George Gruntz

Search for George Gruntz Piano Conclave under “Piano Conclave”. George Paul Gruntz was a jazz pianist and bandleader who died on 10 January 2013. The concert jazz band George Gruntz’s Concert Jazz Band performed at Ronnie Scott’s London club a dozen years back. They caught the attention of listeners with their blend of the mystery and ambiguities of Gil Evans’s partnership with Miles Davis and the power and punch of a traditional swing group. Gruntz, who died at 80, was an internationally recognized jazz musician from Switzerland. He had a unique vision. His Concert Jazz Band, or simply CJB, under Quincy Jones’s direction, supported ailing Davis in 1991 on his swansong visits through the classic music of Miles Ahead and Sketches of Spain. Gruntz was the best bandleader to provide a top-league orchestra for one of jazz’s most historic events. Gruntz is a Basel native and studied at both the Zurich and Basel conservatoires. He was a member the Swiss swing-tobop saxophonist FlavioAmbrosetti’s group in his 20s. In 1958, he recorded and performed at the Newport Jazz Festival as part of Marshall Brown, an educator and trombonist from America. Gruntz was a member of the Youth Band’s Yugoslavian representative Dusko Goykovic (1960-1961) and later in a bebop trio which accompanied American stars such as Donald Byrd and Dexter Gordon on their European trips. Gruntz, who was previously a car salesman, devoted his life to music. He toured with Helen Merrill and performed in Phil Woods’ European Rhythm Machine (1968-1969). In 1964 he aired his classical-harpsichord skills on the crossover album Jazz Goes Baroque. He explored Middle Eastern instruments three years later for Noon in Tunisia (Bedouin-inspired). In 1969, he teamed up with Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman’s trumpeter. Gruntz, a tirelessly energetic musician, was also the music director at Zurich’s Schauspielhaus theatre (1970-1984) and artistic director of Berlin’s prestigious international jazz festival Berliner Jazztage (1972-1994). Gruntz balanced these duties with a hectic schedule as a bandleader and player. He was also the music director of Zurich’s Schauspielhaus theatre (1970-84) and artistic director of Berlin’s prestigious international jazz festival, the Berliner Jazztage (1972-94). In 1975, he premiered his settings for “The Rape of Lucrece” at Southwark Cathedral. Two years later, he composed a complex percussion orchestra piece for Montreux’s jazz festival. This was, however, the time when his most well-known big-band creation, CJB, emerged. Gruntz, Ambrosetti’s son Franco and the Swiss drummer and painter Daniel Humair were co-founders of the Band in 1972. Gruntz took control of the group six years later and renamed it. The band toured the globe with American heavyweights Sheila Jordan and John Scofield. For Davis’s farewell at Montreux Jazz Festival 1991, the band was joined by Evans sidemen. The following year, they were invited to China on their first official jazz tour. Gruntz was a charming, humorous, democratic bandleader. He wrote at least two featured spots per gig, often featuring band members’ original compositions. Gruntz also regularly paid for dinners in high-end restaurants with his musicians on the road. Gruntz co-wrote Money: A Jazz Opera in 1982 with American poet AmiriBaraka. The following year, he also wrote The Holy Grail of Jazz and Joy. He collaborated with Allen Ginsberg in 1988 on the opera Cosmopolitan Greetings. Chicago Cantata, which was commissioned by Chicago’s Jazz Festival in 1991, was the most ambitious of all these ventures. It featured a mixture of jazz, blues and gospel music and featured Lester Bowie and Malachi favors from the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Von Freeman as saxophonist, Pops Staples, and the Norfleet Family as gospel stars. Radio Days, a 10-CD compilation of Gruntz’s works was released in 2007. Despite his declining health, Gruntz performed in the USA with the CJB in 2012, even though he was in decline. Marvin Stamm, a long-time Gruntz trumpeter, described him as “the face and voice of Swiss jazz” and said that he was “a strong enough presence and force to attract a number of top American and European musicians into his Concert Jazz Band. Many of these players… returned time and again.” Gruntz is survived his wife Lilly, and two children, Lilly and Grace. From

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