When it comes to jazz music, Chicago native Greg Murphy isn’t too concerned about being constrained by genre. He’s perfectly comfortable leading his band on classics like the Coltrane-inspired “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” while also adept at jazz takes on popular hits from his youth, like Seals and Croft’s “Summer Breeze.”
Murphy’s trio, including bassist Paul Beaudry and drummer George Coleman Jr., is playing the Narrows Center in Fall River on Saturday, February 19. The pianist released his latest album Cool Water in 2021, at the height of the pandemic. He recruited a notable team for the project – bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, a pair that shined on his previous Whaling City Sound release Bright Idea.
Murphy is used to playing with jazz greats – he comes to town with strong credentials and a lengthy resume. His career took off in the early 1980’s when he met “the first family of jazz.”
“Well, I ran into Branford, Wynton and Ellis (Marsalis) in Chicago,” he explained in an interview earlier this week. “Ellis came by my house and gave me a free lesson. He told me to apply for a grant, which I did, and then I went to New Orleans and studied with him.”
While there, “I played with some New Orleans legends. Wynton would sit in on a lot of gigs. He actually auditioned me before Marcus Roberts got into his band. I started playing with Donald Harrison and Charles Neville and people like that.”
Murphy make the move to New York City in 1986. That’s where he began playing with legendary free jazz drummer Rashied Ali, who recorded several albums with John Coltrane in the 1960s, before going on to successful career of his own.
“I met Rashied in Chicago, he liked me right away, so I started playing with him. I think he liked me because I broke a lot of keys on his piano the first time I played,” joked Murphy. “I was trying to keep up with him volume-wise on his little piano.”
“Rashied kind of catapulted my career. I was his main pianist for over 20 years. I also played small gigs with people who I met through Rashied like Archie Shepp and Carlos Santana. I helped Rashied with booking agents and with other projects. We became really close, and I’m still close with his family,” remarked Murphy.
As mentioned, Murphy has expanded his repertoire to include more popular music. He expects it will lead to more listens. “Gerry Gibbs (also on Whaling City Sounds) did a great job with that with Kenny Barron and Ron Carter doing arrangements of pop stuff. I was kind of inspired by the fact that he got really good airplay and those things went to number one on the charts.”
“I always knew that that made sense,” he continued, “it’s a way to connect to the younger generation and play some popular songs. Jazz musicians have been doing that throughout history.” Songs like Steely Dan’s “Green Earring” and the Isley Brothers “Coolin’ Me Out” are good examples found on the latest release.
Although Cool Water was released about a year ago, like many artists, he’s just beginning to play it live due to the pandemic. “ I just did a record release in Chicago last week,” he explained. Murphy was pleased that the album charted at #6 on the jazz charts when it was released.
Murphy is playing the Narrows Center with his trio, which includes bassist Paul Beaudry and drummer George Coleman Jr. “We’ve been working together for a while, expect some music from all of our albums. Wailing city sound is a big supporter. We’re gonna have a blast!”