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A Tribute to Don

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James Taylor on Don:  

“Don was the finest musician that I have known.  It wasn’t just his raw talent, it was tempered by his personality and his complex approach to music.  He had a great sense of what was appropriate and pure, and he was very discriminating and judgmental about music on one level.  But he was also tolerant of a wide variety of music -- country as well as Coltrane.  

Don was my musical collaborator.  I also counted him as one of my dearest friends.  He produced several albums for me, and we arranged or wrote about 50 tunes together.  And he was sort of the head cat in my band.  Most of the songs that Don and I wrote together I had assembled on guitar.  I would play them for him, we would put them down on paper, we’d write a piano and guitar version of it, and from there we would take it to the band and work out the arrangement.

Don was a wonderful person to work with.  He paid very close attention to what I was trying to do.  He was very protective of the material, he didn’t want to take it charging in some direction that was contrary to what I had in mind.  I was very grateful for the amount of his attention I commanded for such a long time.   That was an unusual stroke of luck for me.

He was one of the driest, funniest, and most compelling people to be around.  He was also a serious person -- a miracle of self-examination.  He strove to improve his life in the most genuine ways and for the most genuine reasons.  I used to introduce him as the ‘spiritual leader’ of the band, and I meant it.”

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michael Brecker working with Don

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Randy Brecker, Yoko Ono, and Don, 1974

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don with peter erskine

The late Michael Brecker on Don:

“Don was my musical mentor, my trusted confidante, and my great friend.  I turned to him for musical opinions because he had a marvelous ability to listen and determine what made music great.  He profoundly influenced the way I listen to, play, and write music…..We played together in 11 different bands and he produced my first three solo albums.  I loved collaborating with him.  He would take tunes that I couldn’t finish and he’d come up with ideas that I never dreamed of.   I loved to watch the process.  I’d be stumped.  I’d have an A section and an ending, but I needed a good B section, a transition section, or a shout chorus.    The tune would need something I couldn’t come up with, and he’d sit down at the piano for five or ten minutes, somehow visualizing the tune, and I would just watch him.   His fingers would be on the keys, but he wouldn’t play, he was just kind of hearing.  Then he’d play, and it was always some great thing.  There was an amazing amount of tension that would go on for a few minutes.  I loved it.  I was always anxious to see what would come out.  

Don’s unique writing came from deep within, a quality most composers strive for and few attain.  Don once remarked to me that he felt one of the characteristics of a really good tune was that if only one note was changed, the tune would suffer or be altered drastically.  His compositions certainly bore that mark of distinction – every note had weight.  Don also once said that if he was listening to the radio while washing the dishes (and he loved to wash dishes!) a really good tune would often make him stop washing and listen.  His tunes would make any musician stop and listen.

Don was incredibly funny, and incredibly quick. Once, in the early seventies, Don was standing outside the Village Vanguard with a few friends.  A very disturbed man walked up to them and said in a menacing voice, ‘Do you realize that at this very moment I could kill each one of you?’ to which Don replied, ‘That may be true, but why bring it up?’

I named one of my records Two Blocks From the Edge as a tribute to Don.  He used to say the he ‘liked living close to the edge -- as long as it was two or three blocks away.’"


“He was one of the most musical people I had ever met, the way he played and the way he wrote, not to mention ideas for producing and arranging tunes. He’s written some memorable melodies but the subtle complexities of the harmonics make the melodies stand out even more.  And always Don’s sense of humor comes through.”  


Peter Erskine, drummer:

"His tunes have the simple elegance of a haiku poem, simple at first glance, rich with meaning upon examination, and able to stir up or evoke an image or a memory upon every encounter with it.   His sense of humor was large, generous, and always right on target.  His musical instincts were always right, and he showed himself to be a man and musician of incredible magnetism and peerless abilities and taste."   

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The Steve Khan band, 1978.  From left to right: Don Grolnick, Steve Khan, Steve Gadd, Will Lee, Michael Brecker

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don with bob mann

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Steve Khan, guitarist:

“One of the things Don would always say is that if you have really swinging time, you can play almost anything. It was an important part of his philosophy as a player, to feel that his own playing was in a very swinging slot.  And, if you needed to lean on somebody, there he was! In any band which he was in, he almost always became the bandleader, the conscience of the band, and the band philosopher.”  


Jeanne O’Connor,

widow of Don and jazz singer:

“Don's mind was always full of music.   He was charming and funny and generous when he was with other people, but he craved solitude and quiet.  He was always hungry for unbroken periods of time when he could go into a room with a piano, shut the door, and listen to the music inside of his head."

Bob Mann, guitarist:

“I worked with Don in many different musical settings:  from the fusion sets of ‘Dreams’ in the 70s, to orchestra gigs with Linda Ronstadt in the 80s, to national tours with James Taylor in the 90s.  It’s one thing to be a ‘versatile’ musician, and quite another to find the simple essence of even one style or form of music.  Don Grolnick’s awesome talent enabled him to navigate right to that essential point in any musical framework, and that’s why it was so wonderful to be part of any musical situation with him...and why just about any musician or music-lover can learn from him."   


Bob Mintzer:

"Don Grolnick was a good friend, a deep thinker, and an extraordinary musician. He was my first call pianist on anything I did for years. He always gave 110 percent, helped out in any way possible, and had a great sense of humor and incredible spirit. He left way too soon."

Will Lee, bassist:

“There’s about three people, Oscar Peterson, Richard Tee, and Don Grolnick.  It has to do with a feel, from the inside of the instrument. I felt like he was inside the piano.  Grolnick was the truth, we looked at him for the truth.  I used to call him Judge Grolnick.”  

review quotes:


“FIVE STARS.  This is Grolnick’s masterpiece…a gem of uncut jazz….startlingly fresh and full of soul.” 
Downbeat review of Weaver of Dreams, 1990


“An intense blend of mystery, suspense, and driving post-bop.” 
Los Angeles Times review of Weaver of Dreams, 1991


Nighttown is the best jazz ensemble recording of the year.” 

The Philadelphia Tribune, 1992 


“…His style is assured but laid back while his harmonies are both post bop and funky…The result is a band with a rich open sound but one with nice angular edges.”  Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1992


“…Everything that makes Grolnick’s music so compelling --- the deceptive simplicity of his themes, the sonorous beauty of his arrangements for his four-horn front line, his ability to infuse his music with an easy but insistent swing…..was present, and remained on display throughout two hour-long sets.” 
The London Times, 1995


“The pieces are very elegantly shaped, the horn lines mesh with a blurred, splashy expressiveness that sounds deceptively looser and less calculated than it really is…..”  The Guardian, 1995


Medianoche includes arrangements of jazz standards and several Grolnick originals.  The writing, smart but easy on the ear, at times suggests an update of the cool Latin jazz of Cal Tjader.  The ensemble playing is precise, low key and elegantly unhurried.” 

The Miami Herald, 1997

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