What can you say when one of your oldest longtime brothers in music leaves this world?
Francois was wearing a t-shirt with wolves on it when I met him working at Tower Records Lincoln Center in the early 90’s. The boss sent him to my receiving department for overtime. I gave him these red baskets filled with random returns and stuff to figure out and he went to town. I scored a regular Saturday night gig at a place called the Rainy Daze in Chelsea and was looking for a bass player. Francois said “Hire me man, I can play this shit, I’m telling you.” (I was playing standards then) Boom-we played there for a year. Francois sometimes arrived wearing a coat with a lion’s head on it. As the year went on we got more and more modal, and eventually out, at least like Miles, Tony, Wayne, Herbie and Ron out. We also played brunch gigs in the village. It was then that I was introduced to Francois kitchen, where we started playing sessions. What I wouldn’t give for a copy of Misty, one of our duo numbers that we recorded back then.
At some point I left NYC on a spiritual quest of sorts. My friend Sarah saw Francois and he told her “Tell Matt to fucking call me!” Francois now had my old job at Tower as the receiving manager. I came back to NYC looking for a job, and I then worked for him at Tower as he had worked for me. Now I was on a mission to play more free and had discovered the Vision scene. I got Francois to do a free improv with me, Todd Capp, and Steve Swell. At first he was like what? -but he quickly pivoted. For the next 20 years, we were brothers in music playing in a zillion bands. Francois was always there. He was on my first record as a leader on CIMP. He was on my record called Morcilla. He was on another one called Trumpet Rising-Bass Clarinet Moon, and another one called Goodbye New York, Hello World. Incredibly, I got to tour Sweden, and Francois was on bass. When I went big with 12 Houses, of course Francois was on bass from day one. In a continued crazy flip at Tower, he became the jazz buyer. Then he quit, and I became the jazz buyer.
When Giuseppi returned I called Francois and the sessions began in the kitchen. G always stared at Francois and listened to him first. People don’t get that G was most often playing changes. But what changes? Since G constantly modulated tunes and keys, Francois had to follow Charlie Haden style. They were often on the same page, as G could hear what he needed to flow. Francois is as much a part of G’s comeback attempt as I am, and they were tight. I tried to party with them one time and went way past my own limits. I was so out, that Giuseppi himself had to help me get home. G’s return wouldn’t have gone down the way it did without brother Francois, he was always there. Once again with Bern Nix, Francois got me the audition in the kitchen. I passed, and with his recommendation, Bern launched the quartet. This led to a weekly session for years in the kitchen and many gigs, it’s one of the highlights of my life.
When Bern died, Francois was one of the first people I called.
When Giuseppi died, Francois was one of the first people I called.
Who do I call now?
In the last couple of years, Francois’ relationship with the universe went next level, and extremely personal. I helped out as much as I could. The truth was, his health scared me. I had to bring in a second bass player to help him in 12 Houses, and he was pissed about that for sure. Our last concert was with Bernard Purdie and David Haney at Joe’s Pub right before COVID. I was getting ready to phone him up and see how he was doing. I thought as usual, he would be there.
Not this time, as the sweet chariot has once again swung low
We had our dust ups and skirmishes over the years, but when we played Francois would have taken a bullet for me. He always had my back, and was the friend who would let you know when you were off.
One time in the kitchen after a set, he said “You know if I hear you start a phrase with a minor 6th one more time man, let that shit go!” (I have played the beginning of Duke’s Praise God a thousand times, but never again after he told me that)
Another time someone said “Matt, that’s so incredible that you play trumpet and bass clarinet” Francois said “So what? He plays all the same shit on both horns!” Of course the next day I started the horn separation process in my soul. Francois’ thing to be real with people was something I loved, and legendary. He was always that real when he played.
Here was a musician that adored, adored Maria Callas. He knew classical and jazz orchestration thoroughly. He was a master copyist as well. Francois could read anything-in fact he proofread scores! He brought all of that to the bandstand, most often his kitchen floor. He had a rubbery, elastic swing. He had funk. He had a classical sensibility. He had a warped, manic bow. He was harmelodic as f. He CO-created at all times. He was one of the best listeners I ever met, and could react, create, and swing on a dime.
We had a great 30 year run that I will always be grateful for and never forget. We spent literally thousands of hours playing music together. One of the last things he said to me was the music we played was good as if the story might be ending. I thought that wouldn’t, or couldn’t happen. On some level I try to remember that the power level beyond us makes those decisions, as always.
Francois wrote a great 3/4 piece called Hymn to the Universe that the 12 Houses played and he conducted. He’s taken that relationship to the next phase. He may get answers that none of us get while we’re here. His title suggests a certain trust in the process of life, perhaps the struggle to survive it. I wish I could ask him what he meant about it, never did, but I love that song.
Francois Grillot was my brother, and I loved him
The light has called him home
Sail on my friend
Now and forever
Dedicated to brother Francois Grillot