Drummer Jerry Granelli was an active member of the psychedelic music that was being fostered in the San Francisco Bay area during the ‘60s. He considers himself a "pre-hippie," coming into fashion before the members of The Grateful Dead and The Mamas and The Papas. And though it seems like a world away from his current album The Sonic Temple with his present band V16, the mentality of a hippie of not knowing where you are going, but taking pleasure in documenting the journey, you are traveling along remains entrenched in him.
He reflects, "I grew up in San Francisco during the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, some of the most amazing times in that scene. Rich after-hours jam sessions, great clubs, you could hear all the great players and hang with them. Also, San Francisco music had a strong tie to New York, very different from Los Angeles, so I was learning to play at the sessions, being taught, growing up. It was so vital."
Back then, Granelli worked on several music projects as a session musician or "sound artist" as he calls musicians. It was during this time when Granelli laid down the drum tracks for Vince Guaraldi’s music project, which would become the classic album A Charlie Brown Christmas.
He recollects, "Vince and Charlie Brown, it was a very exciting time for me. It was my first real jazz gig at 23 years old. I was getting paid more than $8 a night learning my craft. Doing the Charlie Brown music was very natural. We had no idea it was going to become what it has, and that it would be so important to so many people."
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame cites Jerry Granelli as one of the inventors of psychedelic music and a pioneer in world jazz-fusion and electro-acoustic percussion in the hippie era. He synapses, "Music has always been there in my life. It's the first memories. It provides great joy, and great fear. It's a great teacher and a great path. It has brought so much and taken so much. I can't imagine my life without it. It allows me to connect with people I haven't even known yet."
In 1970, Granelli incorporated his skills as a drummer with his love of Buddhism and Shambahal and became a co-founder of the music department at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He explains, "I found my teacher CHOGYAM TRUNGPA in 1970. He was perhaps the major influence on my life. He was a great Tibetan Buddhist master, but more than that he was also an artist and was interested in creating a society. The idea for Naropa Institute came from him. I was lucky to be there at the beginning. Naropa's vision was for a multi-disciplinary approach to arts and teaching so I got to perform and teach with great artists, poets, dancers, actors, and visual artists. I think it opened me up to some of the work I do now."
Granelli next transition would occur in 1988 when he relocated to Halifax on the beautiful island of Nova Scotia. He shares, "I moved to Halifax 19 years ago. The primary reason was my teacher, Chogyam Tungpa Rinpoche, felt that it was a good place for the teachings of Buddhism, and Shambahal to flourish and grow. In short, it is a good place. I was also looking to leave the U.S.A. to find a kinder gentler place to be when not traveling. Nova Scotia has a tremendous musical heritage and I feel that I have been able to accomplish some good work there, especially with teaching."
When he does travel to shows with his band V16, it is without a few additives that the studio recordings can offer him. He comments." I can't always get the same set-up when I travel, so I bring the things I need for your basic sound, and cymbals and special things. Then it's up to lords of karma."
One of those special things with Granelli uses is a unique drum kit called steel sculpture that was made by Peter Inglehart whom Granelli reminisces about fondly. "I have known Peter Inglehart for 30 years from back in the San Francisco days. About 10 years ago he made this sculpture for a performance at the San Francisco Jazz Festival and then was kind enough to give it to me. Mostly now, I play various pieces at one time; usually the music decides what sound it needs. Then because I use that sound the whole band might change sonically. Everyone chooses his sounds carefully."
Accompanying Granelli on his current project with V16 is his son Jay Anthony Granelli on electric bass, David Tronzo on electric slide guitar, and Christian Kogle on electric guitar. V16’s first record The V16 Project came out in 2003 with Anthony Cox on bass. A line up change placed Jay on board as bassist and producer for V16’s current album for Songlines Records entitled The Sonic Temple as Granelli muses, "My son...well I think our relationship has grown over the years of working together. Yes, there is the father and son thing but I feel that I am lucky to be working with him. He is a great musician and composer. I always say when I grow up, I want to be a musician like him."
His son is responsible for introducing him to guitarist David Tronzo who would join V16. "Jay Anthony hooked me up with Tronzo, which was like meeting an old friend both musically and personally. Christian and I go back to Berlin together when he was in my band UFB so we have a 12-year relationship. Needless to say, they are two of my favorite guitarists in the world. We love playing together. That's how we stay with each other."
"For this CD," he discusses about The Sonic Temple, "I did not write any music. David Tronzo, Jay Anthony, and Christian Kogle wrote all the music. Sometimes I write and sometimes there is no need. What the guys wrote grew from the band playing together over the last year. It was a very organic process that reflects the growth of the music over time."
He elaborates about the songs, "The music is a reflection of how the band has grown over the last couple of years. Each person brought something and each piece offers some new ways to improvise. Everybody contributes to the arrangements and over time they evolve so they don't stay the same. It's just a starting point, but the material has to be digested and clear in order to evolve."
Previous to The Sonic Temple, Granelli had embarked on a music project with singer/actor Rinde Eckert for the album Sandhills Reunion that is an "audio movie" according to the description on his website, combining music with poetic storytelling. He recalls, "I met Rinde in the ‘80s in Seattle, then again through Lee Townsend and we have done two of his CD’s together. This was our first chance to work together on one of my projects. The text and the music on this CD are completely intertwined, yet both are strong enough to work separately so in live performance every little change opens up the whole thing into what is now an hour and half long piece."
Sandhills Reunion was produced by Granelli’s long time friend, Lee Townsend whom he speaks about with reverence. "Lee and I have a very long relationship. I knew I could not make the CD I was hearing without Lee. You always feel safe and challenged with him there. He is strong, aware, and supportive, and never tries to insert himself. He is only there to serve the music, which is what we are all trying to do so it becomes a great band. He also creates this lovely transparence in his mixes."
He reveals, "These CD’s are all first takes with no editing. That's one reason we did a live recording to capture the life or death quality of playing live."
Granelli strives to create a live feel on the albums and he lets audiences feel what they like for the music. "Whatever people can relate to about the music is great. For some it's the familiar sound of the electric band or the rock quality. Whatever people can use to find their way in."
He tells, "Audiences-hmmmm, I guess you'd have to ask them what they think but the reception has been great for V16 and Sandhills."
Jerry Granelli’s projects have come to document each chapter of his life as he describes, "Each piece of work leads you to the next piece. That is what keeps you moving forward. Sometimes you don't even know where you are going. Where is not the important part. Neither is how. It's the journey and all that it involves. Here we are in the 21st century. I am writing this for the Internet. It will go out into space... fantastic!"
"For young artists," he suggests, "you must love the work. If not, then find something else you love and do that. It's meant to help people, perhaps wake them up to themselves and their richness and potential. It is a journey."
Somehow not having a goal in mind, but simply continuing to cherish the journey, has kept Granelli motivated. With no end in sight, Jerry Granelli is living his dream. It is taking the journey that has been fulfilling to him and keeps him looking forward to the next chapter of his life.