Jazz, Don Grolnick once said with sly understatement, is an art "in which the risks are great, the rewards subtle."
But it was always his truest passion. As a youth growing up in Levittown, New York, Don became captivated by the sound of jazz. He once told an interviewer, "My father took me to see Count Basie, and I just went crazy. I didn't know why or what it was, it was just swinging so hard -- and I didn't even know what swinging meant." His first instrument was the accordion, although he soon switched to his grandparents piano.
The young musician began to immerse himself in the sounds of blues, bebop, and post-bop. He absorbed the music of Erroll Garner, Cannonball Adderly, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Ray Charles, Sonny Rollins, Bobby Timmons, Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Horace Silver, to name just a few. While still a teenager, Don began to write songs and arrangements.
Don went on to attend Tufts University, majoring in philosophy. Sometime during his college years, he met up with saxophonist Michael Brecker. After Don returned to New York in 1969, Brecker asked him to join the seminal jazz fusion band Dreams. Around this time, Don also began to explore mainstream pop and funk music. As was his custom, Don threw himself into the genre, listening hard to find out what really made the music move. And indeed, he developed a pop and R&B touch so skillful and authentic that it misled some listeners (and perhaps a few critics) into seeing Don as an arriviste when he later returned to his jazz roots.
In a short time Don became a sought-after session musician. Don eventually worked on hundreds of recordings with artists like Linda Ronstadt, Steely Dan, and Bonnie Raitt. In 1974, he began what was to become a long musical partnership with James Taylor.