Remembering jazz and Buddhist legend Jerry Granelli

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Jerry Granelli: joy on the drums.  Photo taken by the Halifax Music Festival.

Jerry Granelli: joy on the drums. Photo taken by the Halifax Music Festival.

Jazz musician, composer, music teacher and devoted Buddhist practitioner Jerry Granelli passed away yesterday at his home in Halifax, Nova Scotia at the age of 80.

You don’t have to be a jazz lover to have heard Granelli – most famous, he played drums (drums and percussion being his main instruments) on the Vince Guaraldi Trio. A Charlie Brown Christmas album (1965), of which “Linus & Lucy” and “Christmas Time Is Here” may seem pretty much ubiquitous in the United States during the holiday season. He was only 22 years old. The album would be voted for the Grammy Hall of Fame.

But Granelli has had a long and exciting career, collaborating with Charlie Haden, Jamie Saft, Dave Brubeck, Jane Ira Bloom, Mose Allison, the Kingston Trio, Carmen McRae, Bill Evans, Sly Stone, Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell and, really, countless others. He would also become a music teacher and “an intrinsic part of the Halifax Jazz Festival (formerly Atlantic Jazz Festival) since its inception”.

Granelli was also a devoted Dharma practitioner, first practicing at the San Francisco Zen Center. In the early 1970s, Granelli went to hear Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and according to AllMusic, “was so impressed with the conversation that he compared it to the first time he saw Charlie Parker.”

In an interview in 2011, Granelli recalled that time: “I had been around Zen Center, I played with Zen. I played with Hinduism. Neither of them felt comfortable with me, so I heard Trungpa Rinpoche speak and it made sense. You know [how] I described that moment when I heard Max Roach? It was the same, except he was a guy talking about life. I wanted to find out how to be like this guy, like I wanted to be like Max Roach – that simple. I wanted to be that good, I wanted to understand life on that level.

“I did not come to Dharma seeking to become a better musician,” he later said. “I had accomplished most of what I had hoped for. But I didn’t know how to be a human.

Granelli, at Trungpa’s request, would also become a dedicated music teacher, establishing the Creative Music Workshop (CMW) in 1996 to share the joy of playing music with interested people of all levels of experience and ability. Meditation, as he once said to Lion’s Roar, was “mandatory” for the many players – pros and beginners – who attended his workshops in the hopes that his talent and wisdom might rub off on them. “They love it,” he said. “It’s a way for them to work with their whole artistic process, their whole life.”

Watch a video from Granelli’s era of pandemic leading the Creative Music Workshop, “Art in Everyday Life: The Creative Process”, here.

Regarding his teaching style, naturally imbued with Dharma, Granelli reflected, “I think being a meditator, working with mindfulness, I probably teach this in any [I] do. I’m definitely talking more about serving music, and I’m interested in teaching students how to be good human beings.

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