Saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. was a crossover artist who did have hits in the pop and R&B charts, due to his willingness to play over light funk arrangements and use vocalists. He can be credited with virtually inventing the style of smooth jazz that later became so prevalent, and in that way he has been highly influential.
Grover Washington, Jr.'s love of music began a a child growing up in Buffalo, New York; his mother (who sang in church choirs) and father (collector of jazz 78s) bought him a saxophone at age ten. After I started playing, Grover says, “I'd sneak into clubs to watch guys like Jack McDuff, Harold Vick and Charles Lloyd. My professional life began at age twelve. I played a lot of R&B, blues, and what we used to call 'gut-bucket'.
Grover left Buffalo to play in the Midwest with a group called the Four Clefs. Soon afterward, he was drafted into the Army; during that time he made some important connections. Drummer Billie Cobham, who was in the Army band with Grover, introduced him to several prominent New York musicians, and he soon began freelancing in New York and Philadelphia.
After playing in organist Charles Earland's band, and recording as a sideman for the CTI and Prestige labels, Grover recorded Breakout with Johnny Hammond. The album was a bestseller, and it established Grover as a major new voice on saxophone.
So impressed was Creed Taylor, Hammond's producer and head of CTI, that he signed Grover to a contract as a leader. His debut as a leader, Inner City Blues, was released in 1971. This album was a big crossover hit, and began his successful run up the charts.