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DICK GRATTON

MUSIC FOR SOPHISTICATED TASTES

The Trentonian - January 11, 1987 - Trenton NJ

TRIO: KEEPING AN EYE ON THE OTHER TWO

By MARK STRADLING

Take a guy who chose to play the guitar because it's portable, another guy who started on drums in grammar school because they looked easy, and still another who came to the bass by way of the violin and you have the local band known as the Dick Gratton Trio.

Featuring Dick on guitar and Rich Gerster on drums and Paul Austin on bass, the trio plays clubs in the area but hopes that 1987 will bring them more dates playing for students at area schools.

Wherever they play, they have a lot of fun and enjoy startling each other on the bandstand.

"On the stand we're always surprising one another," says Gratton. "Paul and I worked out something on an original tune we put together that will be a surprise to Rich who hasn't heard it and probably won't before we get to play it (for an audience)."

The backbone of their music is standards with some modern tunes thrown in.

"We've always prided ourselves on being able to play pretty much what anybody wants to hear...but we're on our own pretty much with how we choose to play it," says the guitarist.

They always set up so they can see each other, watch each other's hands and expressions to get an idea where the music might be going.

"These guys just follow me to the ends of the earth, they're just right there on the dot," says Gratton.

"He's led us off a few times," laughs Austin, "but we jump right off with him. It usually ends up pretty good," he adds, "some big hand from up above is guiding us."

Pulling off successful improvisation time after time is just something that happens with jazz players, Gratton believes, because of the kind of music they make.

He began listening to that music when he was a kid, digging out his father's old 78s, "big thick records with grooves that looked like they were made with a fork."

His father played violin as did his grandfather, and holidays were always a musical event in his family when they were joined by their uncle on banjo.

Gratton began playing guitar when he was 7.

"I figured the possibilities were there for making a lot of music. You can make more music with a piano or organ, but you can't take that out in a canoe or put it in a backpack."

He also was listening to Les Paul and Mary Ford records and he was at least nine years old before he figured out he was hearing "17 guitars and 45 voices." But by then it was too late anyway; he was hooked.

For Rich, music-making was unknown in his family. He used to win hambone contests and figured with all the wisdom of a grade-schooler that the drums looked pretty easy.

"As a kid I was always pounding on oil drums or something. I guess I had some innate rhythm that I didn't even know about and I just enjoyed playing them. I'd rather play than eat sometimes."

He credits his father with encouraging him to practice rather than making him do it, and with surprising him wih his first set of drums.

Paul came from a musical family - his father was a cellist and it was always expected, he says, that he would make his life with music.

My father taught music and the instruments kept coming through the house. He'd say, 'Here, try this one. Try this one.' So I had all these instruments to pick from. I started on violin for ear training and then piano for theory and harmony. And to my father's greatest disappointment, I became a drummer."

Which wasn't easy because his dad kept the drums down in the basement behind some boxes where they were hard to get to.

But the violin and the cello always stayed in his mind, and so he took up the bass as well and eventually it became his primary instrument.

And that classical background is why you will get a big surprise if you catch this band some night and just ask them to play an oldie.

"If somebody asks for an oldie, well, Paul came up with this 12th century tune, so you can't get much older than that," says Gratton.

It's an Old English air that I found going to school," explains Austin. "I always used it just to tune the bass because it's in fourths and fifths mostly. And Dick heard it and the wheels started clicking. He added harmonies to it and then Rich came in with some very delicate percussion things. One night somebody asked for an oldie and I said 'I've got an oldie' and that was it. It was as if we had rehearsed it. They asked for an oldie and they got it. There was a lot of applause because it was so unexpected...something that quiet and delicate being played by a jazz trio."

These days, of course, it can be surprising to hear anything by a jazz band in a local club, because jazz clubs are on the decline - at least in terms of numbers. Austin has some thoughts on why that situation has arisen.

"The times have changed, I think. The bar trade is gone away to a great extent due to liquor laws and DWI checks. People are worried and rightfully so, and the overhead in the bar changes and the band is thought of as not necessary."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that the music has gone away. Gratton and Co. hope to take their music to local schools this year and show kids that there's more than one kind of music in this world.

"It's educational for the kids. For instance, you have a piano sitting in a room. The piano doesn't know what it's going to play. A guy sits down and plays a Beethoven piece and the piano becomes a classical instrument. If a rock and roll person sits down, it becomes a rock and roll instrument. So what the kids need to learn is that music is a universal type thing. When you see people say that Big Band is the only kind of music in the world...that bothers me, because there's an awful lot of beautiful sounds out there besides Big Band, even though that's a beautiful sound," says Austin.

For his part, Gratton hopes that 1987 will bring the opportunity "to find a spot where we can play one or two nights a week and for the school thing to get started."

If you have the opportunity, give them a listen. And don't forget to ask for the oldie.

The Trenton Times - February 22, 1991 - Trenton NJ

RIFFS AND THE RAILROAD KEEP GRATTON STRUMMING ALONG

By CURT YESKE

By night, he engineers soothing jazz on his guitar.

By day, he engineers a smooth ride for Amtrak passengers.

Jazz musicians come from many walks in life, but Dick Gratton ranks among the out of the ordinary. While most of us are in bed trying to catch our last wink before facing the day, he is at the controls of an Amtrak electric powered engine at 4:30 a.m., pulling passenger cars toward Washington, D.C. at 125 miles per hour.

Gratton, 50, has followed in his father's footsteps as a railroad engineer. He also followed his father in playing a string instrument, although he has chosen jazz over classical music.

During the past five years, the Bordentown Township resident has delicately balanced his jazz avocation with the demands of his job with the railroad. During this time, his jazz trio has become one of the busiest in the Trenton area.

This weekend the Dick Gratton Trio makes two stops in Trenton. It will perform Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at Joe's Mill Hill Saloon at South Broad and Market streets, and Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at the Eagle Tavern, 429 S. Broad St.

Just as he could be considered a traditionalist by following in his father's career footsteps, Gratton's roots in music are also traditional. He recalls being attracted to music by the exciting recordings of Tony Mottola and Les Paul played by his father.

He was only 7 or 8, but he was hooked.

"I remember an early TV detective show where Tony Mottola provided the music by himself. Other shows with low budgets used an organ, but I remember it being so impressive because he was so descriptive the way he played for the changing moods and emotions," said Gratton.

"And with Les Paul, at my age I didn't know that it was a multi-track recording. I just knew it was a great guitar sound."

So taken was Gratton with the guitar that he taught himself to play the instrument.

"Other kids might have been interested in other activities or things, but I was interested only in the guitar and stayed right with it. Other kids' parents had to force them to practice, but I stayed with it because I was taken by it."

Although self-taught on the instrument, Gratton credits much of his musical development to jazz pianists.

