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Henry Grimes, 84, bassist who played with jazz greats

Mr. Grimes played bass with Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins and Benny Goodman.

Mr. Grimes was part of the free-jazz movement of the 1960s.
Mr. Grimes was part of the free-jazz movement of the 1960s.Read moreNick Ruechel
  • Henry Grimes
  • 84 years old
  • Grew up in South Philly
  • He performed with Miles Davis and John Coltrane

More Memorials

Henry Grimes was a bass player who led a life worthy of the big screen.

He was 22 when he burst onto the scene at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, where he played with six band leaders: Thelonious Monk, Benny Goodman, Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, and Tony Scott.

Word had spread about the young Philadelphian, with his Juilliard education, quiet and serious demeanor, and strong, bold sound, a biography on Mr. Grimes’ website said.

Earlier that year, in Cleveland, Mr. Grimes performed with Miles Davis and his group, including John Coltrane, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Bill Evans, and Philly Joe Jones. After Newport, he toured with Rollins for 10 years.

His life took a drastic turn after a trip to California in 1968. In Los Angeles, he found little work and disappeared from public life for 35 years. Many people thought he had died.

However, in 2002, a social worker and jazz enthusiast from Georgia found him living in a cheap hotel in Los Angeles, getting by with odd jobs.

After an appeal from fans, New York bassist William Parker shipped a bass to Mr. Grimes in December 2002.

Five months later, Mr. Grimes returned to New York and performed with Parker at the avant-garde jazz Vision Festival in May 2003.

Mr. Grimes, an avant-garde double bassist, violinist, and poet, died from complications of the coronavirus on Wednesday, April 15, at the Northern Manhattan Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in New York City. He was 84.

“He was very deep. He was gentle and patient and kind to everyone,” his wife, Margaret Davis Grimes, said. “And everyone who met him loved him."

He was born in 1935 to Georgia and Leon Grimes Sr., and grew up in South Philadelphia with an older sister and a twin brother.

He started playing the violin at 12. But at 15, he switched to the bass at Mastbaum Technical High School and then went on to Juilliard.

He is survived by his wife. There are no plans for a memorial service.

Valerie Russ