Saturday, April 18, 2020

Henry Grimes, jazz pioneer and subject of "Vanished," 1935-2020

In 1968, a gifted and beloved session musician named Henry Grimes—who’d played with Thelonious Monk and Benny Goodman, who helped pioneer free jazz—strapped his double bass to the roof of a car and drove from New York to San Francisco to find new work. The desert heat cracked his instrument, and he did not have the $500 required to repair it—so instead he sold it for the same amount. 

Then Henry Grimes vanished. 

His family stopped hearing from him. At least twice in print, he was reported dead. But in 2002, a twentysomething fan named Marshall Marrotte put his homegrown detective skills to work and found a Henry Grimes living at a rundown, single-room-occupancy hotel in Los Angeles. Marshall reached out to find that it was indeed the Henry Grimes whose music he loved.

Henry had been getting by on a series of odd jobs. He had not been playing or recording music—he had not even seen a compact disc—but all along he had been creating music…in his head. Word spread. A fellow musician generously donated a double bass. Henry got back to practicing. 

In 2003, at age 68, and after an absence of 35 years, he re-entered the music scene. Later that year, All About Jazz named Henry “Musician of the Year.” And he kept on playing. 

On 4/17/20, Henry Grimes died at 84 from complications due to COVID-19. 

He is one of the subjects of my book Vanished: True Stories of the Missing.

I can’t say I’m a big jazz fan. But I became a big fan of Henry Grimes. RIP to a man whose impact will never vanish.

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