Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for August 16, 2000
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Dick Gratton: Jazz on Track
Jazz musicians, particularly vocalists, will tell
you: jazz is a tough row to hoe. But for jazz guitarist Dick Gratton,
his good paying, flexible day job as an engineer with Amtrak has
him to pursue the music on his own terms over the years. A fixture
on the Trenton jazz club scene since the 1960s, Gratton will release
his first self-produced CD this fall.
Not unlike the vocalist Little Jimmy Scott who worked in obscurity
as a bellhop in the Cleveland Sheraton for most of the 1970s, or R&B
diva Ruth Brown who worked as a nurse and a janitor in Harlem in the
1970s — both of whom have been enjoying career revivals through
the 1990s — Gratton has been able to pursue jazz music when and
how he wants to. As Trenton’s jazz club scene began to fall apart
in the 1970s, Gratton continued to play guitar, he just played less
frequently in public.
"I’m sort of a low-profile musician," Gratton explains from
his home in Allentown in Monmouth County. "Sometimes musicians
and festival booking agents will hear about me through other
Sometimes I get lucky in that respect."
The Hamilton Township-raised Gratton, now 59, and many of his fans
from the greater Trenton area must look forward to the release of
his debut CD, "The Guitars of Dick Gratton."
"It’s been a long time coming," he says, "I’ve been
on it off and on for a year and a half now. A friend of mine is
in producing a CD of me with just solo guitar," he adds. Gratton’s
"Guitars of Dick Gratton" includes Johnny Mandel’s
is Painless" (better known as the theme from M.A.S.H.), as well
as his unique, spirited interpretations, with his trio, of
jazz classics such as Thelonious Monk’s "Round Midnight."
There’s a subtlety to Gratton’s playing that can best
be appreciated in small jazz clubs, and, provided the audience is
into it, Gratton says he will lay some of those tunes on the crowd
at Triumph Brewing, where he appears on Wednesday, August 23. At
Gratton will be accompanied by Jim McDonough on bass and Mark Pultorak
on drums. Gratton says he will be prepared for the noisiness of the
venue. "I’m going to use a little more amplification," he
says, "and we’ll probably cut down on some of the quiet stuff
I really like to do."
Gratton began playing guitar at age seven, when his father, a railroad
engineer and violinist, put a guitar in his hands. His mother was
a housewife. Gratton was introduced to performing when he was 12,
after which he never looked back.
"A friend of ours who played piano asked me to join him on guitar
up at the club in Dunellen," he says. "After that, it was
just something I knew I always wanted to do."
Gratton’s earliest inspiration came from the big band recordings in
his father’s record collection, but also the recordings of Les Paul
and Tony Mottola, and later, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass.
Perhaps being a jazz guitarist who plays in a lot of different venues
isn’t really all that much different from being an Amtrak engineer
on the New York to Washington, D.C., corridor. Gratton has worked
for Amtrak and its predecessors for 35 years now. The variables —
weather, traffic on other tracks, number of people on board —
are always changing.
"It gets really involved sometimes," Gratton says of his work
as a train engineer, "and really, that’s another thing I’m
to my father for. He was an engineer as well, and though he would
never admit it, I now know he did pull some strings to get me a job
all those years ago."
Gratton formed his first band in high school playing the rhythm and
blues and early rock ‘n’ roll of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis.
He knew in the back of his mind he’d like to some day pursue jazz
full time, but those hopes were put on hold by his job with the
Instead, he began his dual career when he began playing in Trenton
jazz clubs in the late 1950s. "We used to have a lot of clubs
to work in, Front Street alone was loaded with four or five
he recalls. "It’s one big parking lot now, but they had all these
little clubs and live music all over the place. We’d take breaks and
go over and hear what the other guys were playing, and then they’d
come over and hear us during their breaks."
Of all of those clubs that were around in the 1960s, only Joe’s Mill
Hill Saloon remains as an enduring venue for live jazz. But now, with
the Trenton cultural scene inching its way back to life, Gratton finds
himself playing new venues like the Urban Word Cafe.
Gratton says the Trenton-area jazz pianist Dick Braytenbah was a great
source of inspiration for him and a good mentor as well. "Years
ago, in the mid-1960s, I would go into clubs and listen to him. He
was doing what I wanted to be doing, and I just listened to all the
things he was doing and tried to take as much home in my head as I
could," he recalls. "Eventually I sat in with him one night
and then started working with him from time to time."
Gratton has also worked many times over the years with saxophonist
and Trenton native Richie Cole, who has carved a national reputation
for himself with his various Alto Madness orchestras.
"Since those days, most of the rest of it is work I’ve been
on my own," Gratton says, adding he likes working in a trio
He’s proud of his bassist and drummer.
"Jim McDonough is a mind reader on the bass," he enthuses,
"he always seems to know just where a tune is going and he takes
it there." Gratton’s drummer, Mark Pultorak, has the dynamics
in his playing that Gratton’s subtle guitar stylings require.
Gratton says the audience for the Triumph Brewery show can expect
a broad spectrum of jazz tunes. "There’ll be some bebop tunes
and some tunes not ordinarily played as jazz arrangements, like the
theme from M.A.S.H., and there’ll be some Latin-flavored arrangements
as well. We like to keep the tunes so that they’re still recognizable,
but do them in a different way."
— Richard J. Skelly
609-924-7855. Wednesday, August 23, 9 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.