"I listened to Dick Braytenbah for years to hear what he did. I'd take it home in my head to try it later on the guitar. I have to give him credit for what I am able to do. Another one who helped me later on was John Coates, Jr.

"A lot of my playing is not chord strumming that some people choose to do. I pick out a succession of notes to simulate what a piano does. I still listen to a lot of piano (recordings) including Oscar Peterson," said Gratton.

Although he cites Bucky Pizzarelli and Wes Montgomery as two additional guitar influences in his development, Gratton's favorite is Tal Farlow, the quiet bebop virtuoso.

"We sort of parallel each other. We each taught ourselves to play and we both use unorthodox techniques and share a lot of the same ideas about playing the guitar.

"But he is also a sensitive guy... very much a gentleman who listens and compliments your playing. When he nods and smiles at you while you are playing along with him, it means something very special," said Gratton.

Like most other active musicians, Gratton is considering a recording project for some tunes he has written and for a few that have been written by his bassist Dennis Szabo.

Besides his trio playing, Gratton is also working on a special material with pianist Pat Marcella. These tunes include works of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and David Benoit.

The Trentonian - December 25, 1991 - Trenton NJ

LOCAL JAZZ MAN IS A SELF-TAUGHT MUSICIAN

By MARCI SHATZMAN

At an age when other kids were out playing baseball, Dick Gratton was in his bathroom at 1374 Nottingham Way practicing guitar.

"I didn't do sports at all growing up, very little," he said. "I used to practice guitar in the bathroom so I could hear the echo."

It has been 43 years since Gratton's dad Charles, an amateur violinist, stuck a guitar in his son's hands. And although he has long since graduated from bathrooms to area clubs and restaurants such as Duffy's, where he'll play on New Year's Eve, one constant remains. Dick Gratton, who's now 50, still can't read music and has never had a music lesson.

"For the most part, I just tried to duplicate what I heard," said the self-taught guitarist and bass player, a slim, wiry man who wears glasses, a guitar-shaped pin on his lapel and a perpetually bemused expression.

Gratton's style is laid-back and articulate, the kind of mainstream jazz that retains a recognizable melody and doesn't challenge the nervous system.

"I like things that make musical sense," Gratton says. "I like it to be as pretty as possible."

"Jazz is music you can be very creative with. All the good player has to know is what the tune is, what tempo and what key you're going to play it in."

In that sense, Gratton is a traditionalist. He never plays electric, sticking to his handmade acoustic guitar, a LoPrinzi, made in Rosement.

"I like a guitar to sound like a guitar," he said.

Gratton grew up in the Bromley section of Trenton, now Hamilton, listening to his father's Big Band records. He was partial to vocalists Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney, and the team of Les Paul and Mary Ford. He played along to the recordings and was further inspiring by the television work of legendary guitarist Tony Mottola. At 12 Gratton sat in on a couple of sets with a family friend, a piano player, at a neighborhood tavern in Dunellen, and he has never stopped performing. He joined a quartet in high school, playing weddings, high school dances, and teen-age night clubs all over New Jersey.

But like most good musicians he evolved. In the `60s he turned to jazz, what he calls, "the real serious stuff," after listening to Dave Brubeck, Wes Montgomery and local jazz pianist Dick Braytenbah.

"I have a lot of respect for his playing and credit him for a lot of what I play and how I play it," he said. "He's a superb musician."

In 1984, Gratton formed The Dick Gratton Jazz Group with himself on guitar, Dennis Szabo on bass and another self-taught musician John Shane on drums. It was time to have control over his own sound and his booking, he said.

"A lot of us would wait for the phone to ring. I was playing either guitar or bass, mostly because bass players were at a premium then. I had some ideas about guitar and I just wanted to do that."

Until the recession hit the club scene, cutting back on the use of live music, the trio worked steadily at the Mill Hill Saloon, Havana's, the Frenchtown Inn, Peroni's Waterfront and the Eagle Tavern. He has worked with Braytenbah, vocalist Suzanne Cloud, horn player Bill Lacy and fellow jazz guitarist Tal Farlow.

For the last year or so, Gratton has worked mostly as a soloist and completed a six-month gig at Duffy's in June. He has performed in Philadelphia, but has stuck fairly close to home by choice.

"I had no desire to travel," he said.

In fact, Gratton seems fairly content. His job as an engineer for Amtrak leaves plenty of time for his music. He is married to Joan Gratton and they have two small children. He has three grown children from a previous marriage.

The only thing that remains on his agenda is recording.

"I think about doing a recording but I haven't had the time," he said.

The Trentonian - August 16, 1998 - Trenton NJ

ALL THAT JAZZFEST

By MARCI SHATZMAN

Longtime jazz guitarist Dick Gratton was thrilled when city inspections director Len Pucciatti asked him to open the 1998 Trenton Jazz Festival scheduled for next Saturday.

"When Lenny asked me to put something together for the festival, I called everyone in the quartet," Gratton said. "Later on, Randy (vibes player Randy Sutin) called and said 'Everybody else who's going to be there is in a high energy up tempo group...We need some extra energy'. He thought of a keyboard player, Barry Blumenthal, and I called Richie Cole."

So, technically it will be Sextet instead of Quartet Vibrations that will open the festival as the only local group on the bill on August 22 at Waterfront Park.

They'll also do a preview Friday from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. at Joe's Mill Hill Saloon at the corner of South Broad and Market Streets in Trenton. (The cover is $5.)

And for Gratton, who's celebrating 45 years as a musician this year, it's doubly gratifying to perform at his hometown jazz fest, and play with Cole, a tenor and alto sax great largely regarded as the city's pre-eminent jazz import.

"I don't get to play with Richie, even though we're friends," Gratton said. "It will be a thrill to work with him."

"He's probably the best thing Trenton has ever put out as far as jazz is concerned," Joe LaPlaca, owner of Joe's Mill Hill Saloon and a local jazz booster, said of Cole. "He's on the road so much, we don't see him that often."

Cole, in fact, was enroute home from Florida Friday afternoon, and unavailable for comment.

Gratton said the group, which he joined in 1992, will play largely their own music for their one hour set from 2-3 p.m., and between setups for the five other acts scheduled to play until midnight Saturday.

"Randy is good at picking out tunes that you wouldn't pick out as jazz arrangements," Gratton noted.

The Trenton Times - August 21, 1998 - Trenton NJ

WEEKEND'S WORTH OF VIBRATIONS

By CURT YESKE

Ask any jazz musician why he or she prefers to perform with another particular jazz player, and chances are the answer will be, "It's a good vibe."

Vibe, of course, is short for vibration.

It is those good vibes, built up over the past several years, that has led to the formation of Quartet Vibrations which plays tonight at Joe's Mill Hill Saloon before opening the Trenton Jazz Festival tomorrow afternoon.

