[JPL] Former prison guard returns with tried, true sound to jazz legend Tyner's band

Mark Griffith nomsgmusic at verizon.net
Sun Dec 30 17:51:52 EST 2007

> 	Eric Gravatt is an interesting person, and a great drummer. I am 
> happy to see him getting some well deserved attention. I did a lengthy 
> interview with him a few years back for the Percussive Notes. We wound 
> up spending most of the day together walking around NYC, and have kept 
> in close touch since. He is a VERY influential drummer among some of 
> the "younger"  (40's and 50's) jazz and fusion drummers today. For any 
> of you that do catch McCoy's quartet, don't let Eric's "hardened 
> demeanor" turn you away (after all you have to adopt a pretty thick 
> shell to work the midnight shift at a maximum security prison for 20+ 
> years, as he did).
> 	Drumming wise, Eric accomplished a pretty unique feat. When he broke 
> onto the scene, it was dominated by guys like Elvin, Roy, Jack, and 
> Tony (among many others, obviously). But Eric really maintained to 
> keep an original voice then (amongst the aforementioned strong 
> drumming voices that were popular), as he does today. In fact, he 
> still sounds today, very similar to how he did in the 70's. Eric 
> credits many of the lesser known avant garde drummers like Sunny 
> Murray, Milford Graves, and Rashied Ali, and his early involvement 
> playing the congas in the Philadelphia Afro Cuban scene (he had an 
> exhausting knowledge of his favorite recording "Patato & Totico"), as 
> important influences. It is also interesting to note that he and 
> Alphonse Mouzon "exchanged gigs" with Weather Report and McCoy, and if 
> it wasn't for someone else's passport problems, Eric would have also 
> been a part of Miles' band for at last a tour of Europe.
> 	He is a humble and very intelligent cat (a philosophy major at Howard 
> in the 60's), very polite, knowledgeable, and respectful,  just a bit 
> introspective. At first I was a little intimidated by him, but quickly 
> found him to be a hugely articulate interview, and a wonderful person. 
> As I said we have kept in touch since our first meeting.
	He has played on some great recordings as well. There is an Eddie 
Henderson recording with Eric and Billy Hart double drumming, and 
Eric's playing on Andrew White's "Live At The New Thing" is thrilling. 
He made two recordings with DC flautist Lloyd McNeil, not to mention 
his recordings with McCoy, Joe Henderson, and Weather Report's  "Live 
In Tokyo." His recent recording with Tony Hymas called "Hope St. 
Minnesota" is cool as well.

Happy Holidays to all of you, and a hearty thank you for all of your 
continued hard work and dedication.
Mark Griffith
>  Former prison guard returns with tried, true sound to jazz legend
>  Tyner's band
> TOKYO - At age 21, Eric Kamau Gravatt was McCoy Tyner's drummer, one 
> of the most coveted jobs a jazz musician could hope to get. After 20 
> years of working as a prison guard, he's back behind the kit - again 
> as Tyner's drummer.
> "My career started with a telephone call. McCoy called me to play," 
> Gravatt, now 60, said. "My career stopped just as easily when the 
> telephone didn't ring anymore."
> While not quite a household name, Gravatt has played with Weather 
> Report, Freddie Hubbard, Albert Ayler, Charles Mingus, Paquito 
> D'Rivera, Sonny Fortune, Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean - a list that 
> reads like a who's-who of jazz greats.
> But Gravatt is quick to acknowledge he's never been good at 
> negotiating pay or handling the cutthroat business side of his 
> profession. He also made mistakes in his youth when he was hotheaded - 
> maybe a bit arrogant - he said during a recent trip to Tokyo with the 
> pianist's quartet.
> Gravatt's tale is symbolic of many musicians, who aren't financially 
> rewarded for their outstanding talent. The result: a day job.
> As Gravatt recalls, he failed to fly to New York for a performance 
> with Tyner in 1976 because of what he says was a misunderstanding 
> about a missing plane ticket at an airport. The ticket was under a 
> wrong name, but he thought it wasn't there.
> Tyner didn't exactly struggle to find a replacement.
> "He was in New York. There were plenty of drummers he could call," 
> Gravatt said, his voice still sad after so many years.
> To support his wife and two children, he worked for the Minnesota 
> Department of Corrections, where he was promoted to lieutenant. He 
> retired in 2001.
> Now that his daughters are grown, at 27 and 23, and he collects a 
> pension, Gravatt feels free to pursue what his heart truly desires.
> Tyner rehired him as his drummer in 2004. Playing at a concert at 
> Tokyo's Blue Note earlier this month, Gravatt shows he hasn't lost a 
> bit of his drive or technique, delivering an energetic collage of 
> rhythms of jangling cymbals and staccato snares.
> His mastery of African and Cuban styles forms the perfect complement 
> to Tyner's percussive and delightfully unpredictable playing.
> Age has made Gravatt maybe more level-headed and definitely more of a 
> homebody, and the grey is showing in his beard.
> But Gravatt is as curious and carefree as a youngster, disarmingly 
> frank off stage about his appreciation of everyday Japanese items - 
> hot "udon" noodles, samurai movies, the marvel of "kanji" characters 
> and wooden "geta" clogs he plans to wear around the house.
> Gravatt's sound is part of a vibrant American jazz legacy; footage of 
> his solos with Weather Report and Tyner is available on YouTube.
> In recent years, musical icons like Wayne Shorter and the late Joe 
> Zawinul have praised Gravatt's drumming flair, sensitivities and 
> precision.
> Many drummers from the early days of jazz are dead - Max Roach, Art 
> Blakey, Tony Williams and Elvin Jones, the drummer for the John 
> Coltrane quartet, which catapulted Tyner to stardom.
> Gravatt says he misses the bebop sound and decries the recent shift 
> toward easy-listening, less complex "smooth jazz" he feels has 
> lessened the intensity and innovative character of the music.
> When he was too young to get in clubs, he used to stand outside 
> listening to Coltrane for hours, he recalls.
> "There used to be a lot of bands out there that played with energy, 
> daring, a little fire," said Gravatt. "In the original feeling of 
> jazz, there was a certain type of urgency."
> Hozumi Nakadaira, a Tokyo club owner and photographer, who has taken 
> pictures of Miles Davis, Coltrane and other masters, including Gravatt 
> with Weather Report, didn't immediately recognize Gravatt at his 
> latest concert.
> "He wasn't young, but he was so fantastic I was wondering what this 
> drummer could have been doing up to now," he said, adding that Tyner's 
> band still sounds powerful despite their age. "The jazz giants are 
> dying. Tyner is one of a handful who's left."
> Gravatt also commands respect from his colleagues.
> "He has made it very comfortable for me to figure out what my role 
> is," said bassist Gerald Cannon, who plays with Tyner. "I feel very 
> grateful to play with a man with so much experience behind the drums."
> Tyner is also happy to have Gravatt back.
> "He is a fantastic artist," he said, adding that he delivers the 
> "sensitivity and dynamics" he looks for in a percussionist. "He 
> listens and responds."
> -- 
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