On any given night, Joe Gransden draws a crowd. The musician figures he plays more than 340 gigs a year throughout metro Atlanta, the Southeast and in New York and California. On Nov. 29, Gransden played at the White House tree-lighting in D.C.

The trumpet virtuoso, singer and bandleader is a name in jazz and big-band music, and he has a passion to make the music and to share it with established and up-and-coming musicians, including through a jazz camp. At 46, Gransden has made a name for himself and his 16-piece band. He also has a trio, quartet and even a sextet. He has released 14 albums, the latest in April. Called “Go Getta,” it features award-winning saxophonist Kenny G.

Joe Gransden.

Gransden counts among his fans Clint Eastwood, the legendary filmmaker, musician and jazz aficionado. “Joe is a young man with an old soul and a classic voice,” reads a quote attributed to Eastwood on Gransden’s website. “He is a great new talent with a wonderful sense of humor to boot. And don’t forget, he plays a hell of a trumpet!”

The Joe Gransden Big Band plays twice a month at Café 290 in Sandy Springs, where the band has played for nine years for a fervent following, and Wednesdays at the restaurant Valenza in Brookhaven. Gransden’s packed holiday schedule includes New Year’s Eve performances at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and with singer Francine Reed. For more information, visit
joegransden.com.

The Reporter recently caught up with Gransden on his busy touring schedule and asked him about his life in music.

Q: You were known as a trumpet player and did not sing in the earlier days of your career. What led you to become a vocalist?

A: Singing was not on my performance radar. I considered myself a trumpet player, but survival came into play. About 20 years ago, I had a trio — piano, bass and trumpet — and we played twice a week at a now-closed Italian restaurant in Midtown. We earned $50 and a plate of the house special per night. One night the manager told me that he really liked our music, but wanted a singer, so he was thinking of looking for another band. My on-the-spot response was that I could sing. And I found out I could. The next show, I sang, and everyone seemed to like it. Tips got better, too.

Q: Where did you get your inspiration to sing?

A: I guess I always sang, but never thought of performing as a vocalist. I fell in love with the trumpet listening to my grandfather play when I was a kid. He gave me my first horn. Music is in my DNA, so I guess it was inevitable. My grandfather, William Gransden, was a freelance top trumpeter and played with many of the big bands of the 1930s and ’40s. My dad, Bob Gransden, is a piano man and a singer. He is still going strong and plays four or five gigs a week.

Q: Since your dad is a vocalist, did he help you when you added singing to your performances?

A: My dad gave me a lot of pointers. Among the most important, he said, “Be true to the song. In other words, don’t mess with it.” And, “Let the song tell the story.”

Q: You formed your big band in 2009. What prompted you to take that plunge?

A: When I was 20, I was in my second year studying trumpet at State University of New York in Fredonia, New York and I got a call to audition for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. I got the job and left school to join the orchestra. It was life-changing. I was the youngest guy in the band, and for a year we traveled all over the U.S., Europe and South America. I remember sitting on a stage in Europe with that band. I loved the sound, the music and the bond with the musicians. I thought, “Someday, I am going to have a band like this.”

The popularity of big bands comes and goes over the years. I had been going back and forth between New York City and Atlanta. I had ties to Atlanta having gone to Georgia State and my parents had moved to Roswell. I moved to Atlanta after 9/11. In 2009, it seemed the time was right. I had been playing with all the top guys over the years and I called them to ask them to join my band. They are an incredible group.

Big band is enjoying another run of popularity. People are dancing more and the club scene is strong in Atlanta and New York. While we play mostly in Atlanta, we are likely going back this summer to the popular Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City.

Gransden, left, with his friend, the legendary filmmaker and musician Clint Eastwood, during a performance at Cafe 290 in Sandy Springs. (Special)

Q: You became friends with Clint Eastwood after a friend suggested sending your CDs to him and other celebrities. What created a bond between you?

A: We hit it off right away over golf, jazz and music. He loves music and plays both the trumpet and piano. And he has lots of great tales to tell about my heroes, like Miles Davis, Chet Baker, [Frank] Sinatra and others. We enjoy hanging out together over a couple beers. He has invited me many times over the years to play at parties, and we get together when he is filming in Atlanta. I visit his set sometimes and he pops into Café 290 when my band and I are playing.

It has helped my career a lot. I’ve met his friends and they have hired me. He is a real fan of mine. He introduced me to Kenny G and suggested we play together. Our first duet was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” We wrote and recorded an album together, “Close to My Heart,” and he is featured on my latest album, “Go Getta.”

–Judith Schonbak

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