Grover Washington Jr. Passes Along The Honors At Jazz Festival

Posted: June 18, 1996

A capacity crowd at Penn's Landing endured 90-degree heat to watch Mellon PSFS Jazz Festival headliner Grover Washington Jr. play a marathon four sets on Sunday. The contemporary-jazz giant set the tone early during his five hours on stage.

``We're here today to honor me,'' said the saxophonist, to whom the festival is dedicated. ``But my job here today is to honor all these musicians who are a part of my past, present and future.''

The program was a survey of the musicians with whom the West Mount Airy resident has been associated during his three-decade career. Washington, 52, is credited with creating contemporary jazz, the soul-jazz, rhythm-and-blues and funk blend of instrumental pop often described as ``smooth'' jazz.

His debt to soul jazz was in evidence during the second set, with local stalwarts Trudy Pitts and Mr. C. Without introduction, Washington entered during a version of Oliver Nelson's ``Blues and the Abstract Truth,'' playing his soprano saxophone in counterpoint to the blues. As the crowd cheered, a passing ship blew its horn.

He introduced the next tune by saying, ``We used to play this up at Broad and Olney, and Trudy used to send me home with homework.'' The crowd loved the smooth-jazz veneer Washington applied to straight-ahead jazz.

The third set found Washington reuniting with his first band, and playing ``Mr. Clean.'' Washington's enormous success began in the mid-'70s, and tunes from that period - including ``Mr. Magic'' and the double Grammy-winning ``Winelight'' - were reprised. Locksmith, his touring band from the '70s, checked in to support Washington's R & B/soul-jazz blend.

The enormous success of the Philadelphia R & B group Pieces of a Dream was recalled next. Washington, who produced the band's albums, wore a red Sixers cap and sat in on tenor saxophone during the group's performance.

The final set featured Washington's current band playing more recent triumphs, among them ``West River Drive'' and Paul Desmond's ``Take Five.'' The title track from a forthcoming album, Soulful Strut, elicited an enthusiastic response.

Washington's easygoing generosity was underscored when he brought back on stage high school members of the Mellon PSFS Jazz Ensemble for Unity, which opened the show. It was a chance for the star of the show to jam with teenagers who could become tomorrow's stars.

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