The Soul of Trombone — Grachan Moncur III

Grachan Moncur III

Grachan Moncur III
BY Grachan Moncur III
(Mosaic Records, 2004)

GRACHAN MONCUR III was born on June 3, 1937 at Sydenham Hospital in Harlem, and was raised in Newark, New Jersey. He is a jazz trombonist and composer. He is best known for two albums he recorded for Blue Note Records in the early 1960s, Evolution and Some Other Stuff. These albums established Moncur’s reputation as a composer as well as an instrumentalist, and mark Blue Note’s first forays into what was coming to be called “avant-garde” jazz. His music spans the Black Arts Movement with which he was associated in the 1960s, through the 1970s when the economic bottom fell out of the jazz economy, and has recorded in the past several years, most recently 2007’s Inner Cry Blues.

This interview seeks to give a more nuanced understanding of Newark’s jazz culture, which was often synonymous with Newark’s African American community, and in hope of fostering a stronger appreciation and understanding of Grachan Moncur’s work and art.

October 19, 2011
Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey

Where are we and who am I talking to?

We’re here at Rutgers University in Newark and you’re talking to Grachan Moncur III.

How did you get your first name, or how did your father get his first name? It’s an unusual name. Do you know?

Uh, there’s quite a history with that name and my family, but I’ll just go for the time being, we’ll start from the Bahamas. My father’s father was Bahamian. He was the first Grachan and then my father was the second, but he was mostly known as “Brother.” People hardly knew his name was “Grachan” until I started recording because all the musicians of his era knew him as “Brother,” Brother Moncur. They didn’t know he was Grachan until the third came out. That’s pretty much where it began.[1]

And where did your mother’s people come from?

All of my people from my father’s side were from Florida and the Bahamas. The people from my mother’s side were from Newark, her mother and her mother’s mother. So my father came from Miami up here and met my mother.

When were they born and when did they die?

Let’s start from when they met and got married. They met in Newark. They got married. At the time when I was born, my father was working at the Savoy Ballroom and my mother happened to go up and visit him. So she came to New York from Newark to visit him one weekend and I guess those happy feet at the Savoy kind of urged me to want to come out, you know? I decided to come a couple of months early, so I was born a preemie in New York only because it was up to my mother. I was born in New York at Sydenham Hospital, which I’ve very proud to say. I told my mother that was the best things she ever did for me, that I could I say I was born in New York. I was very grateful about that. Although I was raised in Newark, I was born in Sydenham Hospital on Manhattan Avenue and 122nd Street.[2]

I live on Manhattan Avenue, further down, near 119th Street.

So, anyway, that’s how I came. At an early age my mother… want to know a little history about my mother, something like that?

Sure… whatever you want to talk about.

It’s kind of interesting because my mother inherited a beauty salon at a very early age. I think she started working when she was about eleven years old in this beauty salon. And I think at the time it was called “Theatrical Beauty Salon” and she inherited that beauty parlor with that name and until she died she kept that name.

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  1. Grachan “Brother” Moncur was born on September 2, 1915; he was the half-brother of Al Cooper. He was a founding member of the Savoy Sultans, which formed in 1937, a swing band (called “jump” by the musicians). They were popular with dancers at the Savoy Ballroom from 1937 until 1946. Grachan is pronounced “GRAY-shun.”
  1. Sydenham Hospital was located in Harlem on Manhattan Avenue between 123rd and 124th Streets. Sydenham first opened its doors in 1892 in a brownstone as an African American hospital and moved to Manhattan Avenue in 1924. It was shut down in 1980 despite bitter community sit-ins and protests.

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