Gigi Gryce was born George General Grice(sic) on 28th November, 1925 (not 1927) in Pensacola, Florida - although he was brought up in Hartford, Connecticut. He spent a short period in the Navy where he met musicians such as Clark Terry, Jimmy Nottingham and Willie Smith, who were to turn his thoughts from pursuing medicine to the possibility of making music for a living. In 1948 he began studying classical composition at the Boston Conservatory under Daniel Pinkham and Alan Hovhaness. It has been reported that he won a Fulbright scholarship and went to Paris to study under Nadia Boulanger and Arthur Honegger, although confirmation of this has been hard to establish. Although illness interrupted his studies abroad, the fruits of this immersion in classical modernism were the production of three symphonies, a ballet (The Dance of the Green Witches), a symphonic tone-poem (Gashiya-The Overwhelming Event) and chamber works, including various fugues and sonatas, piano works for two and four hands, and string quartets.
Gryce strictly separated his classical composing from his work in jazz and received inspiration and instruction from a number of 'unsung' jazz saxophonists. The first of these was alto player Ray Shep, also from Pensacola, who had played with Noble Sissle. Then there were three musicians Gryce had met whilst based in the Navy in North Carolina. Altoists, Andrew 'Goon' Gardner, who played with the Earl Hines Band and Harry Curtis, who performed with Cab Calloway, as did tenorman Julius Pogue, for whom Gryce reserved the highest accolade. As well as alto saxophone Gryce performed on tenor and baritone saxes, clarinet, flute and piccolo - a 1958 recording for the Metrojazz label saw him multitracking all these instruments over a conventionally- recorded rhythm section.