Grusin, Don


Don Grusin was raised in a cowboy-town, Littleton, Colorado, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. His father, Henri, who emigrated to the US from Latvia, was the local watch repairman and jeweler, and had played violin in a string quartet in New York. Henri regularly took the family to see the nearby Denver Symphony...and to square dances, a main entertainment in those days. His mother, Rosabelle, whose parents came from southern France, used to play The Tennessee Waltz on the piano with fat chords in both hands. From these influences came his earliest musical know-how.

Don's older brother Dave was a serious student of piano and composition. Although Don also played the piano as a child, by the time he was in his teens, he found more satisfaction in playing sports. Besides, one piano player per family seemed about right. This attitude would change...

After attending University of Colorado, (BA, sociology in 1963, MA, economics in 1966), he played occasionally with some of the greats ( Gary Burton, Clark Terry, Zoot Sims, Carl Fontana, Spike Robinson), at jazz spots, the Senate Lounge, Shaners, the Protocrat Club in 5 points, in Denver, and the Terrace Inn, Lamp Post in Boulder. Although he was thrilled to be playing, music was still an avocation.

Still steeped in an academic lifestyle and pursuit, in 1966 Don received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach economics at the Autonomous University in Guadalajara, Mexico, after which he worked on his doctorate at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and then moved to California in 1972, where he taught at Foothill College near San Francisco. He was member of the well-known bay area Latin-Jazz band, AZTECA, which included trumpeter, the Doctor, Eddie Henderson, bassist Paul Jackson, percussionist Sheila E., and her dad Pete Escovedo.

In 1975 a call from Quincy Jones to join his band and tour Japan & US proved to be the catalyst that focused Don's intentions. He settled in Los Angeles and began working as a studio musician, playing piano, Fender Rhodes, and synthesizers. He played on records (as they called them in those days), for many of the great ones: Billy Eckstein, Peggy Lee, Tom Scott, Quincy Jones, Lee Ritenour, Sergio Mendez, Sadao Watanabe, Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil, Dori Caymmi, Patti Austin, and his brother Dave.

In 1978, Don joined Lee Ritenour in a band with Alex Acuna, Abraham Laboriel, Ernie Watts, and Steve Forman called FRIENDSHIP, and recorded and toured extensively in the US, Japan, and Europe.

From 1980 to 1985 he played, composed, arranged, and produced for himself and for artists in the US (David Benoit, Tom Jans, Patti Austin), in Japan (Mari Nakamoto, Sadao Watanabe), and Brazil (Simone, Djavan, Dori Caymmi).

In 1985 he produced the Grammy-winning album in the Best R&B category for Ernie Watts, entitled MUSICAN.

While Don has always been connected to film-scoring, having witnessed and played on many of brother Dave's 40 films over the years, one film, LUCAS, is in his repertoire as co-composer with his brother. This came out in 1986.

Continuing his solo career, Don made two albums for JVC Records, Don Grusin, and 10K-LA, and in 1989 Don and brother Dave collaborated on a digital album, Sticks and Stones for GRP Records. He composed and produced five solo albums for GRP: Raven in 1990, Zephyr in 1991, Native Land in 1993, No Borders in 1994 and the most recent GRP album in '95, BananaFish, which includes songs he co-wrote with the wonderful singer/songwriter and old friend Brenda Russell, and some brilliant newcomers, Armand Sabal-Lecco from Cameroon (popularly known as Paul Simon's bassist on the Rhythm of the Saints album and a marvelous singer), Tollak Ollestad from Alaska (harmonica, vocals), and Frank Quintero from Venezuela (vocals).

His first solo piano album Old Friends and Relatives (1996) was released by VideoArts Music in Japan, and is available at

In 1999 Don and Frank Quintero produced a 3-CD, 30-artist tribute to Latin American Music entitled Tocando Tierra recorded in Havana, Caracas, LA, Miami, Rio, with Steely Dan's Roger Nichols as the engineer. It can be purchased online at

He also produced an album for a new JVC artist Minako at Walter Becker's Studio in Maui, again with Roger Nichols at the helm, featuring Sonny Emory on drums, Abe Laboriel on Bass and John McFee of the Doobie Brothers on guitars.

He recently completed a latin-jazz project for keyboardist Bill Sharpe of UK band Shakatak, entitled State of the Heart and is working on Swedish project organizing an international all-star band to record with singer-songwriter Jens Holma, north of the arctic circle, which will feature voices and musical influences of the Sami people.

A new smooth jazz Cd Signatures, created with production partner Sam Purkin, is being just now released on It features Don on acoustic piano with brilliant new young artists from the Berklee School of Music in Boston, as well as the seminal bassist Nathan East.

A brand new Brasilian record company, Columbus Egg, just started by Don with Oscar Castro-Neves and their partner Didi Vidal, will release Brasilian artists beginning this year.

Don gives clinics on new ways of approaching music to teachers and students at the Yamaha Music Academy in Japan and each fall takes a sabbatical to judge the International Electone contest in Tokyo. He frequently offers clinics on music production, art of composing at the University of Colorado College of Arts and Media in Denver. One of the highlights of each spring is Don's participation at the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado in Boulder. There for a week he and 125 folks from all professions, all walks discuss and experience the meaning of life.

Presently there is a lot of writing and recording activity at Bad Dog Studio as well as Don presenting live performances with the "A" team players including:
Harvey Mason,
Abe Laboriel,
Gerald Albright,
Alex Acuna,
Justo Almario,
Ricardo Silveira,
Jimmy Earl,
Walfredo Reyes Jr.,
Armand Sabal-Lecco,
and brilliant new vocal stars:
Dawn Bishop, and
Natali Rene.

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