Art of Life Records is pleased to present the CD reissue of pianist and composer Don Grolnick's first solo album, "Hearts and Numbers - featuring Michael Brecker", which was originally recorded and released in 1985 on Hip Pocket Records and has been out of print for over twenty years. Featuring saxophonist Michael Brecker, guitarist Hiram Bullock, synthesizer programmer Clifford Carter, drummer Peter Erskine, drummer Steve Jordan, bassist Tom Kennedy, bassist Will Lee, guitarist Bob Mann, bassist Marcus Miller and guitarist Jeff Mironov. The album features some of Don's finest compositions including "Pointing at the Moon", "Pools", "The Four Sleepers" and "Hearts and Numbers". All songs are composed and arranged by Don Grolnick. 24-bit digital mastering by Paul G. Kohler at Art of Life Studios in Ridgeland, South Carolina in November 2010.
Don Grolnick was a subtle and rather underrated pianist throughout his career, but his flexibility and talents were well known to his fellow musicians. Grolnick played in rock bands while a teenager but was always interested in Jazz. He worked in the early fusion group Dreams (1969-1971), the Brecker Brothers (starting in 1975) and in the early '80s with Steps Ahead. He has long been a busy session musician often utilized by pop singers. Don eventually worked on hundreds of recordings with artists like Linda Ronstadt, Steely Dan, and Bonnie Raitt. In 1974 he began what was to become a long musical partnership with James Taylor. In the 1980s, Grolnick appeared in many settings including with Joe Farrell, George Benson, Peter Erskine, David Sanborn, John Scofield, Mike Stern and the Bob Mintzer Big Band. Don Grolnick is heard at his best on his Hip Pocket Records debut, "Hearts and Numbers" (originally released in 1985 and reissued and remastered in 2010 on Art of Life Records), and on his two Blue Note albums, which have been reissued as a double-CD set. Don Grolnick was a very talented pianist and composer whose death in 1996 at the age of 48 from cancer was a major loss.
Jazz, Don Grolnick once said with sly understatement, is an art "in which the risks are great, the rewards subtle."
But it was always his truest passion. As a youthn growing up in Levittown, New York, Don became captivated by the sound of jazz. He once told an interviewer, "My father took me to see Count Basie, and I just went crazy. I didn't know why or what it was, it was just swinging so hard -- and I didn't even know what swinging meant." His first instrument was the accordion, although he soon switched to his grandparents’ piano.
The young musician began to immerse himself in the sounds of blues, bebop, and post-bop. He absorbed the music of Erroll Garner, Cannonball Adderly, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Ray Charles, Sonny Rollins, Bobby Timmons, Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Horace Silver, to name just a few. While still a teenager, Don began to write songs and arrangements.
Don went on to attend Tufts University, majoring in philosophy. Sometime during his college years, he met up with saxophonist Michael Brecker. After Don returned to New York in 1969, Brecker asked him to join the seminal jazz fusion band Dreams. Around this time, Don also began to explore mainstream pop and funk music. As was his custom, Don threw himself into the genre, listening hard to find out what really made the music move. And indeed, he developed a pop and R&B touch so skillful and authentic that it misled some listeners (and perhaps a few critics) into seeing Don as an arriviste when he later returned to his jazz roots.
In a short time Don became a sought-after session musician. Don eventually worked on hundreds of recordings with artists like Linda Ronstadt, Steely Dan, and Bonnie Raitt. In 1974, he began what was to become a long musical partnership with James Taylor.
Meanwhile, Don continued to pursue jazz. In 1975, he joined the first incarnation of the Brecker Brothers. In 1979, he became part of Steps (later Steps Ahead) a band that evolved out of late-night sessions led by vibes player Mike Mainieri at the Seventh Avenue South nightclub in New York. Don's compositions became part of the defining sound of these two groups, as did his keyboard style.
In the early 1980s, Don began to bring his own groups into Seventh Avenue South. (He gave one of his bands a typically quirky Grolnick name: "Idiot Savant." Michael Brecker later said, "I sometimes felt like we were the idiots and Don was the savant.") At some point, Don decided that it was time to take his own music into the studio. In 1983 he made a fusion-oriented record called Hearts and Numbers, with a stellar lineup of players, including Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine, and Hiram Bullock.
As the 1980s rolled on, Don continued to work as a top-flight pop and jazz sideman. But he found himself wanting to hear and play more of the acoustic bebop and post-bop jazz that had thrilled him when he was young.
So, in 1988, Don decided to take a complete break from jingles, pop tours, record dates, and producing, and make some space for the music that was building in his mind. For several months, he shut himself in a room with his Steinway, listening, playing and writing. In early 1989, Don took a stack of new tunes into the studio and recorded Weaver of Dreams with an all-star ensemble: Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Barry Rogers, Bob Mintzer, Peter Erskine, and Dave Holland. The players and engineers remember some unusually stress-free sessions, where the music simply flowed. Don said later, "It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my whole life."
Blue Note picked up the recording and released it in 1990, to critical acclaim. "Five stars," said Downbeat, "...a gem of uncut jazz...startlingly fresh and full of soul." The Los Angeles Times called Weaver of Dreams "an intense blend of mystery, suspense, and driving post-bop."
Don followed up in 1992 with Nighttown. It, too, offered adventurous acoustic jazz for four horns plus rhythm section. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Don also worked as the producer of three solo albums for Mike Brecker, the second of which won Michael his first Grammy. The two musicians collaborated on a number of compositions for these recordings.
The early 1990s were a productive and creative time for Don. He married jazz singer Jeanne O'Connor. He brought his own music to premier clubs like New York's Sweet Basil and The Blue Note, as well as the concert stages of Europe and Japan. He continued to perform with James Taylor and other pop luminaries. He served as musical director for one of Sting’s star-studded Rainforest benefit concerts at Carnegie Hall.
As the 90s progressed, Don's restless musical imagination turned to Latin music. In 1994 he recorded Medianoche, with a lineup that included Michael Brecker, Andy Gonzalez, Mike Mainieri, Steve Berrios, Milton Cardona, Dave Valentin, and Don Alias. It was first released on Japan's Pony Canyon label. Sadly, Don did not live to see the record released in the U.S. on the Warner Brothers label. It was nominated for a Grammy award in 1996.