The group includes Randy Sutin on vibraharp, Dick Gratton on guitar, Mark Pultorak on drums and Jim McDonough on bass.

This weekend Quartet Vibrations, a hard-swinging group in its own right, presses down on the musical accelerator with guest artists Richie Cole on alto saxophone and pianist Barry Blumenthal.

"We're really looking forward to the weekend," said Gratton who has been central to the Quartet Vibrations' evolvement over the past eight years.

"We always enjoy playing at Joe's where just about every listener is a true jazz fan and we're very pleased to represent Trenton along side the big name recording artists at tomorrow's jazz festival.

"Our group plays together often enough that we always feel comfortable but we've had a few extra gigs in the past few weeks that allows us to hone what we do and be at our very best.

"And what could be better than Richie Cole, after playing for heaven knows how many jazz festivals around the world, returning to be part of Trenton's festival."

Ewing native Cole, with his explosive style, is constantly touring the country entertaining jazz fans in small night clubs and high profile festivals alike. He was a featured artist on recordings the Buddy Rich band made in 1969 and 1970 and since then has made more than 25 albums as soloist or leader. A student of jazz giant Phil Woods, Cole teamed up with vocalese master Eddie Jefferson to form what would be his alter ego "Alto Madness."

His most recent CD, on the Music Masters label, is the widely acclaimed "Richie Cole Plays West Side Story," featuring seven songs from the hit musical and Cole's own piece "West Side Blues."

Pianist Blumenthal, when he is not performing with his own New York based quartet "Jazz Alliance North," is performing with jazz notables or teaching piano at the Crane School Of Music in Potsdam NY. He has performed or recorded with Tony Bennett, the American Jazz Orchestra, the Jimmy Dorsey and Les Elgart orchestras and Robert Goulet.

U.S.1 - August 16, 2000 - Princeton NJ

DICK GRATTON: JAZZ ON TRACK

By RICHARD J. SKELLY

Jazz musicians, particularly vocalists, will tell you: jazz is a tough row to hoe. But for jazz guitarist Dick Gratton, his good paying, flexible day job as an engineer with Amtrak has allowed him to pursue the music on his own terms over the years. A fixture on the Trenton jazz club scene since the 1960s, Gratton will release his first self-produced CD this fall.

Not unlike the vocalist Little Jimmy Scott who worked in obscurity as a bellhop in the Cleveland Sheraton for most of the 1970s or R&B diva Ruth Brown who worked as a nurse and a janitor in Harlem in the 1970s - both of whom have been enjoying career revivals through the 1990s - Gratton has been able to pursue jazz music when and how he wants to. As Trenton's jazz club scene began to fall apart in the 1970s, Gratton continued to play guitar, he just played less frequently in public.

"I'm sort of a low-profile musician," Gratton explains from his home in Allentown in Monmouth County. "Sometimes musicians and festival booking agents will hear about me through other musicians. Sometimes I get lucky in that respect."

The Hamilton Township-raised Gratton, now 59, and many of his fans from the greater Trenton area must look forward to the release of his debut CD, "The Guitars Of Dick Gratton."

"It's been a long time coming," he says. "I've been working on it off and on for a year and a half now. A friend of mine is interested in producing a CD of me with just solo guitar," he adds. Gratton's "Guitars of Dick Gratton" includes Johnny Mandel's "Suicide Is Painless" (better known as the theme from M.A.S.H.), as well as his unique, spirited interpretations, with his trio, of recognizable jazz classics such as Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight."

There's a subtlety to Gratton's playing that can best be appreciated in small jazz clubs, and, provided the audience is into it, Gratton says he will lay some of those tunes on the crowd at Triumph Brewing, where he appears on Wednesday, August 23. At Triumph, Gratton will be accompanied by Jim McDonough on bass and Mark Pultorak on drums. Gratton says he will be prepared for the noisiness of the venue. "I'm going to use a little more aplification," he says, "and we'll probably cut down on some of the quiet stuff I really like to do."

Gratton began playing guitar at age seven, when his father, a railroad engineer and violinist, put a guitar in his hands. His mother was a housewife. Gratton was introduced to performing when he was 12, after which he never looked back.

"A friend of ours who played piano asked me to join him on guitar up at the club in Dunellen," he says. "After that, it was just something I knew I always wanted to do."

Gratton's earliest inspiration came from the big band recordings in his father's record collection, but also the recordings of Les Paul and Tony Mottola, and later, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass.

Perhaps being a jazz guitarist who plays in a lot of different venues isn't really all that much different from being an Amtrak engineer on the New York to Washington D.C. corridor. Gratton has worked for Amtrak and it's predecessors for 35 years now. The variables - weather, traffic on other tracks, number of people on board - are always changing.

"It gets really involved sometimes," Gratton says of his work as a train engineer, "and really, that's another thing I'm thankful to my father for. He was an engineer as well, and though he would never admit it, I now know he did pull some strings to get me a job all those years ago."

Gratton formed his first band in high school playing the rhythm and blues and early rock 'n' roll of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. He knew in the back of his mind he'd like to some day pursue jazz full time, but those hopes were put on hold by his job with the railroad.

Instead, he began his dual career when he began playing in Trenton jazz clubs in the late 1950s. "We used to have a lot of clubs to work in, Front Street alone was loaded with four or five nightclubs," he recalls. "It's one big parking lot now, but they had all these little clubs and live music all over the place. We'd take breaks and go over and hear what the other guys were playing, and then they'd come over and hear us during their breaks."

Of all of those clubs that were around in the 1960s, only Joe's Mill Hill Saloon remains as an enduring venue for live jazz. But now, with the Trenton cultural scene inching its way back to life, Gratton finds himself playing new venues like the Urban Word Cafe.

Gratton says the Trenton-area jazz pianist Dick Braytenbah was a great source of inspiration for him and a good mentor as well. "Years ago, in the mid-1960s, I would go into clubs and listen to him. He was doing what I wanted to be doing, and I just listened to all the things he was doing and tried to take as much home in my head as I could," he recalls. "Eventually I sat in with him one night and then started working with him from time to time."

Gratton has also worked many times over the years with saxophonist and Trenton native Richie Cole, who has carved a national reputation for himself with his various Alto Madness orchestras.

"Since those days, most of the rest of it is work I've been getting on my own," Gratton says, adding he likes working in a trio format. He's proud of his bassist and drummer.

"Jim McDonough is a mind reader on the bass," he enthuses, he always seems to know just where a tune is going and he takes it there." Gratton's drummer, Mark Pultorak, has the dynamics in his playing that Gratton's subtle guitar stylings require.

Gratton says the audience for the Triumph Brewery show can expect a broad spectrum of jazz tunes. "There'll be some bebop tunes and some tunes not ordinarily played as jazz arrangements, like the theme from M.A.S.H., and there'll be some Latin flavored arrangements as well. We like to keep the tunes so that they're still recognizable, but do them in a different way."

