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PREVIEW: Donna Grantis at the Dakota Jazz Club, 9/24

Donna Grantis in concert at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, MN. Photo by Joe Lemke.

As a young Canadian guitarist, Donna Grantis dreamed of jamming with Prince. This dream actually came true: one day, out of the blue, a call came from Hannah Welton – Prince’s drummer – asking Grantis to come down to Paisley Park.

By one account, what brought Grantis to Prince’s attention was her cover of Billy Cobham’s “Stratus“, a song that Prince had also covered. (By coincidence, Billy Cobham’s Crosswinds Project, featuring Randy Brecker, will perform at The Dakota on October 1). Grantis bought a one-way ticket to Minneapolis, aced the audition, and became part of Prince’s New Power Generation. Later, she’d join the group 3RDEYEGIRL, along with Welton and bassist Ida Kristine Nielsen.

Today, Grantis lives in Minneapolis, having put down roots here during her years with Prince. She also leads her own band, which comes to the Dakota Jazz Club next Tuesday, September 24. The impressive lineup taking the stage at 7:00 pm includes tabla guru Suphala (a protégé of master Ustad Zakir Hussain); the well-known pianist Jason Linder (from David Bowie’s Blackstar band); Cody McKinney, an award winning composer, sound artist, and bassist; and drummer Jason “JT” Thomas, known for his work with Snarky Puppy and Forq.

I had the chance to speak with Grantis about her music and her comping appearance at The Dakota.  She reports that the performance will feature works from Grantis’ recent album Diamonds & Dynamite, an album that was released at The Dakota in March. The album displays the sort of virtuoso funk and rock one would associate with Prince’s guitarist – but also a good dose of jazz fusion, along the line of Miles Davis’s electric period (Bitches Brew, Live-Evil, On the Corner, Dark Magus, and Big Fun).

It was Prince that introduced Grantis to this part of Miles Davis’ work, with “Recollections” (from Big Fun) often playing in the auditorium prior to Prince’s concerts.  While Grantis was working on the music for Diamonds & Dynamite all the way back in late 2015, the actual live-to-tape recording occurred  in just two days. As Grantis noted, she wanted to capture a live-music feel: to have her band members’ first intuitions on display, offering a snapshot of the communication among the musicians. Music from this album will be featured in Tuesday’s concert, along with (Grantis teases) one or two new tracks…the core, perhaps of a planned second album.

In conversation, Grantis noted several things she learned from Prince: composition, musical performance, leading the band, and overall presentation. Like Prince (and Miles Davis), Grantis wants just the right look in her clothing – another way to help to get the music’s message across.

Musician Donna Grantis. Photo by Stephanie Hynes.

How to achieve that look? Grantis has worked in particular with Call and Response, a clothing design firm from Toronto. Call and Response has created some of Grantis’ more distinctive outfits, including a brown suede trench coat.

Tuesday, Grantis admits, happens to be her birthday. Should you get a present? No gifts are necessary, she says – just come to The Dakota to enjoy a fabulous band.

Donna Grantis performs at the Dakota Jazz Club on Tuesday, September 24 at 7 PM.


Brian Bix