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The Art of the Story: Remembering Newark's own Grachan Moncur III

Grachan Moncur III
Todd Boebel
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Trombonist and composer Grachan Moncur III, who died last week at 85, was a pillar of Newark's creative music scene. And he was no stranger to Newark Public Radio. In 2007, he paid a visit to WBGO along with his fellow trombonist Slide Hampton. They spoke with Michael Bourne about their careers, along with an upcoming concert.

Moncur recalled the moment in his childhood when his father — bassist Grachan Moncur II, who had originally nudged him toward the cello — brought home a used trombone wrapped in newspaper. "I guess he wanted to stick in the bass clef family," he says, eliciting a chuckle from Bourne. "I mean, I was just fascinated by the way it looked. And for some reason, I made an effort to get sound of it, and it seemed kind of natural. That was the beginning."

At another point in the conversation, Moncur reminisces about the nightlife in Newark back in the day — and in particular, one evening when tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley was working at The Washington Club.

"Hank was always friendly, and he heard a little potential in me, even though I was only playing a couple years," he recalled. "See, back then, everybody was playing the same-type things. You knew what you had to know how to play. You had to know to play the blues in the basic keys: E flat, F, stuff like that. And I was only about 14 or 15. I was going in the clubs, and cats were letting me play because most of them knew my father, and they knew how seriously I wanted to play."

Moncur carried that spirit of encouragement forward, serving as a mentor to future generations in Newark. One musician he influenced deeply is composer, percussionist and MacArthur Fellow Tyshawn Sorey, who shared this sentiment on social media.

For more information about Grachan Moncur III, read our obituary.

Special thanks to Becca Pulliam and Michael Bourne.

Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.