jazz, classical and indeed all music, and as a result produced a generation of jazz educators possessing a thorough grounding in an area where much educational work is left to chance. Alongside the folkloric tales of his exploits at the Guildhall School of Music (where he was Professor of Piano and Improvisation 1983-93), I suspect that Grigson's presence did much to sharpen the minds of students, colleagues and friends.
I first met Grigson at the 606 Club in the King's Road, London, a haunt of jazz musicians, in 1981. That night I heard his detailed and considered approach to the piano as he drew on the music of three of his 'masters' - Bill Evans, Bud Powell and Horace Silver. I also encountered the maverick academic shouting out his preferred chord changes. Later that night he switched to cornet and invited me to sit in. We played 'Autumn Leaves'. At the suggestion of the bass player I played some substitutions of my own, temporarily fazing Lionel, but moments later, mid-chorus, he shoved me off the piano muttering 'Yes, actually I knew that, but do you know these ones?' And off he went.
All his friends have favourite Lionel Grigson stories, some funny, some touching and some horrendous, but when we lose a man with such a skill to inflame and endear, there must be some lasting quality to have engendered such love. Much of this was born out of a shared experience as jazz musicians. We could identify with the symptomatic responses to the knock-backs and frustrations that Grigson suffered, forgiving the sometimes bizarre and extreme manifestations of his reactions.
On a more subtle level, I suspect that many of us empathise with Grigson's commitment. Here was a man passionate about music, literature (his father was the poet and critic Geoffrey Grigson), politics and justice. Generous with his knowledge, Grigson would share what he knew with anyone who was interested - an attitude not common to all jazz musicians. Courageous, misguided at times, Grigson communicated his ideas fearlessly, a man of principle, risking, often experiencing, rejection.
I myself experienced the whole range of emotions in my long relationship with Grigson. My early opportunities as a player and teacher were influenced by and, in some cases, provided by him - my appointment at the Guildhall in 1987 was not only on Grigson's recommendation but partly as a result of his own indiscretions - but what I owe him is not about which scale goes with which chord (although I'll always be grateful for the Fats Waller changes for 'Tea for Two'). What I owe to Lionel Grigson is having my mind challenged and the experience of a passionate and courageous man who took the step to be what he believed to be true.
- 1 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 2 'Fire at every person you see': Israeli soldiers reveal they were ordered to shoot to kill in Gaza – even if the targets may have been civilians
- 3 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
- 4 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
- 5 YouTube social experiment shows just how easy it is to kidnap a child
How the language you speak changes your view of the world
'Fire at every person you see': Israeli soldiers reveal they were ordered to shoot to kill in Gaza – even if the targets may have been civilians
Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
First-time buyers in London 'need to earn at least £77,000'
General Election 2015: Photographic history of Bullingdon Club tracked down - including new picture of David Cameron in his finery
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
In defence of liberal democracy
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...
£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...