By BEN RATLIFF
The trombonist Al Grey, a member of the Count Basie band through
various stretches from 1957 to 1977 and a strong, humorous
improviser, died on Friday at a hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 74
and lived in Great Neck, N.Y.
The cause was complications from diabetes, said his companion, Rosalie
Mr. Grey exemplified the musicians that Basie sought and cultivated: a
disciplined section player who could also step forward for solos and
transcend that role with style.
His signature was the plunger mute, and he used it swaggeringly, making
his malingering, behind-the-beat notes plump and juicy. He knew how to
insinuate slyness into standards and ballads, but he was probably at his
best on the blues; he needed a tenacious rhythm section as a bed for his
authoritative dance-band riffs.
He joined the band at the beginning of Basie's tenure with Roulette
records and played with it through the 60's -- the last great decade of
Basie music -- except for a stint as lead a small group with the
saxophonist Billy Mitchell. Along with the tenor saxophonist Eddie
(Lockjaw) Davis, Mr. Grey was a principal soloist for the band in the
late 60's; some of his best work can be heard on the 1966 album
"Sinatra at the Sands," with the Basie band accompanying Frank Sinatra,
as well as the recording of a performance of the band from the same Las
Vegas engagement, "Count Basie Live at the Sands (Before Frank)."
Mr. Grey was born in Aldie, Va., and learned to play trombone from his
father, an instructor for a youth orchestra in Pottstown, Pa. He worked
a Navy band during World War II, and musicians he encountered there
recommended him to Benny Carter, whose band he joined in 1946.
After the Basie years Mr. Grey was a busy freelancer. He led a band
with the saxophonist Jimmy Forrest, and of another with his son, Mike,
also a trombonist. He toured a little with Norman Granz's Jazz at the
Philharmonic and played with George Wein's Newport All-Stars.
In addition to his son Mike, of Las Vegas, he is survived his sons Albert
Jr., Ernest and Robert, of Philadelphia; a brother, Richard, of Reading,
Pa.; a sister, Jenny Beck of Philadelphia; and four grandchildren.
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