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After over three decades of being "lost," Henry Grimes made a remarkable comeback. He was born and grew up in Philadelphia, studying violin while in junior high school and also playing tuba a bit in high school before settling permanently on bass. Grimes moved to New York City in the early '50s, studied at Juilliard, and began playing with major jazz musicians. He toured with the bands of Arnett Cobb and Willis Jackson, and spent time back in Philadelphia, where he worked with Bobby Timmons and Lee Morgan. Grimes worked with Anita O'Day and Sonny Rollins in 1957 and was a member of the Gerry Mulligan quartet in 1957-1958, during the period that Art Farmer was in the band. A very versatile bassist who could play with anyone, Grimes really stretched himself at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival when he performed quite capably with the Benny Goodman big band, Lee Konitz, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk.
Grimes played stints with Lennie Tristano (1958) and Sonny Rollins (touring Europe in 1959, right before the tenor's temporary retirement) and was greatly respected by stylists from all jazz fields. In 1961 he became an important contributor to free jazz, working with Cecil Taylor off and on during 1961-1966 in addition to playing regularly with Perry Robinson (1962), Sonny Rollins (1962-1963), Albert Ayler (1964-1966), and Don Cherry (1965-1966). Grimes led a record date (The Call) for ESP in 1965 and, in addition to the musicians mentioned, recorded with Mose Allison, Chet Baker, Bill Barron, Karl Berger, Gary Burton, Gil Evans, Burton Greene, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Haynes, Steve Lacy, Charles Mingus, Sunny Murray, Jerome Richardson, Annie Ross, Pharoah Sanders, Shirley Scott, Archie Shepp, Billy Taylor, Charles Tyler, McCoy Tyner, Marzette Watts, and Frank Wright. (Not too many musicians have recorded with both Benny Goodman and Albert Ayler!)
But then, in 1967 when he was just 31, Henry Grimes disappeared completely from the jazz scene. Decades passed and he became one of jazz's most prominent missing persons. He was long presumed dead because no one in jazz heard a word from him. So in 2002, it was a major surprise when Grimes was discovered living in a hotel in South Central Los Angeles, where he had resided for the past 20 years. After becoming frustrated with the music world, Grimes had spontaneously driven to San Fransisco with drummer Clarence Becton. He hocked his bass,which had become weathered after being strapped to the car roof and crossing the desert, and was afterward essentially unaware of the musical developments of the past 35 years. Grimes was discovered by Marshall Marrotte, a social worker and writer, and was soon interviewed by Sound to Noise magazine. Word went out that Henry Grimes was alive, basically well but destitute, and desiring to play bass again. William Parker sent him a bass in December 2002 and since then, Grimes has regained his form and begun to play in public again. He has played at Billy Higgins' World Stage and the Jazz Bakery in addition to several other clubs in the Los Angeles area, appeared at the Vision Festival in New York, and began teaching an improvisation class at a local high school. His comeback was one of the great jazz stories of 2003, an unlikely case of a missing figure suddenly re-emerging on the jazz scene after a 35-year "vacation." He began playing dates and festivals around the world, released several new recordings, took up the violin, and even published a volume of Signs Along the Road.