One of the great things about the journey toward seeing “The Grant Green Story” to the marketplace is hearing feedback on the film.
Since the Friday screening here at UA, and dating back to feedback heard elsewhere including a private screening for friends in my home and the Harlem International Film Festival last fall, I have heard much. One thing is the obvious: securing music. The licensing fees are high. I could crowd source. Not sure that’s the best way to go.
One thing I have loved is hearing feedback on the footage itself. After seeing it (with even less music than it has now), one German filmmaker used the word “soul” to describe this project. He said he saw the film’s soul. I was at a loss for words; and, sadly, a rarity for me.
I took that in and was grateful because, as I said earlier, it reflected the contributions of many people.
The film was shot in black and white on 16 mm. A lot of what can be done these days to tint the color of moving images was not done to this project. Indeed, another comment I have heard was “I like how you made it grainy.” No. Sometimes it’s just grainy.
But some of the comments relate to photography, editing and storytelling choices. I was just in my campus library and heard one of our professors with an art background compliment the solitary road scenes that open the work. He said and I quote, “they capture the transitory nature of a musician’s life.”
What is really provocative about that feedback is that the commenter did not note that solitary nature of a musician’s life as it relates to his or her being a person of color. Indeed, the footage of the road lends itself to wondering about about the sacrifices many musicians of color made while traveling during the Jim Crow period. They could not easily eat or find hotel rooms open to African Americans.
But beyond race, the simple wear and tear on the body and soul no matter one’s skin color doubtless figured into that solitary state.
And then there is the issue of funds.
At one point in the film, the late Emmanuel Riggins, a keyboardist who played on some of Grant’s albums from the late 60s and early 1970s, recalled asking Grant whether or not they were going to get paid for a gig in Kansas City. Likely Missouri. Grant replied, likely with frustration caused by the realities of the ups and downs in the industry, “Well, you’re just going to have to wait for your money.”
How much did Grant think about as he traveled on roads?
How much did he think about as he made that last and fateful drive from his final gig at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach?
His destination: a gig in Harlem. He never made it there. At age 43, he died of a heart attack. He’d earlier suffered a stroke and refused a surgery.
I recently talked to a musician who visited him in Harlem Hospital after that stroke. He talked about how sad and tired a person he called “friend” looked.
I hope the audience, among them people who will be happy to hear about Grant’s licks via greats like George Benson, will also take in such commentary. I hope they realize the music heard on dozens of albums we easily access for free via Spotify and other websites exudes some of that sadness. Some of that tiredness. The road holds this for many who travel, for many who make a living off of work they create alone or with others.
And yet when one hears Grant play on, say, “Empanada,” a tune on his last album which Benson discusses in this movie (it was recorded in 1978, the year he refused surgery), one doesn’t hear that fatigue. One hears a man giving his all until…
That train on the cover of “Easy,” the album on which “Empanada” appears, poses tensions with a train appearing in the film. On one of the train cars is the company name “Evergreen.” Knowing how much Grant loved the color green, I think he’d dig that.
Rest in peace, Grant. I am grateful for many things including you, someone I never met. I am grateful, too, for the people waiting to learn more about you via this project.