This performance was filmed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1981 with Grover Washington Jr. (ss,as&ts), Richard Tee (key), Ralph MacDonald (perc), Paul Griffin (synth), Eric Gale (g), Anthony Jackson (b), Steve Gadd (ds).
Medley: Inner City Blues/Mercy Mercy Me/Where is the Love/Knucklehead/Black Frost/Santa Cruzin'/Just the Two of Us/Feels So Good/Sausalito
Grover Washington, Jr. was born in Buffalo, New York on December 12, 1943. His mother was a church chorister, and his father was a collector of old Jazz gramophone records and a saxophonist as well. He grew listening to the great jazzmen and big band leaders like Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, and others. At the age of 8, his father gave him a saxophone. He practiced and would sneak into clubs to see famous Buffalo blues musicians.
He left Buffalo and played with a Midwest group called the Four Clefs and then the Mark III Trio from Mansfield, Ohio. He was drafted into the U.S. Army shortly thereafter, which was to be to his advantage, as he met drummer Billy Cobham. A music mainstay in New York City, Cobham introduced Washington to many New York musicians. After leaving the Army, Washington freelanced his talents around New York City, eventually landing in Philadelphia in 1967. In 1970 and 1971, he appeared on Leon Spencer's first two albums on Prestige Records, together with Idris Muhammad and Melvin Sparks.
Washington's big break came at the expense of another artist. Alto sax man Hank Crawford was unable to make a recording date with Creed Taylor's Kudu Records, and Washington took his place, even though he was a backup. This led to his first solo album, Inner City Blues. He was talented and displayed heart and soul with soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. Refreshing for his time, he made headway into the jazz mainstream.
A string of acclaimed records brought Washington through the 1970's, culminating in the signature piece for everything he would do from then on. Winelight (1980) was the album that defined everything Washington was then about, having signed for Elektra Records, part of the major Warner Music group. The album was smooth, fused with R&B and easy listening feel. Washington's love of basketball, especially the Philadelphia 76ers, led him to dedicate the second track, "Let It Flow", to Julius Erving (Dr. J). The highlight of the album was his collaboration with soul artist Bill Withers, "Just the Two of Us," a huge hit on radio during the spring and summer of 1981, peaking at No. 2 on the Hot 100. The album went platinum in 1981, and also won Grammy Awards in 1982 for Best R&B Song ("Just The Two of Us"), and Best Jazz Fusion Performance ("Winelight"). "Winelight" was also nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
Throughout the 1970's and 1980's, Washington made some of the genre's most memorable hits, including "Mister Magic," "Reed Seed," "Black Frost," "Winelight," "Inner City Blues" and "The Best is Yet to Come". In addition, he performed very frequently with other artists, including Bill Withers on "Just the Two of Us" (still in regular rotation on radio today), Patti LaBelle on "The Best Is Yet to Come" and Phyllis Hyman on "A Sacred Kind of Love". He is also remembered for his take on the Dave Brubeck classic "Take Five", and for his 1996 version of "Soulful Strut".
On December 17, 1999, five days after his 56th birthday, while waiting in the green room after taping four songs for The Saturday Early Show, at CBS Studios in New York City, Washington collapsed. He was taken to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at about 7:30 pm His doctors determined that he had suffered a massive heart attack.