The Trenton Times - April 6, 2001 - Trenton NJ

DICK GRATTON BRINGS LIFETIME OF MUSIC TO NEW CD

By CURT YESKE

A half-century of playing guitar is a lot of strumming in anybody's book. Dick Gratton has been entertaining small and large audiences for longer than that: 52 years of guitar and vocal musings.

Those years of wailing, variety shows, society gigs, swing parties, experimentation and just plain joyous jamming have resulted in a self-produced CD that seems to validate Gratton's outlook on music and life.

In developing the recording, Gratton, who performs tomorrow night with vocalist Marcy Deising at Joe's Mill Hill Saloon in Trenton, expressed gratitude to all who have helped him over the years. That includes his parents - Charles and Jerry - who provided their son with his first guitar.

The CD, "The Guitars of Dick Gratton," depicts the jazzman, who by day is an engineer for Amtrak, on the cover strumming his guitar with a montage background of blurred guitars passing by an Amtrak passenger train. The CD is accompanied by an artfully designed 20-page booklet of photographs ranging from gigs on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in 1952 to the main stage of the 1998 Trenton Jazz Festival with Richie Cole, Randy Sutin and Jim McDonough.

There are also some self-effacing comments, including these: "Whenever I am introduced as a guitarist, most people will ask me, 'What kind of music do you play?' My response is almost always, 'Well, guitar music, of course.'

"While jazz allows greater freedom for improvisation and creativity, I also enjoy performing selections ranging from rock and country tunes from the '50s to blues arrangements. In fact, some of these are included on this album, so it is difficult, if not impossible, to categorize the recording in any particular style".

"This is guitar music," wrote Gratton who added, "I hope people enjoy it."

There is a major difference between this recording and what the public has heard at Gratton's gigs. The CD is a multi-recorded project with overlays, all by Gratton.

"You won't hear these things from me live, of course, but doing something in multiple recordings was something I wanted to do for a long time," said Gratton who started the recording in 1998.

He explained how he chose the seven cuts.

Johnny Mandel's "Suicide is Painless" is one of his favorite songs to play and fares well in the guitar genre.

"'Round Midnight' I recorded alone at Joe's Mill Hill. Other people heard it and liked it as a single guitar and so I included it," said Gratton.

"I don't write very many songs but I did do 'Waltz for Joan' who is my wife and two others that had lyrics written by John Calu. He had composed them and asked me to put them to music. They are 'The Answer' and 'Speak Softly'."

The other is an adaption of the Tom Waits song, "Diamonds On My Windshield," which he described as a cross-country trucker-hitchhiker yarn.

"I adapted it slightly to make it a railroad song dealing with my father. He was an engineer at the Bristol (Pa.) freight yards and I'd be going by in an Amtrak train and we would wave back and forth and later he would almost always call me to tell me I was going too fast."

"Everything I did with the CD, from the photographs to the music, I wanted something in the way of a history."

The Messenger Press - January 29, 2004 - Allentown NJ

GRATTON'S GUITAR SPEAKS SOFTLY

By SCOTT MORGAN

Dick Gratton doesn't play guitar to get rich and never planned to ride his six-string to fame.

And he hasn't, which is perfect for him. So long as he can play for those who like their jazz textured, he says, everything will be all right.

A lot of words get tossed around when someone says he plays guitar. Words like "ax" and "metal" and "loud." But Mr. Gratton, at least judging by the whisper-quiet intro to his first and only CD compilation, "The Guitars Of Dick Gratton," eschews such attacks on the musical jugular in favor of a more evocative brush against the aural shoulder. As he puts it himself, the sound of Dick Gratton strumming "is like cocktail piano played on a guitar."

For those who think that all this sounds a bit familiar, you might recognize Mr. Gratton from his weekly gig at Farnsworth Avenue's Jester's Cafe. From 5 to 9 p.m. every Monday, the 62-year-old Mr. Gratton, who wryly refers to his age as "old," serenades the dinner set with his acoustic handiwork, as he has since April of 2002.

For those of you who have never seen Mr. Gratton play Jester's, but still think this sounds familiar, you might have caught him in Trenton on one of his occasional shows at the Mill Hill Playhouse.

Though not as regular as his Monday gig at Jester's, the Woodland Road resident and retired Amtrak engineer says the Mill Hill shows give him the chance to play with friends for a change. While he considers himself far stronger when playing solo, Mr. Gratton relishes any opportunity he gets to play beside his longtime bassist friend and accompanist of choice, Jim McDonough.

"Jim is amazing," Mr. Gratton says -- the only bassist he knows who can seamlessly keep pace with the complex, improvisational-by-nature jazz guitar he wields in concert. "He's my number one choice if I can get him."

But despite the thrill afforded by being half of a lethal duo, Mr. Gratton says he's still most at home with a single guitar and a small club with enough of an audience to let his Beatles medleys, jazz compilations and original offerings inspired by giants from Les Paul and Tony Mottola to Guy Lombardo and Jimmy Dorsey become a sort of auditory wallpaper. Such small venues give him immediacy, and they give him a chance to try new things, he says -- something that becomes second nature when your world is live guitar.

And as for his visions of grandeur, Mr. Gratton says his "currently-selling-like-malaria" CD and his Monday seat in the city is plenty.

"For a small town, I've played three clubs," Mr. Gratton says, ticking off his history of playing at Jester's, the Farnsworth House and Conti's Ristorante. "That suits me just fine."

The Princeton Packet - June 2, 2006 - Princeton NJ

NOTES THAT COUNT - THE DICK GRATTON QUARTET

By JOSH APPELBAUM

Local fans of melodic jazz are likely familiar with the stylings of guitarist Dick Gratton, who has played numerous clubs and bars in central Jersey over the last forty years.

In a departure from his recent solo engagements - just him and his acoustic guitar - Mr. Gratton will lead a quartet with vibraphonist Dick Lincoln, bassist Dennis Szabo and drummer Rich Gerster for his semi-annual gig at the Heritage Days Jazz Festival in Trenton June 4.

The Bordentown resident has been playing with the three musicians separately for years, but the festival's Jazz Cafe series will be the quartet's first proper gig. "It's been a while that I've been able to work with a full-blown group," Mr. Gratton says.

The group will perform jazz standards, ballads and recognizable popular songs at the event, which celebrates the myriad ethnic cultures of the greater Trenton area and is a favorite of families.

Well known for his articulate melodic compositional interpretations, Mr. Gratton's style is much different from the prevailing atonal qualities of modern jazz guitar. "A lot of guitar players will try to pack as many notes into a measure as they can, which doesn't mean you're good," he says. "I like all the notes to count, so to speak."

