What Fred Griggs loves most about jazz is being caught up in that moment when artistry and passion find a rhythm in his drums.
“It’s all improvisation,” Griggs said. “You never know where it is going to go. There’s so much to it than just playing notes.”
For this senior at Carlisle High School, jazz is exercise for the intellect. So complex is it, that he can listen to the same recording over and over and discover something new layered within the sound.
“Anything jazz, I gobble up and dissect,” Griggs said. “I’m a real enthusiast for the music ... listening to new and old.”
‘Quite an honor’
In early February, he will join about 30 of the nation’s top high-school musicians in the 2013 Grammy Camp Jazz Session in Los Angeles.
There, students will perform at jazz venues and Grammy Week events with award winners and nominees. On Feb. 8-9, they will record an album at Capitol Studios in Hollywood that will be available for purchase later at online music outlets.
The Grammy Camp highlight occurs Feb. 10 when students attend the 55th annual Grammy Awards ceremony and perform at the official post-Grammy celebration. “It’s really incredible to have this opportunity,” Griggs said. “It’s really quite an honor.”
Griggs, a Washington, D.C. native, moved to Carlisle when he was three with his parents who had retired from the CIA. Griggs was in second grade when they encouraged him to take up a musical instrument. He picked the drums because he thought it was a cool instrument for a young boy to play.
He joined the jazz band in middle school and started to gain a real appreciation for jazz in the summer between seventh and eighth grades. Over the years, he took private lessons from such noteworthy jazz drummers as Paul Gallello of Lancaster and Sherrie Maricle of New York City.
Griggs eventually joined the youth band of the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz. “The musicians who are part of that are tremendous,” he said.
Jazz pianist Steve Rudolph is executive director and one of the founders of the Friends Group. He called Griggs a fine and dedicated young musician with unlimited potential.
“Learning to play music is 10 percent talent and 90 percent effort,” Rudolph said. “Fred has put in all the effort and had the talent to begin with. He has really followed the right path to learn to be a great jazz artist.”
Rudolph, a career musician who has accompanied some of the biggest names in jazz, explained how Griggs plays at such a professional level that he has hired him for jam sessions and other events.
Griggs first auditioned for Grammy Camp in his sophomore year at Carlisle High School after learning of the program the summer before from Jonathan Ragonese of New Cumberland, a former youth band member and Grammy Camp participant.
“I did not get anywhere near close,” Griggs said of his first attempt. “I learned a lot about the process and tried again. In my junior year, I was a runner-up.”
Griggs placed third in the nation among the high school jazz drummers who applied for Grammy Camp — Jazz Session his junior year. The program accepts only the top two drummers.
The close finish inspired Griggs to hunker down and record an audition tape for his senior year. “I just kept on practicing and practicing,” he recalled. “I kept my focus on getting better. It has all come to this point.”
The third time proved to be the charm. Not only was Griggs selected as the top drummer among this year’s applicants, but is the only Pennsylvanian to qualify for the 2013 Jazz Session.
“Of all the kids in the country, Fred was the guy they thought was the best one,” Rudolph said. “That is pretty high praise for someone from Carlisle.”
Griggs has participated in most every music program offered at Carlisle High School. Next fall, he plans to attend a music conservatory on his way to eventually earn a doctorate in music and a career as a college educator.
Grammy Camp selectees are eligible for over $2 million in college scholarships made possible through the Grammy Foundation, established to cultivate an appreciation for the contributions recorded music has made to American culture.
Griggs credits part of his success to good genetics. His late father, Les Griggs, played French horn in his youth and sang in a barbershop quartet. His aunt received her master’s degree in music from the prestigious Julliard School.
“My father would be really happy for me,” Fred Griggs said. “All he ever wanted was for me to be happy and to succeed. Whatever I wanted to do, he was always 100 percent behind me.”