The life of musician/composer Brian Grace has always been indelibly linked with music. Brian recalls: “As far back as my brain will allow me to go, music has been a huge part of my waking and subconscious hours. Sometimes it’s playing in the background (as melodies randomly pop into my head), and sometimes it’s very distinctly in the forefront (when I’m putting a CD project together) – but it’s always there somewhere. When I was a kid, I had an early fascination with my parent’s albums and I am certain that I played their albums far more than they did!” Grace absorbed these records like a sponge; artists as diverse as Seals & Croft, Kool and the Gang, The Beatles, The Jackson 5, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, Rare Earth & James Brown. “But the grooves that I seriously wore out were Chicago’s first album, Chicago Transit Authority (for those great horn melodies & harmonies and rock/jazz arrangements) and Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions (for those magnificent melodies and tremendous musicianship).”
Growing up in rural Western Maryland, Brian spent much of his youth fascinated with sound and music, and was very active in all of the various bands that his schools would allow – bands, chorus, talent shows, etc. “I made 1st chair alto sax as a freshman in high school, beating out all of the juniors and seniors, so I wasn’t very popular for a while,” he chuckles. “That and being a member of the chess club really set me back a lot concerning the ‘coolness’ factor. You have to remember – this was when being a geek was certainly not cool.” Grace loved trying to play everyone else’s instrument in band, and eventually his musical curiosity drove him to teach himself multiple instruments … ”my junior year, I finally got cool because I taught myself how to play guitar. Once I picked up electric guitar and figured out how the notes were emitted, one of my first projects was learning the entirety of side one of Rush’s 2112 album by ear.”
While in high school, Grace tried out for and made the Army Band. He says: “I was looking for something a little more challenging than simply going straight to college, and this really fit the bill for me. I had to go to basic training like everyone else, and after that I went to the Armed Forces School of Music in Norfolk, VA. The Army Band taught me discipline as a person and musician, and I have a lot of fond memories of the seven years I spent as a saxophone player there.” While stationed at Fort Dix at 20 years old, Brian auditioned and was selected for “The Army Soldier Show,” a group of soldiers/performers who toured the world singing and playing a musical variety show for service members everywhere. Brian reflects: “We ended up playing on the DMZ in South Korea, which was cool, but the grounding on stage was messed up, and the metal stage shocked me horribly while I was playing guitar, and I ended up falling off of the stage. It was like a scene right out of Spinal Tap.”
Brian survived the electrifying tour, and eventually ended up stationed in the Army Band at the Presidio of San Francisco, CA from 1992-1995. It was there that Grace fell in love with the city of San Francisco, and where the inspiration for which his latest CD lies. “I really had the opportunity to grow as a musician there, both in the Army Band and in gigs I played in The City, on my off-duty hours. The Army Band started playing some of my original compositions, which was thrilling for me. I was also sitting in with a few bands in the City of San Francisco proper, making some extra dough on the side. Oddly enough, most of the work I got on the outside was as a bass player, because every band needs a bass player, not necessarily a saxophone (which is sort of ‘icing on the cake’ in a lot of working bands). So, I got my chops worked up pretty decently on bass, and learned how to read bass clef. By that time, the bass player in the Army Band got stationed somewhere else, and I took over the bass duties for the jazz band.” When the Presidio closed in the mid-1990’s, Grace spent his final year in the Fort Gordon Army Band outside of Augusta, Georgia. “It was complete culture shock … moving cross-country from San Francisco to rural Georgia. After a year of that, I decided enough was enough and finally left the Army altogether, started growing my hair, and moved back to California as a civilian.”
Grace began working a series of odd jobs in the San Diego area for about 3 years, supporting his musical habit. While in San Diego, he played sax with some rock bands in the area and strayed away from jazz for a while. “I was actually writing a lot of rock and pop tunes during that period – that was my major focus for quite some time. I would play all the instruments, write all the lyrics and sing all the parts. It was quite the insular process, and has become the prototype to the way I generally write now – locked in a dark closet with nothing but me alone with my instruments and my thoughts (laughs). My rock album of 14 songs, Re-sounding is the result of that period of time, writing mostly rock songs. Looking back, there was a lot of solid, creative material on that album. Alas, I discovered I’m not the ‘world’s greatest singer,’ so eventually I went back to jazz – my first love.”