He describes his style as sounding "laid back," but iterates that it takes a lot of work to produce this smooth sound. "You have to focus on the melody of course, but then you've got to play a chord behind it and then throw in some bass lines so it doesn't sound empty," Mr. Gratton says. "That style is not easy to do, and it's not easy to sell. When you mention to a club owner that you play guitar they think Bruce Springsteen or Metallica, and they think, 'Not in my club.'"

The Boss and Kirk Hammett may not be counted among Mr. Gratton's influences, but Wes Montgomery, Tony Mottola and the man who led the electric guitar revolution, Les Paul, are. In his father's collection of big band and jazz recordings, Mr. Gratton discovered a 45 rpm of the artist's "Lover."

"Les Paul is famous for several recordings, but when you're 7 years old, what do you know? You pick up a 45 and look at the label, 'Lover: Les Paul,'and that's all that's on there," Mr. Gratton says with a wide smile. You hear 16 guitars (on the recording) but you don't know it's 16 guitars yet. I heard that music and I said, 'I've got to learn how to do this.'"

Mr. Mottola was another electric guitarist whose singular style is more in line with Mr. Gratton's. The New York-based studio musician first came to Mr. Gratton's attention while composing and playing music for the suspenseful early television detective show "Danger."

"I heard his playing and was impressed on how descriptive it was...it was very simple," he says. "In one episode, these detectives are looking for a bomb in this hotel, and now, the audience knows where it is. When the show would focus on where the bomb was - it was either under a sofa or in a closet, I think - he would play two notes, alternately, a half step apart...It's like a time bomb. You felt like the TV was going to blow up,"

The early exposure to a variety of music led Mr. Gratton to pick up a guitar at age 7. By the time he was 12, he had played his first public show. "I played my first nightclub in 1953, then there was a break,"he says. "I was only 12 years old! I don't know how professional it was."

Fifty-three years later, Mr. Gratton is grateful for his strong connections to central Jersey communities. He regularly works clubs in Bordentown, Trenton's Mill Hill Saloon and performs yearly at the Trenton Preservation Awards, which recognizes community members leading the city's economic and cultural revitalization efforts.

He's amused that his mug gets in local newspapers every once in a while to promote his appearances, but admits a local musician's career is often a struggle.

"I'm staying alive, but I'm not going to get rich here,," Mr. Gratton says. "People say, 'Hey Dick, I saw your picture in the paper.' So much for famous, when am I going to get rich? But I do get to play often, and that's fine with me."

The Trentonian - December 3, 2007 - Trenton NJ

LOOK WHO'S TALKING: DICK GRATTON, LOCAL LEGENDARY JAZZ GUITARIST

By JEFF EDELSTEIN

ON WHEN HE FIRST PICKED UP A GUITAR ... I started playing in 1948, at age seven. My father had a lot of big band and jazz recordings. A lot of Les Paul, and I listened to that. When you're that age, you don't know a lot, so I look on the record label and see "Les Paul," and I know he plays guitar, and all I hear is what he's doing, and I'm like, "Wow. I've got to learn how to do THAT!"

ON MEETING HIS HERO ... I met Les Paul for the first time when I was about ten at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. My parents took me down there, and I was able to go backstage and shake his hand. I was speechless. It was like meeting God.

ON LEARNING HOW TO PLAY ... We couldn't afford lessons, so I listened and tried to figure things out on guitar. Gradually, it became easier. But I'm still learning things today.

ON HIS FIRST PERFORMANCE ... The first time I played in public I was 12. A family friend was a piano player at a bar in North Jersey, and he was playing and my dad brought me in. I was scared to death. My lips had holes in them by the time I was done from biting down on them.

ON PLAYING AS A TEEN IN A.C. ... When I was 16, I was in a band and we got to play for two weeks at the Steel Pier. Two shows a day afternoons on the beach. I was on top of the world. I remember one day Connie Francis walked by us on the beach. Do you know what Connie Francis looked like in 1956? We stayed down there by ourselves. Lokking back I can't imagine what my parents were thinking, turning me loose in Atlantic City like that.

ON GOING SOLO ... I've led some groups, but for the past six years or so, I've been solo. It lets me do what comes to me in the moment and I don't have to worry about confusing other players.

ON WHY GUITARISTS HATE PIANO PLAYERS ... I started when bebop was the big thing, but I'm not really that interested in seeing how many notes I can pack into a measure. But that's why all guitarists hate piano players - they can play more than six notes at a time.

ON THE MODERN JAZZ SCENE IN TRENTON ... How has the jazz scene gone in Trenton? It has. Gone. This is not the jazz capital of the east coast.

ON THE GOOD OL' DAYS ... In the 50's and 60's, Trenton had a full blown jazz scene. Two or three big hotels with full blown dance bands, a lot of little clubs that had live music. I was underage for a time, but we'd be in there playing at one club, finish our set, run over to another club to catch another band, run back to the first club to play our second set. I remember one place, Club 50 on Hanover Street, if you weren't there by 8 o'clock for the 9 o'clock show, you were standing up.

ON WHAT JAZZ IS ... Jazz is music of an improvisational nature. Here's a tune, now go and do something with it.

ADVICE TO BUDDING JAZZ MUSICIANS ... You listen. You go out and listen and bring home as much as you can. That's how I did it.

ON THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN JAZZ AND OTHER MUSICAL FORMS ... Rock n' roll music you play as loud as you can. Bluegrass, as fast as you can. Jazz? You play and if you make a mistake, you play it twice, and all of a sudden it's some heavy jazz arrangement mere mortals know nothing about.

ON BEING A "LEGEND" ... I don't believe in any of that. Just calm down with it. I've been fortunate, had my picture in the paper a few times. Better than at the post office.

ON WHERE HE CAN BE FOUND ... Fridays at Chambers Walk in Lawrenceville NJ and Sundays at Water Works in Philadelphia PA.

The Trentonian - September 6, 2012 - Trenton NJ

LIVE LOCAL MUSIC

By DANNY COLEMAN

When the word jazz is mentioned in the Trenton area, several names come to mind. One of the more notable is Dick Gratton.

Playing guitar professionally since 1953, Gratton has performed in the tri-state area to appreciative audiences and jazz enthusiasts of all ages. "I played my first gig ever in Dunellen, I was scared to death, I was only twelve years old, it was with a family member. I thought it was pretty neat," he told me recently.

From those "scary" beginnings, Dick began playing with a rock band. "I joined a rock band in high school. We played all over south Jersey, I remember the highlight of that band being when we played the Steel Pier in Atlantic City for two weeks. Another highlight was seeing Connie Francis (on the beach) while we were playing there, she was performing there as well. You remember Connie Francis? She was a looker back then (laughs), I was a young man and that's the closest I ever came to her; when she walked past me on the beach (laughing)."

