Grover Washington Jr., the jazz saxophonist who was among the first young musicians to burst onto the jazz-funk scene, died tonight after collapsing at a television taping. He was 56.
Washington collapsed after taping a performance for CBS's "The Saturday Early Show." He played four songs that were to run on the morning program.
He was pronounced dead at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, hospital officials said.
Washington was one of the first musicians to enter the jazz-funk scene, a musical style that fused jazz and soul music.
His career highlights included playing at President Clinton's 50th birthday celebration at Radio City Music Hall in 1996. He also played in a jazz and blues jam with the president and other jazz greats including Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis in 1993 after a White House concert celebrating jazz.
When describing his own style, Washington described his work as being short stories without words, impressions turned into sound.
"There's a record player playing in here all the time," said Washington, pointing to his head in a 1989 interview with the Associated Press. "I'm listening to everything. The screech of brakes. Three or four people walking and you can hear their heels clicking. Railroad tracks."
Born in Buffalo, Washington was introduced to music by his saxophone-playing father. He joined his first band--The Four Clefs--as a teenager in 1959.
In the early 1960s, Washington moved to Philadelphia, which became his home for life. He honed his rapid-growing abilities, playing in clubs until being discovered by organist Charles Earland, who put the young Washington on one of his albums.
Washington's career took off in 1970 when he was featured on Johnny "Hammond" Smith's "Breakout."
In 1971, producer Creed Taylor signed Washington, who soon after released his debut album, "Inner City Blues." It nearly wasn't his big moment, though. The solo had been intended for tenor saxophonist Hank Crawford, but Crawford couldn't make the studio date at the last minute.
After signing with Elektra, Washington put out his most successful piece. "Winelight" made it to No. 5 on U.S. record charts. The album, which featured vocals by Bill Withers on the song "Just the Two of Us," reached the No. 2 position on the nation's charts in 1981.