Throughout his musical life, opportunities presented themselves and Grace responded. Brian got accepted to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston on a professional music scholarship after his first Army Band Tour. His music has been played on the radio, on studio recording sessions and he has been on TV. A musical library in Europe has licensed his songs, and they are now piping throughout an Austrian mall somewhere. He has played in many rock & jazz bands, and knows a large repertoire of songs. In 2008, Grace had the opportunity to play sax in Las Vegas with his musical idol, Todd Rundgren. “When I discovered Todd’s music, I was floored. Here’s a guy with endless ideas, plays all his own instruments (like me), and he’s obviously on a quest to find his holy musical grail. I followed his career for years, then when I got to play with him on stage – it was like a dream come true for me. I also got to spend his 60th birthday with him at his home on Kauai with his family and other devoted fans, which was all sort of surreal and generally very, very awesome. ”
Brian ended up in Los Angeles, eventually finishing a college degree at UCLA and settling down in Long Beach, CA with his wife Lisa, where he still resides today. “I’m up for playing music with anyone, anywhere…I love controlled randomness. I like the challenge of sitting in with a band and not knowing the music, and coming up with stuff on the fly to enhance the sound of whatever situation I find myself in. Conversely, my own music is the very opposite of this…every note is strictly placed and highly structured, unless it’s an improvisation of course – then, it’s ‘creative time’ and I usually end up using the first take on a recording because it’s so fresh and there’s this ‘searching’ kind of quality about it.” Grace is currently playing sax with “The Hard Cuts,” an R&B/soul/funk covers band out of Long Beach, CA – Click here to visit the Hard Cuts Facebook page. He also wants to start his own jazz quintet playing mostly original music – “I think it’s about that time,” says Brian.
With the release of his latest 2015 sprawling jazz-journey offering, “The Streets of San Francisco” Grace states “Everything feels like it’s all finally coming together now at this time in my life – my composing and playing have never been stronger, and I’m really inspired creatively. For the past couple of years or so, I feel I’ve really kind of grown as a person and as an overall musician – there’s a real natural synchronicity to everything musically recently. I’m much more relaxed now; more comfortable in my own shoes and the musical style I bring to the table, and not really trying too hard. When I play on a recording or live, I try to pretend that it’s the first time I’ve played it so it’s always organic and fresh – even if I’ve played it a hundred times.”
Grace recorded with some of Los Angeles’ finest musicians on The Streets of San Francisco, including Chad Wackerman (as the primary drummer), Doug Lunn, Mike Miller, Bob Luna, Iliana Rose, Prairie Prince & Josh Freese. “I spent an inordinate amount of time fine-tuning this music in my home studio, and I decided I wanted to hire players who could really do this music some justice. I consider this project to be my magnum opus, my Sgt. Pepper’s … there’s a wide variety of jazz material here, from ballads, to Latin, to fusion to everything else in between. I definitely consider it to be a journey of The City of San Francisco … each song represents a certain street in The City which translates into a distinct mood, and I wrote the music around that concept. It’s THE watershed album for me. The tao of Grace (Brian’s album preceding The Streets) was definitely a precursor to The Streets of San Francisco, and you can definitely hear the progression. I feel there are also some great songs on tao, like the ballad ‘Alex.” Click here to download The tao of Grace directly from iTunes.
To download and purchase The Streets of San Francisco click here to visit Brian’s iTunes store. Here, you may also delve into Brian’s extensive back catalog of seven other albums of jazz and rock. In addition, you can also purchase the physical CD (with all of the liner notes, and original artwork by Buck Down) @ by clicking here to visit his online store at CDbaby. For more information about private parties, bookings, management inquires, or even a signed CD, you can email Brian @ firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to click here to stop by and like his Facebook page.