Gratton settled on jazz after his time in that same high school rock band had come to an end. Dick fondly recalled his decision to take up that style of guitar. "My father had a lot of jazz and big band recordings. Most kids were playing Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, they were the ones at the time. When I joined that band in high school, I went to the drummer's house for the audition. I played "Suzie Q" and they said I was in! Afterward, I settled on jazz because I became more interested in what sounds a guitar could make and not what a guitar sounds like. Blues rock guitarists play only a few chords to thousands of people, jazz guys play thousands of chords to few people (laughing). It's what I wanted to do, I couldn't remember a time when I didn't want to play guitar."

I've been very fortunate to have shared a stage with Dick Gratton on several occasions, for me this is always a special treat. I remember a family friend often speaking of Gratton's ability when I was a young drummer. "You need to see Dick Gratton, he's a great guitarist. Learn how to play jazz on those drums and you'll be set," he'd to say to me. One of those places where he would see Gratton perform was on Elmwood Avenue in the Bromley section of Hamilton. Formerly known as "Buddy Rick's," it was known by a different name when Gratton began performing there. "I started playing there with a piano player named Dick Braytenbah, it really kick started my playing. That place was called Rush's Tavern back then. I showed up to see Braytenbah and he asked me if I had my guitar, I said, "yes" and he told me to go get it and asked me to sit in. I began playing with him steady after that."

Gratton has carved out his legacy in our area by repeating that scenario often over the years. Paying special attention to his own unique sound, he currently enjoys playing his favorite guitar, a Guild bluegrass style that resonates well with the smooth sounds that has created the Gratton reputation. "That's my favorite guitar right now. When I bought it I knew it needed some work so I took it over to The Music Box in Hamilton for some repairs. They suggested that I put stainless steel frets on it because they'll never wear out, I figured why not? I like a guitar to be clear, to sound pretty, I don't have a heavy right hand, I'm selective on what I play. I love the sound that I get out of that guitar now."

One of Gratton's biggest thrills as a player was to have performed at the Trenton Jazz Festival in 1998. "We opened for Oleta Adams, David Benoit and Alex Bugnon. We just kind of threw the band together with very little practice. We had Richie Cole on sax, Randy Sutin on Vibes, Jim McDonough on bass, Barry Blumenthal on keys and Mark Pultorak on drums; it turned out very well. We rehearsed the day before at the Mill Hill Saloon, played the exact same set that we were going to play at the jazz festival. It went very well."

These days Dick can still be found "sitting in" with various area artists. I mentioned how I've performed along with him on several occasions, usually at Cedar Gardens Pub as he often joins Kevin Toft and I on stage. Gratton never fails to mesmerize the crowd with his seemingly effortless mastery of the frets. He can also be found doing a regular solo gig every Friday and Saturday at Chambers Walk Cafe in Lawrenceville. Hired as "background music" for the dining clientel, Gratton recalled how he got the gig, "Chambers Walk Cafe is as perfect a place for me to play, it's the best fit for me that I've found in 50 years. I went to see a friend of mine who was performing at the War Memorial in one of their concerts, Mario was doing the catering, so we exchanged information. About a week later I thought I'd be cute, so I called him and said, "When do I start?" Without hesitation, he said, "Friday." That was November of 2006 and I've been there ever since. It's a sophisticated crowd, I know that I was hired as background music, but its worked out. I've worked for a lot of club owners and Mario is one of the finest owners that I've ever worked for."

The "Mario" to which he refers, is owner/chef Mario Mangone who is thrilled with his working relationship with Gratton. "Dick Gratton is such an accomplished guitarist, I never have to worry. He's something because he never has any lyrics, he's all instrumental. I mean every now and then a vocalist may join him but he's usually solo and he is a nice background for our dinner crowd. People actually make reservations based on when he's playing." The Chambers Walk Cafe is located at 2667 Main St. in Lawrenceville and features a bistro accent menu. Mangone tells me, "We try to have local ingredients on our menu for dinner and our appetizers; we try to keep a local flare to things. Hopefully in the future we'll be adding wines from The Silver Decoy Winery located in Robbinsville. Currently, we are a BYOB establishment." The Chambers Walk Cafe is open Monday thru Friday beginning with lunch at 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. They are open Tuesdays thru Saturday from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. for dinner and are closed on Sunday.

U.S.1 - February 27, 2013 - Princeton NJ

MAKING AND REMEMBERING MUSIC IN MERCER

By RON SHAPELLA

Few things better evoke the memory of Trenton’s entertainment past than the image of folks dressed smartly for the evening and entering the doors of a nightclub that is pulsating with the sounds of a jazz trio.

These days, when Dick Gratton takes his guitar and sits down to begin his set at the Chambers Walk Cafe in Lawrenceville, he brings part of that tradition with him. Gratton, 71, has attracted quite a following. But he also remembers the old places and the talented musicians who once played around the capital city. The names come easily, and he rattles them off as though reading a hall of fame plaque.

“The Downtown Club, Club 50 on Hanover, Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon,” Gratton recalls. “I played a lot in the area starting in the ’60s. I played at the Canal House in New Hope, Rush’s Tavern on Johnson Avenue, the Eagle Tavern. One of the biggest that I worked at was the Greenwood Grille on the corner of Greenwood and Johnson. Sunday nights there were always a good time.

“Trenton has always been noted for having very fine musicians. But very few of them were nationally known, except for Richie Cole, the saxophonist,” he says.

Gratton has the easy-going manner of one who is satisfied with where life has brought him. His story is familiar to those who have heard him play over the years. His family settled in the Whitehorse section of Hamilton Township and as a young child he began playing guitar while listening to jazz and big band records in his father’s collection.

“You have to have the interest,” Gratton says. “The best time for a kid to start would maybe be about eight years old. Unfortunately, eight-year-old kids want to do other things. I started playing when I was seven. The first nightclub I played was in a bar in Dunellen, and a family friend invited me up and I played ‘Lady of Spain.’ I was 12, and I do remember being scared to death.”

As the 1960s approached his high school band was into Chuck Berry and Bill Haley and the Comets. Just when others plugged in their amplifiers and decided they were born to be wild, Gratton veered into a different direction.

“It was probably around 1962,” he says. “I went to the Downtown Club on Passaic Street in Trenton and saw Dick Braytenbah’s piano trio. He played a lot of standards and that’s when I started thinking that was something I wanted to do. It was a little more creative.”

He drew inspiration from musicians like Les Paul, Gene Bertoncini, Tony Mottola, and Wes Montgomery, and started performing in the Trenton area and in Atlantic City.

“There were a ton of clubs when I first started playing. Some are still around, but not many,” he says. “When work thins out you move on somewhere else.”

Times were good for Trenton’s cultural scene, but not good enough to make a living. Gratton’s father worked on the railroad when it was still known by its name on the Monopoly game board — the Pennsylvania Railroad. Soon the idea of a full-time income beckoned.

