Grachan Moncur III, a composer and trombonist who expanded the world of free jazz, has died. His son Adrien Moncur told WBGO the cause of death was cardiac arrest, occurring on the musician’s 85th birthday.
Moncur was born in New York City on June 3, 1937, and spent his childhood in Newark, New Jersey. Picking up a childhood interest in music from his father, he studied trombone at the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina beginning in 1951. He returned to New York City after high school, finding work touring with Ray Charles.
Returning to Newark, Moncur embedded himself in the city’s jazz scene, where he met the star young saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Moncur recorded his debut album Evolution in 1963, and Blue Note released it the following year. It featured Lee Morgan on trumpet, Jackie McLean on alto saxophone, Bobby Hutcherson on vibraphone, Bob Cranshaw on bass, and Tony Williams on drums.
Over the next few years, Moncur played trombone on Herbie Hancock’s My Point of View, Joe Henderson’s The Kicker, and Wayne Shorter’s ambitious LP The All Seeing Eye. During the same decade, Moncur contributed music to James Baldwin’s Blues For Mister Charlie, a play loosely based on Emmett Till’s tragic death. He performed in the play during its Broadway run in 1964.
Moncur continued to focus on music that expanded the world of jazz throughout the 1960s and 1970s, releasing New Africa in 1969 and Echoes of Prayer in 1974. He also continued to work with Archie Shepp, Lee Morgan, and later, Cassandra Wilson. From 1982 through 1991, Moncur worked as the composer-in-residence at the Newark Community School of the Arts..