Biography:

In recent years, as the breadth of drummer, composer and bandleader Jerry Granelli’s work has expanded, so has his profile as a recording artist.

Granelli’s long-standing fascination with words led to the 1993 jazz instrumental CD A Song I Thought I Heard Buddy Sing, inspired by Michael Ondaatje’s experimental novel about Buddy Bolden, Coming Through Slaughter. His latest recorded collaboration with producer Lee Townsend, Sandhills Reunion is a multi-layered interweaving of words and music that can best be described as audio cinema. It features music by Granelli and this bandmates with vocals and spoken text written and performed by actor/playwright/singer Rinde Eckert. The band members are Francois Houle (clarinet), Jeff Reilly (bass clarinet), David Mott (baritone sax), Christoph Both (cello), Christian Kögel (electric and acoustic guitars) and J. Anthony Granelli (bass, lap steel guitar). It has been released on the Canadian label, Songlines.

"With "Sandhills Reunion" Granelli and a new ensemble of past musical collaborators mix a variety of musical approaches with the reflections, imaginings and internal dialogues of actor/playwright/singer Rinde Eckert. The recording highlights the strengths of both, but is best experienced by taking in everything as a whole."

"Much as films like "Koyanisqaatsi" have created new ways of experiencing music and the visual medium, "Sandhills Reunion" aims to find a new confluence of music and the spoken word. Eckert's musings are, at times allegorical and enigmatic, at other times crystal clear. The writing is captivating, loosely tied together through the Sandhills of Nebraska and the character of Billy the Kid."

"Granelli solicits music from each member of the septet, and the result is a diversity of styles that includes the ambient/new music sensibility of "River of Glass," the Middle Eastern inflections of "Our Particular Tragedy," the light funk of "Your Voice,² the raunchy blues of "Just Angels," the Americana of "Last Light," and the unabashed folk of "Spun Like a Spur." When combined with Eckert's poetry, the result is a unified work that takes the listener on a vivid journey down a number of paths that, in the end, ultimately seem to converge at the same place."

"Granelli is the director of what is almost an audio film in its vivid visual evocation... creating a soundtrack, an aural travelogue that takes Eckert's writing and orchestrates it into an even broader context."

""Sandhills Reunion" works because both musical and poetic elements are strong unto themselves, and when placed together they successfully elevate each other beyond their respective boundaries." ~ John Kelman, AAJ

"Sandhills Reunion is unlike anything I've heard, but the mood it draws--going back more than thirty years--is the same as that of Bob Dylan's 'John Wesley Harding' or the Band's 'The Band': odd, folksy, sometimes surreal tales, very American in nature, told with a simple eloquence entwined with superb yet understated musicianship. An odd, poignant masterpiece." - Dan McClenaghan, AAJ

Eckert’s text is a glancingly-linked sequence of reflections, imaginings, internal monologues and one historically accurate dialogue (“Twenty Questions for an Outlaw”) using the persona of Billy the Kid as a thematic touchstone and the Sandhills region of northwestern Nebraska as the landscape of memory and desire. By turns rowdy, comic, ironic, nostalgic, angry and melancholy, it presents the unnamed speaker’s psyche in the context of American reality and myth (complete text is included in the booklet). The music, composed and played by a newly formed ensemble of trusted Granelli collaborators, counterpoints and boldly colors the words with its timbres and rhythms. It conjures up its own “locations” within the band’s collectively imagined synthesis of blues, jazz, rock, funk, the popular and the more esoteric music of the 20th century – from raunchy bars to uptown refinement, chamber music to the avant-garde. From the band’s first performance to making the final synthesis of music and text took 3 ½ years. Jerry comments: “I knew that to get the sound I wanted we’d need Lee Townsend to produce the work. We agreed upon an overall concept, basically recording it like shooting a film – just gathering material, then putting it all together in the mix. I asked the members of the band to write – not specifying what to write, but implying what I was hearing. I didn’t write a lot of music myself but was kind of the vision holder. The musicians never heard any texts. Part of the reason for this is that we wanted the music to stand alone, not as a servant to the words. The idea was that we would have two strong elements that come together to produce a third thing, a transcendent new form..”

Rinde adds: “I had just come back from a residency in Nebraska when I started to write. Images of the Sandhills were still fresh, in particular the roundup and branding in which I’d taken part. I remembered my boyhood fascination with cowboys. But, of course, I was out of place. I suppose the appearance of Billy the Kid in that prairie heartland could be seen as a metaphor for my own youthful memories and my enduring sense of alienation and dislocation in this culture. Whatever the nature of the psychological ground, this poetic conceit was fertile. I could imagine a rancher, in his proper place, at home with his wife, his responsibilities, his particular fate, dreaming of a kind of powerful other self, at home in the world, errant, romantic, or alien. This irony seems consistent with the music, with its urbane wit and its kind of formal simplicity and beauty.”