“I think I’m successful at what I do but I don’t think I could ever make a living at it,” he says. “Once I started working on the railroad, being a musician for a living sort of went away. I was playing in New Hope one night right before I went on the railroad and thought, ‘Man, you have to go get a real job. How much longer can you live on peanut butter sandwiches?’”

He managed to arrange his work schedule to allow regular gigs and along the way honed impressive musical chops while always playing close to home. By the time he had retired in 2002, he had acquired quite a resume: the Jazz and Blues Showcase Series in Medford Lakes, annual dinners for the American Federation of Musicians of Trenton, Trenton Heritage Days, and the Bordentown Cranberry and Iris festivals.

In 1998 he performed in a six-piece jazz group with saxophonist Richie Cole at the Trenton Jazz Festival at Waterfront Park. In addition to his work in all the area clubs, he has opened for pianists David Benoit, Eddie Palmieri, and Alex Bugnon, and he once played alongside guitarist Tal Farlow.

Now he plays regularly on Friday and Saturday nights at Chambers Walk and also at the Cedar Pub in Hamilton. He plays periodically in Princeton, Bordentown, and Philadelphia. On Mother’s Day he’ll perform during the Azalea Festival held in Sayen Park, Hamilton Square.

Playing for restaurant crowds and others whose attention may be divided is okay by him. He put out a CD in 1998 that suggests an ethereal, ambient musical approach. But he says he plays for attentive diners.

The temptation might also be to think that a railroad engineer’s music would be richly steeped in the blues, perhaps with the devil waiting at every crossing. Not so with Gratton. These days his sets at Chambers Walk feature jazz arrangements of popular songs and standards.

“Jazz players have a joke about the blues,” Gratton muses. “They say blues guitarists know three or four chords, but they play for thousands of people. Jazz guitarists know thousands of chords, but play for four people, if you’re lucky.

“I pretty much leave it up to the audience,” he says. “I encourage requests, whatever they want to hear. I get Beatles, James Taylor, and Carole King, I guess what everyone calls the Great American Songbook. Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart. I do some Pat Metheny tunes. Pretty much anything that lends itself to a jazz arrangement”

Gratton’s approach involves more than just playing. “You play in such a manner so that people would think that if there was no live music there they’d think something was missing. I try to be creative and build something with a tune. Some of the tunes I do the same way each time, but others I change them up a little bit. Some people will hear and recognize a song. Some people will comment and some won’t. It’s always a nice feeling when people are listening to your music.”

Judging by recent responses, more are listening.

“I know that people love him, and our restaurant is always booked on weekends,” says Kristen Fischer, manager at Chambers Walk. “People come here just for him. He brings us a lot of business. People call and say they want a table close to where he’s playing.”

“The guy is one of the finest jazz guitarists in the area,” says Ted Zegarski, manager of the Cedar Pub at Cedar Gardens. “When he comes in, other artists will come in and stand in line to play with him. Then when they sit down he’ll do a rendition of one of their songs. It’s just incredible. When he played here before Christmas he packed the house. When he plays everyone is quiet because they want to hear every single note.”

Clearly, Dick Gratton enjoys being such a sought-after musician, if not an important figure in Trenton’s cultural history. He could work more often, but just the same he enjoys home life with his wife, Joan. His hobby is caring for the fish they keep in large ponds on their property in Bordentown Township.

And he always enjoys telling the stories about the area music scene.

“Al Re, he was a good piano player. Bob Smith had an organ trio for years and years. He and I still get together. We used to play at these Wednesday afternoon gigs on Warren Street. The War Memorial used to have music for the lunchtime crowd five or six years ago. I played at the Eagle Tavern and at the Urban Word. It’s now called Trenton Social.”

There was the time he and the late New York guitarist Tony Romano were playing at the Canal House in New Hope. Between sets, while listening to WRTI out of Philadelphia, they heard that legendary guitarist Wes Montgomery had died.

“We sort of looked at each other and decided right there we would play Wes Montgomery songs the rest of the night,” he says.

There are also many stories about his father, like how they would blow the train whistle as they went by if they knew one or the other would be in the yard. There’s a song on Gratton’s CD that he wrote for his father based on Tom Waits’ “Diamonds on my Windshield.”

“It has to do with describing a trucker driving an 18-wheeler around the country and winding up in LA.,” Gratton says. “I describe a trip from South Philadelphia to Phillipsburg, which I used to do quite often in the 1970s. Trains don’t run that way anymore.”

The music venues that used to run in the area have changed too, but Gratton is still on track and making music.

Bordentown Current - May 1, 2015 - Bordentown NJ

ALL THAT JAZZ

By SUSAN VAN DONGEN

For jazz guitarist Dick Gratton, it all started with the late Les Paul.

Gratton, a resident of Bordentown Township, absorbed all kinds of sounds as a child listening to his father's records.

The family vinyl collection consisted mostly of sizable big bands, however, young Gratton got his hands on a certain recording that listed only one musician - the great New Jersey guitarist Les Paul. At around age 7, young Gratton vowed to figure out how one man could play so many notes.

"I was thinking 'Man, I have to learn how to do that,'" he says. "When I was older, I didn't feel so bad when I heard Les Paul had used multiple tracks. But that's how I play now, a series of single notes that blend well together - I don't strum."

Since he's played at so many venues, a certain kind of music lover in central New Jersey might know Gratton from his elegant solo jazz performances, usually on his Gibson semi-hollow body. In Bordentown, he's appeared at the Farnsworth House and Jester's Café, as well as at the Yacht Club and various street festivals. He also played for years at the Chambers Walk Café in Lawrenceville and the former Cedar Gardens in Hamilton.

In addition, he's had a rich career in Trenton, at such past and current venues as the Greenwood Grille, the Mill Hill Saloon, the Tremont Lounge, the Centre House Pub and the Urban Word Café.

Gratton will bring his singular style of playing to several solo performances in the near future, including gigs at the Trenton Social Restaurant on South Broad Street, Wednesday, May 6, Saturday, May 23, and Wednesday, July 1.

Then, on Sunday May 10, Gratton will perform with long-time friend and vocalist Linda Lee, at the 23rd Annual Hamilton Township Azalea Festival at Sayen Gardens in Hamilton Square. The duo has done the Mother's Day concert for years.

The self-taught musician, Hamilton native and 1959 graduate of Hamilton High School West says he's been performing live for more than 60 years, and his first time was at a family friend's club in Dunellen. His debut in front of an audience was in 1953, at age 12. "I played 'Lady Of Spain,' and I was petrified," he says. "But it worked out well."

Throughout the 1950s, Gratton preferred jazz, although he was in a small rock group in high school, one that was good enough to play on the legendary Steel Pier in Atlantic City. "We were doing songs by Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, things that were popular, and doing them note for note," Gratton says. "Later my interest was more about taking these and other tunes and making my own arrangements out of them."

