Joe Gransden, An Atlanta Jazz Icon

By Rachael Brice  A lone spotlight hovers center stage as Joe Gransden, dressed in a sleek dark suit with a matching pocket square, emerges from the darkness to the growing swell of drums, brass, and saxophones! Gransden and his 16-piece Big Band open the evening with “Sinatra” a song off their new album, Go Getta, released earlier this year, and play into the night, finishing the evening to thunderous applause.

This has been Gransden’s dream for the past 30 years, but let’s revisit Gransden’s youth as a shy middle school band student when he first picked up a trumpet.

A child of an incredibly talented musical family—his father a successful jazz pianist and singer, and his grandfather a professional trumpet player—Gransden was destined to follow in their footsteps.
“I didn’t think I’d be a musician,” he says. “I grew up in Buffalo [New York]. I was a sports guy and wanted to be a hockey player.”

But as fate would have it, his dream of being a hockey player was short lived, when Allen Vizzutti, an American trumpeter and composer, visited Gransden’s 6th grade band class.

“When it came time to pick an instrument for the band, I couldn’t pick the piano,” he says. “I needed to pick the trumpet, trombone, or clarinet. I had listened to my grandfather play his trumpet for years, so when the time came, I knew it would be the trumpet.”

Vizzutti solidified Gransden’s decision that day.

“When I heard Vizzutti play,” he says, “something clicked, and I knew I wanted to play the trumpet for the rest of my life.”

As his tenacity and passion for music grew, he attended Fredonia State University in New York, as a jazz trumpet major. However, after two years, he was offered a full-time job with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, so he packed his bags and hit the road.

“I learned a lot of life lessons while on tour,” he says. “As a 21-year-old and a professional musician, you really learn how to get along with people, respect their time and privacy and learn how to negotiate on your own. Of course, there were things I still wasn’t ready to do, but I was making a living at it and loving it!”

Gransden’s parents had moved to Atlanta, and after the tour concluded, he joined them to complete his degree at Georgia State University. The day after graduation, he relocated to New York City. However, he moved back to Atlanta after September 11, 2001.

“We have an amazing jazz scene here,” he says, “and I was ready to continue growing my business and broadening my fan base.”

Clint Eastwood tries his hand at Joe’s trumpet.

Little did he know one of those new fans would be Clint Eastwood. Bob Weiner, a friend of Gransden’s, wanted to encourage him, so he recommended Gransden mail Clint a copy of his latest album.

“I thought Bob was out of his mind,” Gransden says, “and I was utterly shocked when I received a phone call from Clint’s wife, asking if I’d perform for them in California. I’ll tell you, being on stage and playing my trumpet while I watched Clint smile and clap and dance with his wife is something I’ll never get out of my head. It was surreal.”
Even though Gransden’s fame was rising, he still felt like something was missing.

“While on tour with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, I was inspired to start my own big band,” he says. “It’s something I had always wanted to do, so when opportunity came in 2006, I knew I wanted to make that dream a reality.”

Today, Gransden and his 16-piece big band travel all over the country performing for crowds both large and small. Thanks to The Great American Songbook and Lead Trombonist/Arranger, Wes Funderburk, the band has over 300 songs in their arsenal.

“Joe and his band have been defining the jazz scene here for a while,” says friend and record producer Tony Wasilewski. “He is one of the most recognized jazz musicians in Atlanta today and you just feel good when you hear him play.”

At 47-years-old, Gransden has produced 16 albums and admits he still gets nervous before he performs.

“My dad taught me to be myself,” he says. “Every night before I step out on stage I tell myself two things: to be myself and that this is what I want to do.”

In 2017, Gransden performed 348 different shows. He takes pride in being his own manager, booking all of his concerts and travel arrangements and negotiating contracts with his clients.

“I think I have one of the greatest jobs in the world,” Gransden says. “It’s tiring and taxing, but it’s fun, and I love it.”
Gransden and his big band are preparing for their 5th season with the Roswell Cultural Arts Center and Georgia Ensemble Theatre (GET), which begins in November and runs through April 2019. This season is particularly special as

Joe’s Big Band album Go Getta featuring Kenny G was recorded last September at Brighter Shade Studios in Atlanta and released in April this year on Cafe 290 Records.

Joe’s sponsors, Odyssey Personal Financial Advisors and Truitt Health, are helping support artists like jazz vocalist Sachal Vasandani, Georgia Music Hall of Fame inductee Francine Reed, and Nashville singing sensation Annie Sellick join Gransden and his band on stage.

“I’m excited to be giving back and benefiting the community we serve,” Bryan Fowler, chief executive officer of Truitt Health says.

Café 290, Valenza in Brookhaven, and Venkman’s are also venues Gransden and his band frequent. He’s been playing at Café 290 for nine years and is always humbled by the huge crowd that gathers to show their love and support.

“I’ve been incredibly blessed throughout my career so far to collaborate with talents like Kenny G. and play for icons like Smokey Robinson and Freddie Cole,” he says, “and I am truly looking forward to this next season.”
If you’re interested in seeing Joe and his big band in concert visit Joe’s website for more information. Tickets are on sale now for their upcoming concert series with GET. Visit GET for more information. ❍