Throughout the 1990’s, Granelli lead his own quartet, UFB with which he collaborated on three recording projects with Townsend - Broken Circle, News From The Street and Rinde Eckert Story In, Story Out. For Granelli this group represented the completion of a musical circle from a number of standpoints. He enlisted young Berlin guitarists, Kai Bruckner , and Christian Kögel and bassist Andreas Walter to explore and develop his own personal combination of such pop styles as blues, funk, jazz and rock through grooves and improvisation.

"There's no better way for a veteran jazz drummer like Jerry Granelli to stay fresh than to surround himself with a youthful band well-versed in the idiom but also groomed in rock, blues and funk. Then again, there's no better mentor for aspiring young musicians than a seasoned session ace like Granelli who has logged time since the early '60's with a wide variety of artists, ranging from Ornette Coleman to Mose Allison. It's no surprise then that Granelli's latest project as a leader - an adventurous collaboration with Berlin-based guitarists Kai Bruckner and Christian Kogel and bassist Andreas Walter - is such a success, " wrote Dan Ouellette in CD Review.

The impulse for the watershed Broken Circle is strongly based on the written word, in this case words by and about the first peoples of the North American continent. Like UFB's first CD, News From The Street, Broken Circle uses material from well outside the jazz genre, including Peter Gabriel and Prince.

Of Broken Circle, Jerry Granelli writes, "The music that we have put together with producer Lee Townsend draws its inspiration from aspects of Native American culture that have influenced me over the last 25 years. For this project, I have written a suite of original instrumental music in which I hope we have captured part of the spirit of this culture. We have complemented this suite with pieces by guitarists Kai Bruckner and Christian Kögel, as well as carefully selected songs by John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Prince and Peter Gabriel. The music of these four composers has a common thread of honesty and 'realness' that we believe works with the spirit of the original music.

"For the CD package, we have gathered the living words of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse as well as excerpts from writings by such contemporary voices as N. Scott Momaday, Mari Sandoz and Peter Matheissen - all of which we have found to be particularly illuminating in combination with the music to convey the powerful and tragic story of this great civilization. The element which ties together the past and present for us is the work of the renowned Native American painter Fritz Scholder , who has kindly allowed us to incorporate four of his spectacular paintings into the package design.

"And finally, from a purely musical standpoint, I feel that this record is a step forward on the path of UFB as a guitar-based improvising ensemble, with the goal of transcending the theme-solo-solo-theme format. For this I am very grateful to my colleagues, Kai Bruckner, Christian Kogel, Andreas Walter and Lee Townsend."

The quartet's first recording, News From The Street, features Granelli originals as well as compositions by Jimi Hendrix, Little Village (John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe & Jim Keltner), Gatemouth Brown, Thelonious Monk, Bruce Hornsby and Rinde Eckert. The music is energetic, often funky, and as with most of Granelli's work, it never drifts far from the improvisatory spirit of the blues.

The formation of UFB followed a period where Granelli worked with a quintet of Jane Ira Bloom (soprano saxophone), Julian Priester (trombone), Anthony Cox (bass) and David Friedman (vibes and marimba). Their 1994 recording, Another Place, also produced by Townsend, is a fine example of Granelli's seamless approach to composition and improvisation.

But Granelli's interest in guitar-based instrumentation first materialized in 1975 when he put together a two-guitar ensemble called “Visions”. It was not until 1994, however, that Jerry's affinity for such instrumentation reached a creative peak on his landmark album A Song I Thought I Heard Buddy Sing. In conceiving the album, Granelli was inspired by the book , Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje, which is a personal reflection on the life of the legendary New Orleans trumpet player of the 20's, Buddy Bolden. A Song I Thought I Heard Buddy Sing is a collection of blues-based jazz pieces - related thematically and stylistically but in various fresh and mutated forms. Although the CD is not in any way a literal adaptation, the book did serve as the unifying factor behind the music developed for the recording. Excerpts from the Coming Through Slaughter which loosely correspond to the group's musical interpretations are featured in the liner notes.

Available on the ITM label in Europe and the Evidence label in the U.S., the album features guitarists Bill Frisell and Robben Ford along with Kenny Garrett, Julian Priester and Anthony Cox. It proved to be an ingeniously modern melding of blues and contemporary jazz by some of today's most inventive improvisers. Musician called it "the most thoughtful fusion inquiry in ages." The album, produced by Townsend, was awarded the German Critics' Record Prize.

Although the Buddy album was his first high-profile recording project as a leader, Granelli's reputation in the jazz community had long been established. He first received attention in the 60's as a member of Vince Guaraldi 's group and then later as the rhythm-section mate of Charlie Haden in the Denny Zeitlin Trio. A San Francisco native, Jerry was once active as a session drummer, playing on a number of hit records of the 60's and 70's. Over the years Jerry has also frequently worked with Mose Allison. Regarded as the star pupil of legendary drum master Joe Morello , Granelli spent much of the 70's and early 80's concentrating on teaching in various innovative and respected music programs - Seattle's Cornish Institute, The Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado and The Conservatory in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

In the mid-80's, Granelli returned to active recording and performing first in a trio with Ralph Towner and Gary Peacock and also with the group Quartett featuring vocalist Jay Clayton, Julian Priester and bassist Peacock. Their CD is available on New Albion. Granelli has gained a strong reputation for his work with singers. He has collaborated with Rinde Eckert on two albums Finding My Way Home and Story In, Story Out; and has worked closely for many years with Clayton. Other Granelli recordings include “One Day at a Time” and “Koputai” (ITM) feature Ralph Towner, Robben Ford, Charlie Haden and Julian Priester and Forces of Flight is a duo recording with bassist Glen Moore (ITM). Only recently, he left his long-standing position as music professor at the Hocshule der Kunst in Berlin.

