Grover Washington, Jr.

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Grover Washington, Jr.
Birth nameGrover Washington, Jr.
Born(1943-12-12)December 12, 1943
Buffalo, New York
DiedDecember 17, 1999(1999-12-17) (aged 56)
New York City
GenresJazz, soul, r&b, jazz-funk, soul-jazz
OccupationsMusician, saxophonist, singer-songwriter
InstrumentsVocals, saxophone
Years active1971–1999
LabelsKudu, Motown, Elektra, Columbia
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Grover Washington, Jr.
Birth nameGrover Washington, Jr.
Born(1943-12-12)December 12, 1943
Buffalo, New York
DiedDecember 17, 1999(1999-12-17) (aged 56)
New York City
GenresJazz, soul, r&b, jazz-funk, soul-jazz
OccupationsMusician, saxophonist, singer-songwriter
InstrumentsVocals, saxophone
Years active1971–1999
LabelsKudu, Motown, Elektra, Columbia

Grover Washington, Jr. (December 12, 1943 – December 17, 1999)[1] was an American jazz-funk / soul-jazz saxophonist. Along with George Benson, John Klemmer, David Sanborn, Bob James, Chuck Mangione, Herb Alpert, and Spyro Gyra, he is considered by many to be one of the founders of the smooth jazz genre.[citation needed] He wrote some of his material and later became an arranger and producer.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Washington made some of the genre's most memorable hits, including "Mister Magic," "Reed Seed," "Black Frost," "Winelight," "Inner City Blues" and "The Best is Yet to Come". In addition, he performed very frequently with other artists, including Bill Withers on "Just the Two of Us" (still in regular rotation on radio today), Patti LaBelle on "The Best Is Yet to Come" and Phyllis Hyman on "A Sacred Kind of Love". He is also remembered for his take on the Dave Brubeck classic "Take Five", and for his 1996 version of "Soulful Strut".

Washington had a preference for black nickel-plated saxophones made by Julius Keilwerth. These included a SX90R alto and SX90R tenor. He also played Selmer Mark VI alto in the early years. His main soprano was a black nickel plated H.Couf Superba II (also built by Keilwerth for Herbert Couf) and a Keilwerth SX90 in the last years of his life.


Early life[edit]

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 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.

Early career[edit]

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.[1] 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,[2] 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.


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.[1] 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 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.[1]

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, artists such as Walter Beasley, Steve Cole, Pamela Williams, Najee, and George Howard. His song Mr. Magic is noted as being influential on Go-go music starting in the mid-1970s.[3]


On December 17, 1999, 5 days after his 56th birthday, Washington collapsed while waiting in the green room after performing four songs for The Saturday Early Show, at CBS Studios in New York City. He was taken to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at about 7:30 pm. His doctors determined that he had suffered a massive heart attack.[1] He is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery.


A large mural of Washington, part of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, is just south of the intersection of Broad and Diamond streets.[4]


As leader[edit]

YearAlbumUS 200US R&BUS Jazz
1972Inner City Blues6284
All the King's Horses111201
1973Soul Box100261
1975Mister Magic1011
Feels So Good1011
1976A Secret Place3171
1977Live at The Bijou1141
1978Reed Seed3571
1981Come Morning281
1982The Best Is Yet to Come5081
1984Inside Moves80213
1986House Full of Love1255225
1987Strawberry Moon
1988Then and Now2
1989Time Out of Mind601
1992Next Exit149261
1994All My Tomorrows2
1996Soulful Strut187452
1997Breath of Heaven: A Holiday Collection7

As sideman[edit]

With Kathleen Battle

With Kenny Burrell

With Charles Earland

With Dexter Gordon

With Urbie Green

With Boogaloo Joe Jones

With The Mark III Trio

With Gerry Mulligan

With Don Sebesky

With Johnny "Hammond" Smith

With Melvin Sparks

With Leon Spencer

With Mal Waldron

With Randy Weston

With Bill Withers


YearSinglesUS PopUS R&B
1971"Inner City Blues"42
1972"Mercy Mercy Me"
"No Tears in the End"49
1975"Mister Magic"5416
1977"Summer Song"57
1978"Do Dat"75
1979"Tell Me About It Now"
1980"Snake Eyes"
1981"Just the Two of Us"23
1982"Be Mine (Tonight)"9213
1983"The Best Is Yet to Come"14
1984"Inside Moves"
1987"Summer Nights"35
1990"Sacred Kind of Love"21
1992"Love Like This"31


  1. ^ a b c d e allmusic Biography
  2. ^
  3. ^ Chang, Jeff (June 2001). "Wind me up, Chuck!". San Francisco Bay Guardian. Retrieved 2007-06-01. 
  4. ^ Mural can be seen in Street View.

External links[edit]