Lionel Grigson

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Lionel Grigson (12 February 1942 – 14 June 1994) was a British jazz pianist, cornettist, trumpeter, composer, writer and teacher, who in the 1980s started the jazz course at the Guildhall School of Music.[1] As Simon Purcell wrote in The Independent, "Whether he inspired or inflamed, Grigson's energies often acted as a catalyst and his interest in, and support for, young jazz musicians contributed significantly to the growth and consolidation of jazz education in Britain....Within the context of a leading international conservatoire, the Guildhall School of Music, in London, Grigson did much to demonstrate and explain the underlying principles common to jazz, classical and indeed all music, and as a result produced a generation of jazz educators possessing a thorough grounding in an area where much educational work is left to chance."[2] Among his published books are Practical Jazz (1988), Jazz from Scratch (1991) and A Jazz Chord Book, as well as studies on the music of Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Thelonious Monk.


Early life and education[edit]

Lionel Jermyn Grigson was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire,[3] to poet and critic Geoffrey Grigson and his second wife Berta (Bertschy) Emma Kunert.[4] Named after one of his father's brothers who was killed in World War I,[5][6] Lionel was educated at Dartington Hall School[7]and at King's College, Cambridge University (where he contributed writings on jazz to the university magazine Granta[8] under the editorship of Alexis Lykiard).[9] Grigson's first wife was the publisher Margaret Busby, co-founder of Allison & Busby.[10]

Music career[edit]

Grigson began playing jazz at the age of 12[11] at Dartington,[12] and, during the early 1960s was co-leader of the award-winning Cambridge University Jazz Band that included Art Themen, Dave Gelly, John Hart and Jonathan Lynn.[13][14][15] Grigson's university contemporary John Cameron has written of being part of the Cambridge "town" rhythm section: "Then there were players like Lionel Grigson, John Hart and Johnny Lynn and they were the 'university' rhythm section and tended to be a bit cerebral and played more like a Bill Evans-type rhythm section, whereas we used to play more like a Charles Mingus rhythm section."[16] In a 1963 short drama film called Duet, Grigson is credited as a performer in the Music Department, alongside, Brian Gascoigne, John Hart and Jonathan Lynn.[17][18]

In the later 1960s Grigson was resident at The Troubadour coffee house in Old Brompton Road, London, with a regular Sunday afternoon gig,[19] and led his own jazz groups with musicians including John Hart (bass), Pete Burden and Paul Zec (altos), Art Themen and Bobby Wellins (tenors), Spike Wells (drums), Dave Gelly, Mick Pyne and many others. In 1969 the Lionel Grigson-Pete Burden quintet included Tony Levin and Daryl Runswick.[20] Musician and songwriter Tom Norris was among younger musicians who also performed with Grigson.

Grigson was in the original line-up of the jazz rock/fusion group If (alongside saxophonists Dick Morrissey and Dave Quincy, guitarist Terry Smith, Spike Wells on drums, and Daryl Runswick on bass),[21] and a composition on their second album, If 2 (1970), is by Busby/Grigson.[22]

During the early 1970s he led an "Afro-Latin-Jazz group" called Ujamaa,[14] "combining straight jazz with African, calypso, Latin and funk elements",[11] with line-ups that variously included Art Themen, Harry Beckett,[23] John Mumford (trombone), Pete Burden, Paul Zec, Phil Lee, Alan Jackson, Paul Whitten (bass),[24] and singer Jeanette Tavernier, among others. In 1980 Grigson was house pianist at Brighton Jazz Club, and from 1984 to 1987 he was musical director of Ziggy's Jazz Club, a launching ground for new talent in British jazz,[14] at a Sunday-night jam downstairs at The Albany in London's Great Portland Street.[25] Grigson also played with some of the most notable international musicians in jazz, including Freddie Hubbard, Philly Joe Jones, Johnny Griffin and Kenny Clarke.[14]


Grigson was for ten years Professor of Harmony and Improvisation at London's Guildhall School of Music (1983–93) and taught on the school's Postgraduate Diploma Course in Jazz.[2][14][26] Many notable musicians studied at the Guildhall School under Grigson's tenure there, including Rowland Sutherland, Huw Warren,[27] Steve Williamson,[28] Courtney Pine, Jason Rebello, Gerard Presencer, Phil Bent, Mornington Lockett, Cleveland Watkiss,[29] Tom Norris and others.[11][30] Grigson invited other musicians to coach on his course, including American saxophonist Jean Toussaint in 1987.[31]



  • Practical Jazz: Step-by-step Guide to Harmony and Improvisation (London: Stainer & Bell, 1988; ISBN 978-0852496688)
  • Jazz from Scratch: How to improvise on great jazz classics (with a foreword by Miles Kington; London: Faber, 1991; ISBN 978-0571511945)
  • A Jazz Chord Book (Jazzwise, 3rd edition 1995)[35]
  • A Charlie Parker Study Album (Novello, 1989)
  • A Louis Armstrong Study Album (Novello, 1992; ISBN 978-0853601500)
  • A Thelonious Monk Study Album (Novello, 1993)
  • Wonders of the World (foreword by Cliff Michelmore; Newnes, 1985)

Further reading[edit]

  • Dave Gelly, "On the Other Hand" ("Dave Gelly is prompted to recall Lionel Grigson’s particularities and the youthful optimism of the London Jazz Orchestra"), Jazz Journal, Vol. 65, No. 8, August 2012, p. 8.