More recently the prolific bandleader has released a string off impressive improvisationally-oriented albums with colleagues from New York, Berlin and Halifax. The “V16 Project” features guitarists David Tronzo and Christian Kögel and long-time collaborator Anthony Cox on bass. Music Has its Way With Me (1999) features Kögel (guitar), Jamie Saft (keyboards), Jerry's son and frequent collaborator J. Anthony Granelli (bass) and DJ Stinkin' Rich on vocals and truntables. Jerry's group Badlands, featuring Saft, J. Anthony Granelli and horn players Briggan Krauss, Chris Speed, Peter Epstein and Curtis Hasselbring have released two albums on the Canadian label Songlines – Crowd Theory (1999) and Enter a Dragon (1998).


Quotes & Reviews

"After returning to the jazz scene with two extraordinary albums, drummer Jerry Granelli reveals a bluesier, pop-rock side with his Berlin-based UFB band. On the recent "News From the Street," he reinvents tunes by Hendrix, Bruce Hornsby, Gatemouth Brown, Rinde Eckert, and others in a fusion that retains both the jazz freedom and the earthy grounding of his impeccable percussion." - The San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Jerry Granelli's group's version of 'Rainbow's Cadillac' is one of the best covers, maybe the best cover, of a song of mine that I've heard. They really took the song and made it their own. A really clever arrangement, and everybody in my band, a bunch of really tough critics, loved it, for instance. So, well done, and we are really pleased to be a part of this." - Bruce Hornsby

"This quartet is clearly on the edge of contemporary music, with its highly inspired, often subtle, and ultimately satisfying fusion of bop, blues and funk." - East Bay Express Weekly (Berkeley, CA)

" News From The Street spans Granelli's musical roots and long affection for Delta-flavored blues, with tunes from Bill 'Honky Tonk' Doggett, Ry Cooder, and Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown set against more contemporary artists: Jimi Hendrix, Rinde Eckert, and Bruce Hornsby. Doggett's jump-blues 'Honey Boy' begins the disc with a funky hook, layered with skittery electric guitars and fat bass, backlit by Granelli's crystalline drumming; Cooder's 'Big Love' pairs acoustic and electric guitars drenched in steamy bayou ambiance; and Eckert's translucent, porcelain waltz, "Ellen Waltzing," is an exquisite piece of wistful, Bill Evans-style romance. Throughout 'News' Granelli's sparse, delicate drumming shines in thoughtful, inspired meditations and shifting dynamics of resonant phrasing, rhythmic execution, and masterful, precision timekeeping." - Jazziz

"[Granelli is] one of the most tasteful and melodically oriented drummers heard here in years." - The Boston Globe


Quotes & Reviews

"After returning to the jazz scene with two extraordinary albums, drummer Jerry Granelli reveals a bluesier, pop-rock side with his Berlin-based UFB band. On the recent "News From the Street," he reinvents tunes by Hendrix, Bruce Hornsby, Gatemouth Brown, Rinde Eckert, and others in a fusion that retains both the jazz freedom and the earthy grounding of his impeccable percussion."
- The San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Jerry Granelli's group's version of 'Rainbow's Cadillac' is one of the best covers, maybe the best cover, of a song of mine that I've heard. They really took the song and made it their own. A really clever arrangement, and everybody in my band, a bunch of really tough critics, loved it, for instance. So, well done, and we are really pleased to be a part of this."
- Bruce Hornsby

"This quartet is clearly on the edge of contemporary music, with its highly inspired, often subtle, and ultimately satisfying fusion of bop, blues and funk."
- East Bay Express Weekly (Berkeley, CA)

" 'News From The Street' spans Granelli's musical roots and long affection for Delta-flavored blues, with tunes from Bill 'Honky Tonk' Doggett, Ry Cooder, and Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown set against more contemporary artists: Jimi Hendrix, Rinde Eckert, and Bruce Hornsby. Doggett's jump-blues 'Honey Boy' begins the disc with a funky hook, layered with skittery electric guitars and fat bass, backlit by Granelli's crystalline drumming; Cooder's 'Big Love' pairs acoustic and electric guitars drenched in steamy bayou ambiance; and Eckert's translucent, porcelain waltz, "Ellen Waltzing," is an exquisite piece of wistful, Bill Evans-style romance. Throughout 'News' Granelli's sparse, delicate drumming shines in thoughtful, inspired meditations and shifting dynamics of resonant phrasing, rhythmic execution, and masterful, precision timekeeping."
- Jazziz

"[Granelli is] one of the most tasteful and melodically oriented drummers heard here in years."
- The Boston Globe