GROVER WASHINGTON JR.
Washington was born in Buffalo, New York, on December 12, 1943. His mother was a church chorister, and his father was a collector of old Jazz gramophone records and a saxophonist as well, so music was everywhere in the home. He grew up listening to the great jazzmen and big band leaders like Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, and others like them. At the age of 8, Grover Sr. gave Jr. a saxophone. He practiced and would sneak into clubs to see famous Buffalo blues musicians.
Washington left Buffalo and played with a Midwest group called the Four Clefs and then the Mark III Trio from Mansfield, Ohio. He was drafted into the U.S. Army shortly thereafter, which was to be to his advantage, as he met drummer Billy Cobham. A music mainstay in New York City, Cobham introduced Washington to many New York musicians. After leaving the Army, Washington freelanced his talents around New York City, eventually landing in Philadelphia in 1967. In 1970 and 1971, he appeared on Leon Spencer's first two albums on Prestige Records, together with Idris Muhammad and Melvin Sparks.
Washington's big break came at the expense of another artist. Alto sax man Hank Crawford was unable to make a recording date with Creed Taylor's Kudu Records, and Washington took his place, even though he was a backup. This led to his first solo album, Inner City Blues. He was talented and displayed heart and soul with soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. Refreshing for his time, he made headway into the jazz mainstream.
RISE TO FAME
While his first three albums established him as a force in jazz and soul music, it was his fourth album in 1974, Mister Magic, that proved a major commercial success. The album climbed to number 10 in Billboard's Top 40 album chart and the title track reached No. 16 on the R&B singles chart (#54, pop). All these albums included guitarist Eric Gale as a near-permanent member in Washington's arsenal. His follow-up on Kudu in 1975, Feels So Good also made No. 10 on the album chart.
A string of acclaimed records brought Washington through the 1970s, culminating in the signature piece for everything he would do from then on. Winelight (1980) was the album that defined everything Washington was then about, having signed for Elektra Records, part of the major Warner Music group. The album was smooth, fused with R&B and easy listening feel. Washington's love of basketball, especially the Philadelphia 76ers, led him to dedicate the second track, "Let It Flow", to Julius Erving (Dr. J). The highlight of the album was his collaboration with soul artist Bill Withers, "Just the Two of Us," a huge hit on radio during the spring and summer of 1981, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album went platinum in 1981, and also won Grammy Awards in 1982 for Best R&B Song ("Just The Two of Us"), and Best Jazz Fusion Performance ("Winelight"). "Winelight" was also nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
In the post-Winelight era, Washington is credited for giving rise to a new batch of talent that would make its mark in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He is known for bringing Kenny G to the forefront, as well as artists such as Walter Beasley, Steve Cole, Pamela Williams, Najee, and Boney James and George Howard. His song "Mr. Magic" is noted as being influential on Go-go music starting in the mid-1970s.
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