Grady Tate is renowned as a session drummer extraordinaire, an expert in the use of the rim shot for syncopating purposes; prized for his driving, pushing, or subtle coaxing of the beat.
Yet he has also displayed a warm, flexible, rhythmically agile baritone voice, which, in a reversal of the usual commercial situation, is less well-known than his drumming. He began singing at age four, impressing local Durham, NC, church and school audiences, but quit temporarily when his voice broke at age 12. Self-taught as a drummer at first, he picked up the fundamentals of jazz drumming during his hitch in the Air Force (1951-1955), and arranger Bill Berry made some vocal charts for him there.
Upon his discharge, he returned to Durham to study psychology, literature, and theater at North Carolina College, before moving to Washington, D.C., in 1959 to teach high school and take up a musical career with Wild Bill Davis. A move to New York City in 1963 led to a gig with the Quincy Jones big band, and soon he caught on as a recording session drummer. His most famous records as an accompanist were made under the aegis of producer Creed Taylor, for whom he became the house drummer of choice. Tate played on many of Wes Montgomery's and Jimmy Smith's most popular recordings, as well as some by Nat Adderley, Stan Getz, Tony Bennett, Kenny Burrell, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Roland Kirk, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington, J.J. Johnson, and Kai Winding, among countless other artists.
Arranger Gary McFarland thought enough of Tate's singing voice to record a number of vocal albums for his short-lived Skye label; yet, despite further vocal sessions for Buddah, Janus, Impulse, and a host of Japanese labels, Tate's profile as a singer has not been as high as it could have been.
He returned to the American recording scene with 1991's excellent, vocal-only album for Milestone, TNT, where drummer Dennis Mackrel uses many patterns that he learned from Tate.
Body and Soul followed a year later, and, in 1999, he resurfaced with Feeling Free.