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Grady Tate (1932 – 2017), prominent jazz drummer and vocalist

Getty Images / Photo by Anthony Barboza

Grady Tate (1932 – 2017), prominent jazz drummer and vocalist

Grady Tate, legendary jazz drummer and vocalist, died October 8, 2017, at the age of 85, according to multiple news sources. 

Tate’s death was confirmed to NPR by Wendy Oxenhorn, executive director of the Jazz Foundation of America. No cause was given. 

Jazz bassist Christian McBride, in an email to the The New York Times, recalled the first time he saw Mr. Tate perform, at the Manhattan nightclub Indigo Blues with the pianist Sir Roland Hanna “Mr. Tate is one of those rare, unsung heroes of the drums who you rarely kept your eye on when he played because you were busy dancing, moving and grooving,” Mr. McBride said in an email. “Like a truly great rhythm section player, you noticed his absence more than his presence.” 

Tate was known for his crisp on “top of the beat” drumming that was in demand by some of the greatest jazz musicians in history. He was born in Durham, North Carolina, eventually moving to New York City where he became the drummer with the Quincy Jones Orchestra in 1962. 


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Tate drummed with many jazz legends including Stan Getz, Stanley Turrentine, Jimmy Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lena Horne. He was the drummer for “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” from 1968 until 1974. Tate was a favorite of singer Peggy Lee who encouraged him to sing during her performances. 

“You know, that was not only a great thing Peggy did for me, it was also unprecedented,” Mr. Tate told Downbeat magazine in 1971. “Singers are a funny lot. The stage is all theirs and as a result, quite often they don’t want anything that has the remotest chance of upstaging them. That’s why the music is geared just so, the lights just so. But Peggy is a beautiful lady. "

He also drummed on pop and rock records. He was on the drums for Simon & Garfunkel’s famous 1981 reunion concert in Central Park and played on Robert Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” 

Millions of children grew up hearing Tate’s vocal talent on many of the ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ songs from the ABC educational cartoons. He sang on “Naughty Number Nine” and “Fireworks.” He also sang on his own album releases. 

Tate was the drummer on the iconic soundtrack for David Lynch’s cult television series “Twin Peaks,” which was composed by Angelo Badalamenti. His delicate brush work is a key component of the music. Tate is featured on the song “Grady Groove.” He also appeared on the soundtrack for “Twin Peaks: The Return.” 

He is survived by his wife and son. 

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