Dan Grissom

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Here is a vocalist whose reputation is less than sterling, although it should be stressed that audiences found his work enjoyable at the time it was originally released. Dan Grissom is best-known as a…
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Here is a vocalist whose reputation is less than sterling, although it should be stressed that audiences found his work enjoyable at the time it was originally released. Dan Grissom is best-known as a vocalist with the Jimmie Lunceford band, but also sang with Duke Ellington for a half-dozen years and released an occasional single under his own name on labels such as Imperial. Much more impressive from the discographical perspective would be his Lunceford tenure, but a sensitive Grissom might want to hide behind this imposing tower of sides in order to dodge the bad reactions he gets from jazz listeners whose historic quests through the genre inevitably lead them to Lunceford. "Dan Gruesome" was a nickname the vocalist wound up with at the hands jazz purists who disliked vocal material even during the Lunceford heyday, while later critics may have been a trifle more tactful, if no less critical. A typical serving of such commentary includes these sorts of observations: ". . .one can do without the occasional Dan Grissom vocals. . .including some dreary vocal features for Dan Grissom. . .the dated vocals of Dan Grissom."

Actually, Grissom represented a new type of jazz vocalist who came about more because of technological innovations than progressive musical thinking. Around 1933, microphones came into use, allowing singers such as Grissom or the Claude Hopkins frontman Orlando Robeson to carry on over the sound of a full band; neither man had the lungs to belt out lyrics over the top of the band the way pre-microphone "blues shouters" did. There was nothing loud about Grissom's singing style, described in a survey of Ellington vocalists as displaying "pinched-tones and heavy vibrato." Actually, he wasn't the only big-band singer in the Grissom lineage. His uncle Jimmy Grissom also sang with Lunceford, and was just about as busy on records as his nephew, with somewhat less negative critical feedback.

Dan Grissom joined the Lunceford band in 1935 and stayed on through the early '40s. The Sy Oliver arrangement of "By the River Sainte Marie" was supposedly Grissom's personal favorite amongst the stacks of songs he interpreted for Lunceford, though that might not mean it is any less gruesome. It was roughly a decade later that Grissom joined Ellington, staying through 1957, and among other accomplishments, recording a version of Ellington's tune "Love (My Everything)," also known as "My Heart, My Mind, My Everything." Vocal wonder boy Johnny Mathis was reportedly influenced by Grissom from this period. Under his own name, Grissom pitied the "Poor Butterfly" in the mid-'40s with backing from the Flennoy Trio, a combo led by Lorenzo Flennoy on piano. Dan Grissom & the Ebb Tones put out a single on Million in 1955 featuring the song "Recess in Heaven," and there is also a rare Imperial single featuring Grissom's tribute to the "King of Fools."