  1. ^ Jan Ponsford recalls: "Lionel insisted everyone who taught on the course there, or any part of it, was referred to as Professor, and given the same status as the classical educators there. I was amused when a small pay cheque arrived, for some teaching I'd done for said course, addressed to Professor J. Ponsford. Respectable at last!" From "...And On Free Improv", Rainlore's World, 1 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b Simon Purcell, "Obituary: Lionel Grigson", The Independent, 4 July 1994.
  3. ^ "Lionel Jermyn Grigson", Gritquoy Forum.
  4. ^ Biography of Geoffrey Grigson at
  5. ^ Jeremy Archer, "One Family's Sacrifice - The Story of the Seven Sons of Canon and Mrs William Shuckforth Grigson", The Keep Military Museum, Dorchester, Dorset.
  6. ^ "Grigson, Lionel Henry Shuckforth - Second Lieutenant, 3rd Bn. attd. 1st Bn., Devonshire Regiment", who died on 9 May 1917 aged 19. Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France. Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  7. ^ David Gribble, A Parents' Guide to Progressive Education, Dorling Kindersley, 1985, p. 17.
  8. ^ Dave Gelly, "On the Other Hand", Jazz Journal, Vol. 65, No. 8, August 2012, p. 8.
  9. ^ Alexis Lykiard, "Granta Days",, September 2009.
  10. ^ "Clive Allison obituary", The Guardian, 3 August 2011.
  11. ^ a b c Paul Zec, "Obituary: Lionel Grigson", The Guardian, 22 June 1994.
  12. ^ Charles "Baz" Bazalgette, "Foxhole Reminiscences", April 1999. Letters & Memories - Dartington Hall School, 1926 ~ 1987.
  13. ^ Dave Gelly biography.
  14. ^ a b c d e Biographical notes, Lionel Grigson, 15 Jazz Originals, 1987.
  15. ^ Michael E. Wright, "About", ABC Jazz.
  16. ^ John Cameron interview, The Marquee Club website.
  17. ^ "Duet (1963)", IMDb.
  18. ^ "Duet (1963)" – directed by Andrew Castle, featuring Brian Gascoigne / Lionel Grigson / John Hart. BFI.
  19. ^ The Daryl Runswick Quartet 1973.
  20. ^ John Chilton, Who's Who of British Jazz, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004. ISBN 0-8264-7234-6, ISBN 978-0-8264-7234-2
  21. ^ If biography, Dinosaurdays.
  22. ^ If 2 review by Easy Livin, 9 June 2011: "'Shadows and Echoes' was co-written by Lionel Grigson with his then partner Margaret Busby. The late Grigson was well known during the early jazz/fusion scene, and was in fact a member of If prior to the recording of their first album. The songs focuses on the band's softer, lighter side, featuring flute and a fine vocal." Prog Archives.
  23. ^ Blues Positive.
  24. ^ Jak Kilby photo of "Lionel Grigson Quintet (also known as Ujamaa)", London, 2 June 1981. Filename: ARP1257582, Arenapal.
  25. ^ "Ziggy's Beat", The Wire, February 1985, p. 3.
  26. ^ Lionel Grigson (1985). "Harmony + Improvisation = Jazz: Notes & thoughts on teaching jazz at the Guildhall School of Music", British Journal of Music Education, 2, pp. 187-94.
  27. ^ John Chilton, Who's Who of British Jazz, p. 375.
  28. ^ Michael J. Edwards, "Steve Williamson Pt.1 2014" (interview), ukvibe: "...the great Lionel Grigson was my teacher, he’s passed on now. Lionel Grigson is the person who, more than anyone else was instrumental in my being in the Guildhall; because I was getting piano lessons from him, I used to go to his house. He was a professor of music and he said, 'You’ve got something, you should get into the Guildhall and you may have to stand in front of the panel and audition.'"
  29. ^ Donovan Thomas, "Cleveland Watkiss And Music (A Love Affair)", The Weekly World Digest, 26 November 2012.
  30. ^ Tom Norris biography.
  31. ^ Jean Toussaint website.
  32. ^ Review: New Jazz Orchestra "Western Reunion—London 1965", Gramophone, September 1965. Retrieved 24 September 2012, p. 106.
  33. ^ David Taylor's British jazz website
  34. ^ "New Jazz Orchestra, The – Western Reunion London 1965", Discogs.
  35. ^ Chord progressions for over 350 jazz standards and originals.

External links[edit]