Grover Washington, Jr.'s love of music began as a child growing up in Buffalo, New York; his mother (who sang in church choirs) and father (a collector of jazz 78s and an amateur C-melody saxophonist) bought him a saxophone at age ten. "After I started playing," Grover says, "I'd sneak into clubs to watch guys like Jack McDuff, Harold Vick and Charles Lloyd. My professional life began at age twelve. I played a lot of R&B, blues, and what we used to call 'gut-bucket.'" Grover left Buffalo to play in the Midwest with a group called the Four Clefs.
Soon afterward, he was drafted into the Army; during that time he made some important connections. Drummer Billy Cobham, who was in the Army band with Grover, introduced him to several prominent New York musicians, and he soon began freelancing in New York and Philadelphia. Grover also met his wife Christine (who has since acted as his business partner as well) in Philadelphia around that time; they married shortly after his discharge in 1967. The two have remained happily married since; their son, Grover III (who co-produced "Summer Chill," a Grammy-nominated song on Grover's Next Exit album) now lives in Los Angeles and their daughter, Shana, attends college.
After playing in organist Charles Earland's band, and recording as a sideman for the CTI and Prestige labels, Grover recorded Breakout with Johnny Hammond. The album was a best-seller, and it established Grover as a major new voice on saxophone. The big break came in 1970, when Hank Crawford couldn't make a session. Creed Taylor turned the date over to Grover, who had been playing in the horn section for the session. The result was Inner City Blues, released in 1971, while Grover was still working at a Philadelphia record wholesaler. "I was unloading boxes with my own name on them," Grover recalls with a hint of irony. Grover's soulful, sophisticated sound developed through the 1970s and the success of his next three albums--All The Kings Horses, Soul Box and especially Mister Magic--landed him gigs as headliner in large concert halls, and opened the door to session work with the likes of Bob James, Randy Weston, Eric Gale, and Dave Grusin.
His success in the '70s continued with albums such as Feels So Good, A Secret Place, Live At The Bijou, Reed Seed, Skylarkin', and Paradise. With the release of Winelight in 1980, Grover earned recognition as a leading instrumental master. The LP earned two Grammy Awards, for Best Jazz Fusion Recording and Best R&B Song for "Just the Two of Us." Down Beat Magazine crooned, "Washington plays with exquisite tone, range and dexterity, grooving always." The Boston Herald-American proclaimed the album, "A true masterpiece by an artist who has the ability to combine the better elements of pop, soul and jazz and transform them into a form uniquely his." Winelight has been certified platinum, and to date has sold over two million copies. Grover's subsequent albums extended his reputation even further. Come Morning (1981) featured Ralph MacDonald, Steve Gadd, Eric Gale, Richard Tee, Marcus Miller, and vocals by Grady Tate; it earned Grover his fourth gold recording. The Best Is Yet To Come (1982) earned a Grammy nomination for vocalist Patti Labelle on the title track. Inside Moves (1984) featured vocals from Jon Lucien.
For Strawberry Moon (1987), Grover was joined by legendary blues guitarist B.B. King, as well as by jazz/r&b vocalist Jean Carne. For Then And Now (1988), Grover explored the many facets of his musical expression, aided by jazz stars Tommy Flanagan, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Marvin Smitty Smith. On Time Out Of Mind (1990), Grover scored another hit with vocalist Phyllis Hyman with "Sacred Kind Of Love." And on Next Exit (1992), Grover explored several musical avenues, reinventing a classic Paul Desmond tune, "Take Five," as his own "Take Another Five," teaming up with The Four Tops and with Lalah Hathaway, even dipping into rap. All My Tomorrows (1994) finds the familiar saxophone star in the company of some of modern jazz's leading lights--pianist Hank Jones, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, bassist George Mraz, drummers Billy Hart and Lewis Nash, among others and vocalist Freddie Cole featured on several cuts--for an acoustic session of ballads, an album crafted for the ages.
In the early eighties, Grover played a major role in establishing the Philadelphia group Pieces of a Dream, for whom he produced three albums. These successes, and many, many more awards and credits as producer, player and composer, over two decades have today made Grover Washington, Jr. a key player in modern jazz and a familiar face on our cultural horizon. With just the mention of his first name or a note from his saxophone, audiences worldwide respond.