He still plays guitar this way, rearranging the compendium of standard and popular melodies he has in his head.

After high school, Gratton served in the Navy from 1960 to 1962, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid in the Engineering Department. As a Machinist's Mate (ultimately a Machinist's Mate Petty Officer 3rd Class), he operated the ship's fresh water distilling plants and occasionally the steam turbines in the engine rooms.

After the Navy, Gratton's father, a veteran of the Pennsylvania Railroad, helped him get a job there. Gratton began his career working in engine service, but later became a locomotive engineer, and was employed by four different rail companies over the course of 37 years, until he retired in 2002. His last position involved engineering Amtrak's high speed Acela to Washington D.C. Gratton says he always tried to choose rail assignments that would allow him to play music at night.

Naming guitar influences such as Tony Mottola, Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny, as well as pianist Bill Evans, Gratton has performed at major workshops, official state functions and large scale concerts, including the 1998 Trenton Jazz Festival at Waterfront Park. He jokes that playing with an ensemble is all right, "as long as the other guys aren't late and knows the tunes in the key I want to play them in."

Gratton really enjoys playing with Lee, however, who he's been working with since the 1970s. "She takes care of the melody, I take the background, and I don't get in her way," he says.

"Dick also doesn't overplay, like trying to jam 1,000 notes into one measure just to show off," says Lee, who grew up in Mercerville. "He's incredibly tasteful."

"For years, I worked (with bands) in California and New Orleans, but I haven't found anyone like Dick," she continues. "He has such finesse and hears everything I'm doing. If I take a song in a different direction, he's right there. We feel like one person musically. He only has six strings, but what he can accomplish sounds so full, beautiful and rich."

Gratton lives in a home that overlooks the Crosswicks Creek, with his wife Joan, recently retired from the Bordentown School System. His son Rick is an accountant, and son John is in the music business, but on the recording side of things. Gratton has his own small home studio where he experiments with solo multi-track recording, just like his first guitar hero, Les Paul. And like Paul, who played almost right up until the end of his life, Gratton vows to keep on going with his music. "As long as the fingers hold out, I'll still be doing it," he says.

For upcoming shows, or for Dick Gratton's CD, "The Guitars Of Dick Gratton," go online to thejazzman.tripod.com.

New Jersey Stage - November 26, 2015 - Trenton NJ

THE ORIGINAL DICK GRATTON JAZZ GROUP

BY DANNY COLEMAN

"This is a classic situation," says well respected Trenton area jazz guitarist Dick Gratton; "Where a bunch of old bastards have said, hey, lets put the band back together," stated with a laugh nearly as big as his impeccable reputation and exceeded only by his stellar ability.

Gratton and his two former band mates, bassist Paul Austin and drummer Rich Gerster comprise the Dick Gratton Trio and are reuniting for the first time in 27 years on December 3 at Alchemist & Barrister in Princeton NJ for a night of some of the smoothest jazz ever performed.

Gratton, who got his start playing guitar at the tender age of seven and started performing his first area gigs in New Hope PA more than five decades ago; has garnered the adoration and respect of many musicians, fans and club owners on both sides of the Delaware River as well as all along the east coast. "One of the first shows I ever played was with a woman named Eve Short at Havana around 1970; she was (local jazz great) Dick Braytenbah's wife. A short time later I stopped to see him perform and I was asked to sit in on a few numbers. I was unaware that a fellow named Vic Bodine was there at the time. Afew days later I got a call from my mother and she said, "Did you know that you're in the paper?" Bodine did a nice write up in the Trentonian and shortly thereafter I was asked by the manager of that club to see him. He told me that Braytenbah wanted to talk with me and when I spoke with him he asked me to join his unit; I got lucky there."

Gratton may think it was luck but to the musicians who have been fortunate to perform along side him and those who recall the glory days of the Trenton area music scene in the 1970's and 80's; Gratton is consistently mentioned among those who've set the standard to which others aspire. "Trenton used to have a happening scene and all various types of musicians and bands could gig every weekend and during the week," he said as he reflected on the past. "Do you remember the Greenwood Grill? A bunch of us jazz guys used to get together there and just play; we used to get some really nice players come through there. We had a good thing going, so much so that we caught the attention of some New York City guys and people like Joe Henderson and a few others began coming down from the city and joining in. I put my group together in the mid to late 80's and went from there but we came in at the tail end of the good music scene we used to have around Trenton. Gosh back in the 70's and even the 80's "The Burg" (a section of Trenton called Chambersburg) had clubs everywhere but drunk driving laws started to toughen up and people seemed to stop going to see live music and the clubs began disappearing; besides Trenton wasn't exactly the jazz capital of the east coast to begin with (laughs)."

That was then and this is now; so why put the trio back together especially since the face of the Trenton area has changed so dramatically? Gone are the clubs that catered to music, gone are the patrons with them; what was it that nearly 30 years later has prompted the urge to put it all back together? "It was kind of an accident," explained a chuckling Gratton. "Well, it's like this, I stopped in to Alchemist & Barrister just to say hello; I used to play there years ago and I've always kept in touch. The manager mentioned jazz night but that they were only interested in having trios; so I thought about it a bit and said what the heck. There aren't many people who can play with me because I do some real off the wall stuff and not many people can read me or follow along; Paul Austin is one of those people. So I reached out and contacted him and he said he'd not played a note in 27 years. Apparently after we stopped performing together all of those years ago he just stopped playing as well. I convinced him to start up again and contacted Rich Gerster who is a great drummer and who also has that knack for being able to follow me; a couple of rehearsals at my place and it all came right together. It is really something how it all comes back and I am really looking forward to this gig."

Gratton, who claims that one career highlight was performing at the 1998 Trenton Jazz Festival says that there's a little something for every jazz enthusiast in the 2015 edition of his popular trio. "Playing the Trenton Jazz Fest was a good one, a highlight, a big one for me; I feel it was the last true jazz festival that Trenton has put on. Now there are other types of bands that have become part of the event and they're not all jazz; or what is considered strictly jazz but; who am I to say? I know this, that when you come see us we'll be doing some standards from the 1930's and 40's, some Be-Bop, some more contemporary things and we have a really sweet, smooth arrangement of the Beatles "With A Little Help From My Friends," this should be a fun night."

This sly veteran and the master of his Guild guitar would not commit the trio beyond this gig; he did say however, that all options are open and mention how he's enjoying himself and very happy to be a viable part of the area's thin music market. "Who knows? We might be back; if we do well and if things work out musically and if I get us gigs (laughs). Hey, I'm happy to be playing and meeting new musicians and I love performing with the area players. I do some stuff with Frank Clayton and Rusty DiPasquale; we actually trade off and do each others tunes. These guys are rock musicians but they've adapted quite well to my style and I enjoy working with them immensely. The thing is, as long as it's fun I'll keep trying to do it."

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